It seems that there is something magical in the air during this specific coronavirus spring. It’s definitely something more than just those tiny viral particles, as sleeping metal and rock giants are showing new signs of life here and there. The Finnish metal outfit SINISTHRA is one of those. After a 15-year hiatus, the band stepped back out into the open with an introspective offering of epic doom, a full-length titled “The Broad and Beaten Way,” that was released via Rockshots Records, on May 15th, 2020.
For a metal dilettante, the first impression is likely to be, “what kind of AMORPHIS is this?” As it happens, vocalist Tomi Joutsen originally fronted SINISHTRA before he took over vocal duties in the Finnish metal flagship, AMORPHIS. The embryonic stage of SINISTHRA was formed in 1999 under the name NEVERGREEN, soon adapting a new name and releasing their debut album, “Last of the Stories of Long Past Glories” in 2005.
The next batch of songs were soon in the making but life got in the way, hence the 15 years of absence from the metal scene. In the meantime, the band members were involved with other metal groups such as THE PURITAN, ROTTENDAWN, and CORPSE MOLESTER CLUB.
The title for this sophomore effort is derived from John Milton’s epic 17th century poem, Paradise Lost, so it shouldn’t come as surprise that the lyrical themes delve deep into the Jungian shadows of the human psyche, while the sonic atmosphere is plaintive, if not cold and desolate at times. The guitar timbres are a bit rough around the edges most of the time, in order to convey the raw essence of those sorrowful emotions. The vocal delivery of Joutsen is a little bit less harsh in this context, but definitely not less evocative.
As a teaser from the upcoming album, SINISTHRA released the gargantuan 13-minute centerpiece track, “Closely Guarded Distance,” as a single in April. It is a fine amalgamation of gloomy metal and 1970s prog aesthetics, with a hint of KATATONIA here and there. In a way, it was a move that manifested perfectly what this band is all about: ditch the labels and all the expectations and let the music speak for itself. Lyrically the song seems to share the sentiment of the much-quoted Rumi wisdom, “you have to keep breaking your heart until it opens.” Despite the haunting and mournful tone, the song wishes to assert that all hope is not necessarily lost, as the spine-chilling outro reassures, “cracks begin to show…”
Instead of a linear narrative, the album offers lyrical glimpses into various significant watershed moments in life, those different stages in the individuation process of the human psyche. In this respect, the album could almost serve as a concept album, although it certainly was not designed as such. It starts with the loss of innocence, as depicted in the biblical myth of Adam and Eve – a theme which is touched upon in the album’s opening track “Eterne.” Musically, it is the probably the most straightforward song on the album, one that navigates the closest to AMORPHIS-esque spheres. After the album’s proggy 13-minute-epic, we are offered a placid contemplation on the somewhat Baudelairean theme of yearning to be on the constant move, never being satisfied to settle anywhere, in the song ”Halfway to Somewhere Else.” The song evolves from minimalistic guitar arpeggios to almost PINK FLOYDian spheres during the span of 8 minutes.
An interview with Tuonela Magazine suggested that the band did not think very highly of the next track, ”Morningfrail,” during the recording process. The song crawls forward in a restrained tempo, almost grinding to a halt during some of those pregnant pauses. In a way, it compliments the theme of pausing for a bit of self-reflection; for instance, for the closing of the books at the halftime of life or a settlement of sorts, all of which further reinforces the conceptual feel of the album as if the songs depicted the journey of taking your life in your own hands, to own that shit like a motherfucker (pardon my French). The journey of a fool.
“Safe in the Arms of Everlasting Now” continues in a plaintive and lounge-y, almost jazzy mood, with dark overtones that underscore the emotional gravity of the lyrics. There is a distinctive sting of irony, what with lines such as the poignant, “you were never there for me, and I was never there for you, guess that makes us even then…” In the chorus, the song is awash with distorted guitar contours, painted with long brush strokes. The closing track, “Ephemeral,” serves as a spaciously textured, solemn coda for the album. It seems to suggest that there’s no turning back now.
The overall feel on the album is dark and heavy – just as you would expect given the merits of the personnel in the band. It’s like a ponderous figure-skating marathon on the frozen lakes of Mars, with skates made of concrete. It may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but for those of us who have acquired the taste for this sort of VSOP blended premium metal with a massive wall of sound and complex song structures, the album definitely has the potential to grow on us, unveiling new layers with each repeated listening, like in the slow and gradual shedding of one’s ego around which theme the album seems to revolve a bit. A great work of art!
Written by Jani Lehtinen
- Closely Guarded Distance
- Halfway to Somewhere Else
- Safe in the Arms of Everlasting Now
T. Joutsen – vocals
E. Virta – drums
J. Telen – bass
T. Vainio – keyboards
M. Välimäki – guitar
M. Mäkinen – guitar