REVIEW: The Eternal – Skinwalker

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In the Navajo Indian tradition, there is a legend of skin-walkers with myriad stories often depicting them as being some sort of advocates of evil. These skin-walkers were believed to possess the ability to turn themselves into an animal. The new studio album, the seventh overall, of the dark and poignantly melancholic, half-Australian and half-Finnish death-doom bunch, THE ETERNAL, bears the title, “Skinwalker,” triggering mental images of these shape-shifting creatures almost immediately. Shape-shifting proves quite a befitting term, actually, to describe the rich musical landscape that these nine new songs unfold. Since 2003 when the band was originally formed in Melbourne, Australia, THE ETERNAL has shared the stage with pedigree acts such as AMORPHIS, ANATHEMA, KATATONIA, OPETH, and SWALLOW THE SUN, to mention just a few – and I picked these as references because, after a few spins, you can easily detect some sort of musical kinship here. Former ANATHEMA musician Duncan Patterson even appeared as a guest on the band’s 2008 outing “Kartika.” Then, in 2020 and 2021, respectively, drummer Jan Rechberger and bassist Niclas Etelävuori, both having a history with AMORPHIS, joined the ranks. This album also marks the band’s first full-length to feature this dynamic duo – the previous outing “Waiting for the Endless Dawn” came out in 2018. Thus, it does not really come as a surprise that the songs shapeshift from being progressive riff maelstroms, one minute, into haunting plateaus of slow-crushing melancholy, next, and then back to pounding those massive death-metal riffs. “Skinwalker” features several notable guest musicians from the higher echelons of the metal fraternity – for example, Santeri Kallio of AMORPHIS and Sami Yli-Sirniö of KREATOR. So if the reference bands above are something you might fancy, this endeavor is a must-listen. This new album also marks a new chapter in the band’s journey as they recently signed a deal with German metal label Reigning Phoenix Music. THE ETERNAL‘s RPM debut was released on June 28th, 2024 – the first day of TUSKA 2024 – so I almost missed it, but better late than never!

Opening the album, “Abandoned by Hope” is a 10-minute epic of progressive doom-death metal, resonating with the subtle air of OPETH, even, here and there. As per the conventions of the genre, the song is about sorrow, loneliness, and all things depressive. At times, you could even get goosebumpey flashbacks of PARADISE LOST or MY DYING BRIDE. Vocalist Mark Kelson has quite an impressive range – I first reckoned he took care of both the clean and harsh vocals. The press release wasn’t very specific about which tracks the guests would appear on. The thing is, Tomi Joutsen of AMORPHIS contributes his signature growls to this album, according to the press release. So, I tried to listen very hard to this track to feel whether the growls sounded like him or not. You see, the clean vocals resonate almost with the air of Mikko Kotamäki of SWALLOW THE SUN, here and there, so I was perhaps tempted to think that, if Kelson could pull something like that off, maybe he could do the growls, too. The more I listen to the album, the more I get the feeling that the growled parts are done by Joutsen. Yes, I’m pretty sure about that now. They definitely work in the band’s favor. The song’s coda features also some haunting female vocals, courtesy of a mystery singer. What an impressive way to start!

By contrast, “Deathlike Silence” is “merely” a 4-and-a-half-minute banger of Gothic gloom. The opening riff sounds almost like HIM and what follows does very little to dissolve this feeling. We’re in luck, though, because the song draws from the era when HIM wasn’t pulling any punches. Someone else might detect “One Second”-era PARADISE LOST influence here. This one will undoubtedly make the crowds go wild at the band’s future gigs. Two songs into the album, one thing becomes crystal clear – THE ETERNAL is one hell of a versatile banquet of delicious death-doom. The follow-up track, “Under the Black” is yet another catchy Gothic banger traversing the sonic realm of HIM, KATATONIA, and whatnot – but one spiced up with the band’s signature touch.

After the 1-minute interlude, “Temptation’s Door,” it is time for another 10-minute monolith. “The Iconoclast” is the second of the three epics on the album. For the advocates of radio-friendly song lengths, this gargantuan doom offering might be a bit too much to take in one go, but for us aging prog aficionados, the 10-minute mark is usually the sign of a good song – you see, sometimes, too much just isn’t enough. When the song comes to an end, I would rather have it continue for another 10 minutes or so. “The Iconoclast” builds up the momentum, nice and slow, and erupts into a massive finale – a textbook example of how to make a 10-minute song grab the listener by the body hairs. In passing, Kelson‘s vocal delivery echoes the soulful crooning of Roy Khan in KAMELOT. The clean passages are, once again, nicely balanced by the earthy growls by Joutsen. This interplay between the shadow and the light characterizes the album as a whole and it sure elevates this offering to a league of its own.

Then, I guess it tells a lot about Kelson‘s versatile vocal skills that, in the song’s verses on “When the Fire Dies,” he sounds almost like Maynard James Keenan on those eccentric, early PUSCIFER albums. With the song being something completely different – a stomping death-doom riffage echoing the slow-burning melancholy of SWALLOW THE SUN – the effect is intriguing, yet enchanting. It nicely dissolves the profoundly sorrowful undercurrent permeating the album.

Before the last of the epics wraps everything up, the title track rolls out another soul-crushing doom riffathon, featuring the award-winning Tuvan throat singer, Albert Kuvezin (YAT-KHA). The throaty kargyra drones rumbling in the background sound more than appropriately evil! This reminds me: the overall production on this album is nothing short of sublime. The riffs bite hard and the high-resolution mix is best-served justice when played a little loud. My neighbors might disagree but that’s the deal with this beauty. If the press release mentioned anything about who mixed this album, I must have missed that part completely, but whoever it was, he did a spectacular job!

Finally, the 9-minute excursion into Gothic gloom, “Shattered Remains,” brings this sonic journey to an epic close. The weak of heart might be tempted to wonder if the closer could have been, perhaps, 2 or 3 minutes shorter, but… nope. That’s not how it works. The song is a perfect ending to a nothing short of haunting death-doom experience. “Skinwalker” will be on heavy rotation for the next couple of weeks for me, that’s for sure!

Written by Jani Lehtinen

Tracklist

  1. Abandoned by Hope
  2. Deathlike Silence
  3. Under the Black
  4. Temptation’s Door
  5. The Iconoclast
  6. When the Fire Dies
  7. Fall Upon the Earth
  8. Skinwalker
  9. Shattered Remains

Lineup

Mark Kelson – guitars & vocals

Richie Poate – guitars

Niclas Etelävuori – bass

Jan Rechberger – drums & percussion

Label

Reigning Phoenix Music

Links

https://the-eternal.com

https://www.facebook.com/TheEternal

https://www.facebook.com/TheEternal