PRELISTENING: The Eternal – Skinwalker

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If there is one positive outcome of the pandemic, it’s that the members of the progressive metal band AMORPHIS had a lot more time for other projects. We have already seen both Esa Holopainen and Tomi Koivusaari release their debut solo efforts, and now, drummer Jan Rechberger is ready to release a new album after joining the Australian doom prog outfit, THE ETERNAL, along with FLAT EARTH bass player Niclas Etelävuori. We were invited by Reigning Phoenix Music to a prelistening session on May 22nd, 2024, to exclusively hear the band’s new album, “Skinwalker,” which is set for release on June 28th via Reigning Phoenix Music.

Not having heard about THE ETERNAL prior to their signing with Reigning Phoenix Music, I was glad to receive a little biography. The band was originally formed in Melbourne, Australia, and has released six studio albums so far. Their seventh album, “Skinwalker,” sees Niclas Etelävuori and Jan Rechberger joining the band, along with guest appearances from Tomi Joutsen, Santeri Kallio, Sami Yli-Sirniö, and many more.

The listening session kicked off with a short speech by the band, with vocalist Mark Kelson present remotely via Zoom. Guitarist Richie Poate was absent due to a COVID infection, but Mark had made a paper cutout of him and occasionally waved it on camera. After that, we started listening to “Skinwalker.”

If I am completely honest, I was not familiar with the band prior to the pre-listening, except for posting some news here and there. I had listened to the first single of this record but only in the background, so this listening experience was my first time really sitting down and focusing on the music. The journey began with a heavy intro in the first track, “Abandoned By Hope.” I was instantly taken aback by the lovely contrast the vocals provided compared to the instrumentation. Mark‘s vocals are very soulful and emotive but also feel very soft, giving the song a sense of hopefulness despite its dark character. This track featured Tomi Joutsen as a guest vocalist for additional growls. Off to a good start!

Moving on to “Deathlike Silence,” I noticed in the credits that Jaani Peuhu (MERCURY CIRCLE) assisted in writing lyrics and later found out that he also helped with the vocal melodies in general. Looking back, this made total sense because Jaani is very good at creating catchy melodies. Of all the tracks on this album, “Deathlike Silence” is definitely the most approachable and lighter, making it stick in your mind. The big chorus is a strong appeal.

“Under the Black” includes a cool Hammond segment with guest Santeri Kallio, which automatically gives it a bit of a DEEP PURPLE-ish tone. It also has an acoustic guitar part reminiscent of OPETH‘s “The Drapery Falls,” something I absolutely adored. This also has a lot to do with the well-thought-out guitar tones chosen for this song.

“The Iconoclast” is preceded by an instrumental intermezzo, “Temptation’s Door,” an ambient, drone-like intro where Mark says, “You stand at temptation’s door, longing to obliterate the truth,” which felt almost hypnotic. “The Iconoclast” had a very long instrumental intro that was quite dark, but as it progressed, lighter elements were introduced here and there. Ultimately, the song built up to the vocals, which had a very powerful impact and gained more depth with hauntingly beautiful vocal harmonies. With my grandfather passing away only two days prior to this event, halfway through this song is where I started to feel extremely emotional. When “When the Fire Dies” started and I read the description of how the song serves as a cathartic expression of grief, delving into the raw and tumultuous journey of acceptance and letting go, I had to really push back a few tears. Take it how you will, but I personally find it beautiful when music has the power to evoke strong emotions, and THE ETERNAL‘s album definitely did that, despite it being a little hard. Musically, the song was slower and doomier than what we had listened to before, and maybe because I could resonate so well with it, the lyrics were really beautiful and made me fall in love with the band’s sound.

Then, “Fall Upon the Earth” started off with some bass. The direction of the music seemed to be pushed more towards the doomier spectrum now. There were some beautiful guitar melodies interspersed over the riffs, which balanced out the track’s darkness here and there.

Of all the songs, “Skinwalker” was the most experimental, in my opinion. It was quite refreshing to listen to because, for a band that has progressive elements and a doomy sound, this was quite a minimal song. It also included the Tuvan throat singer, Albert Kuvezin, which was very subtle but added a nice little effect that almost sounded like a didgeridoo. Because of the experimentation, this song turned out to be one of my personal highlights of the record.

The album ended with “Shattered Remains,” which once again included Tomi Joutsen as a vocalist. The last track also featured some nice percussive elements by Jan Rechberger, which truly showcased why the addition of both Jan and Niclas to the band was a good decision. Altogether, this was a strong end to a very strong album.

Overall, THE ETERNAL‘s “Skinwalker” was a rollercoaster of an album. Due to my situation, maybe this album had a much stronger effect on me than it might have otherwise, but it definitely made a really good first impression on me. I generally like everything that is labeled as progressive but found the combination of doom metal and progressive metal very interesting. On top of this unusual blend of genres, Mark Kelson is the connective element that really ties everything together. His vocals and lyrics make this album a very immersive experience. “Skinwalker” was quite a lengthy album and certainly not an easy one to digest, but it definitely is an album that you should listen to from beginning to end. There were no moments where I lost my attention, that didn’t grab me quite as much and only had strong moments. The production of the album was really well crafted, with beautiful guitar tones, and crisp drumming. For an album that relies quite heavily on storytelling, the vocal production was also well executed. Overall, “Skinwalker” definitely is an album to look out for in 2024!

Tracklist

01. Abandonded By Hope
02. Deathlike Silence
03. Under The Black
04. Temptation’s Door
05. The Iconoclast
06. When The Fire Dies
07. Fall Upon The Earth
08. Skinwalker
09. Shattered Remains

Label

Reigning Phoenix Music

Lineup

Mark Kelson | vocals, guitars
Richie Poate | guitars
Niclas Etelävuori | bass
Jan Rechberger | drums, percussion

Links

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