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Below - "Across the Dark River" (CD)

Below - "Across the Dark River" CD cover image

"Across the Dark River" track listing:

1. Trapped Under Ground (07:34)
2. Bid You Farewell (05:48)
3. Ghost of a Shepherd (04:42)
4. Portal (06:22)
5. In My Dreams (00:35)
6. Mare of the Night (05:42)
7. The Whitechapel Murderer (06:51 )
8. Across the Dark River (07:58)

Reviewed by on June 3, 2014

"With elements of Candlemass and early Arch-era Fates Warning, the debut release 'Across the Dark River' will undoubtedly find its way into the hallowed halls of metallic perfection."

No matter how much I expound upon the values and virtues of great power metal, there always seems to be an epic doom metal act that releases an album that captivates my attention and draws me in with a trance of truly crushing power. In 2012, it was Candlemass’ “final” studio release “Psalms of the Dead,” in 2013 it was Leif Edling’s heir apparent to Candlemass, Avatarium. In 2014, Metal Blade has found the jewel crown Below. Half expecting this to be some sort of death metal/doom off shoot, my ears were not expecting the astounding majesty that came from this brilliant Swedish act. With elements of Candlemass and early Arch-era Fates Warning, the debut release “Across the Dark River” will undoubtedly find its way into the hallowed halls of metal perfection.

If there is one thing that Swedish musicians excel at….its epic doom. The twist on this beauty is its ability to draw in critical praise, other than the standard Candlemass references. I took the liberty of listening to the title track first, as I began “skipping around” to see what stood out. Not only did luck bring me the best track on the album, but it might very well be the best song of the year. The time was so ripe for a band to become the birth child of “Ancient Dreams” and “Awaken the Guardian.” Close your eyes from the beginning and find yourself drifting on musical journey nestled between Arch and Edling. Below has unlocked that ancient formula and it deserves to infect a metal population with an iron rule.

From the second the shovel is heard scraping across an unmarked grave, Below astounds. Epic doom wrapped around the vocal excellence of the Zak Stevens morphed into John Arch incarnate: Zeb (a/k/a Sebastian Jansson of Malison Rouge). However, unlike most epic doom metal albums, it is atmosphere, mood, melodic-almost-progressive excellence that takes precedence even over the typical sharpened steamrolling riffs. The tone set by all seems to enhance the doom elements by a factor of ten. Take the opener “Trapped Under Ground” (where Zeb bursts out in his most "Zak Stevens-ish" drawl) where the pauses, the nuances of his voice, the mid-paced galloping riff – they all come together in a way where doom, traditional, and power/progressive all converge. This is more than just an epic doom album – it’s a work of metallic art.

As if the band has recreated a path that leads all doom from its origin point - “Epicus Doomicus Metallicus” – Below has made a modern version based on elements of the past and....BAM...there is another new defining moment in the genre. Where Avatarium redefined doom as we knew it, Below has taken all the hallmarks of the best and melded it together progressive reinforcement. What may sound like a simple formula is a complex one to crack for all the forces to align that make this album such a shining example of perfection. “Portal” is all you need to hear to pick up on the how great the album can be, but the album has so much more. “Mare of the Night” sports the best riff on the album: that chugging prototypical riff of a la Mappe Bjorkman sends shivers down the spine. “The Whitechapel Murderer” truly has a feel of Fates’ “Traveler in Time.” It’s a connection that cannot miss.

Below has seemingly come out of nowhere, as others in recent years, and claimed the prize for epic doom. The genre is too damn alluring to ever pass up and the special concoction brewed up by this young Swedish band is nothing short of gold. “Across the Dark River” will quickly see its place in metal history even within its first year of release. Mark my words…doom has never been more alive than it is in 2014. One of the bands that will be carrying the mantle lies just “below,” ready to burst out as the new face of doom.

Highs: The new face of doom along with Avatarium.

Lows: Nothing.

Bottom line: Sometimes perfection lies just "Below" the threshold...ready to unleash the perfect doom!

Rated 5 out of 5 skulls
5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)