Solitude Aeturnus - Alone 4/5

Reviewed: 1-12-07


1. Scent of death
2. Waiting for the light
3. Blessed be the dead
4. Sightless
5. Upon within
6. Burning
7. Is there
8. Tomorrows dead
9. Essence of black

8 years. That's how long Texas doom gods Solitude Aeturnus have been away. Oh, they never really broke up. It's just that several band members left, others had intruding family and employment obligations, and life generally interfered with the creative process. So we, the faithful, waited. And waited. After all, this was no ordinary band on hiatus. This was the holy grail of all doom bands, featuring a transcendent songwriting approach that fused the heaviness of Black Sabbath, the energy of old Fates Warning, and the dark mysticism of old Mercyful Fate into a compelling package. And the icing on the cake was Robert Lowe, a singer blessed by one of the most expressive, distinctive, and amazing voices in all of heavy metal. Between 1990 and 1998, the Solitude Aeturnus folks created 5 CDs, including perhaps the greatest doom metal recording ever (1994's 'Through the darkest hour'), 2 certifiable masterpieces (1990's 'Into the depths of sorrow' and 1992's 'Beyond the crimson horizon'), and 2 flawed gems (1996's poorly produced 'Downfall' and 1998's unfocused, slightly psychedelic 'Adagio'). So it was with good reason that we waited. And waited.

In late 2006, the doom gods smiled upon us, the skies cracked with thunder, the heavens opened, and the new Solitude Aeturnus CD, 'Alone', appeared. Only 2 members, singer Lowe and guitarist/founder/chief writer/swell guy John Perez, from the "classic" line-up remain. Nonetheless, Perez, Lowe, and their able-bodied new bandmates have risen to the challenge, have done justice to their legacy, and have delivered a monstrous doom CD. 'Alone' is not for the faint of heart. With a playing time of 70 minutes (at least, on the digipak version), extended song lengths (5 songs exceed 7 minutes and 50 seconds in duration), and a 100% pure doom orientation, this challenging CD is not readily digested in bite-size morsels. Instead, it's the sort of CD that was made for grabbing a beer, dimming the lights, and simply allowing the beautiful, incomprehensibly heavy music to wash over you.

I don't pretend to have mastered every nuance of this motor scooter, but here are a few things I have gleaned from my immersion into 'Alone'. Solitude Aeturnus are back in a big way. Their years out of the spotlight have enabled them to hone, refine and refocus their craft. There is no experimentation here. No dabbling in psychedelia. No vocal filtering. Everything is unadulterated classic doom. Sonically, 'Alone' is undoubtedly the band's finest hour, with a superb production job owing significantly (I suspect) to the superb engineering skills of renowned studio whiz Sterling Winfield. The sound is crystal clear, balanced, thick and heavy as those half-ton hogs terrorizing northeast Georgia at the moment. The new guys play great and fit seamlessly into the fabric of the band. And Lowe turns in a staggeringly powerful and haunting performance. Around the time of 'Adagio', I worried that he had lost a step. He has now regained it, and then some. On 'Alone', he showcases his fabulous range, a remarkable ability to hit a soaring, uplifting, beautiful note one minute, then to sound like the depths of despair the next, and to exude sinister malevolence the next. One of the most gifted singers in the scene, Lowe unquestionably still has it, as proven by his remarkable vocal melodies on display here. And the songwriting can't be faulted. "Sightless" is easily one of the finest songs Perez & Co. have ever penned. "Scent of death" and "Embrace" are mind-blowing epics of the highest order. The chorus of "Tomorrow's dead" slays me every time.

Based on these observations, I would be shocked if any aficionado of Solitude Aeturnus, or well executed classic doom metal in general, were disappointed with 'Alone'. For all of you power metal maniacs out there, Solitude Aeturnus may or may not be for you. But if you are going to add one doom CD to your collection this year, it should be 'Alone'. Nothing else comes close. The remaining questions in my mind are (a) just how good is this CD? and (b) where does it rank in the pantheon of Solitude Aeturnus CDs? As for the latter, I'm already comfortable scoring it above 'Adagio' and 'Downfall', but beyond that, more listens are needed. 'Alone' is a dense, heavy, sprawling, inaccessible work that will require months to grasp fully. I'm not there yet, but I am awfully impressed with what I hear. Given my conservative bent, I'll assign it a 4/5 for now, but I suspect that future listens may reveal me to have been too stingy. They almost certainly will not prove me to have been excessively generous.




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