|Musical Style: Gothic/Doom Metal||Produced By:|
|Record Label: Independent||Country Of Origin: Macedonia|
|Year Released: 2016||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 10||Rating: 80%|
|Running Time: 43:35|
A joining of the Gothic, doom like and the symphonic, that would be the best way to describe The Last, the summer of 2016 fourth full-length album Skopje, Macedonia based My Darkest Time. Gothic in terms of creating a sorrowful and introspective landscape in which thickly woven bass and classical instrumentation and orchestration are the point of emphasis, but also doom from the standpoint of deliberate and slow paced riffing, epic vestiges that touch upon the bombastic and leanings towards the musical swarthy side of things. The symphonic aspect to My Darkest Time reveals itself in not only ethereal keyboard nuances and complex musical arrangements but also the soprano vocals of Marina Atanasova.
The project of founding member and multi-instrumentalist Zarko Atanasov, My Darkest Time got its start in 2008 with the full length offering End Of My Darkest prior to putting out follow up releases My Thoughts and Transient from 2010 and 2012, respectively. The Last is my first My Darkest Time review - the group’s three previous releases fell beneath the Angelic Warlord radar - and the initial bands that come to mind in terms of comparison are Saviour Machine and Sombre Holiday, but that might not be entirely accurate in light of the My Darkest Time female lead vocal approach. Voice Of Glass is potentially the better indicator when factoring it is also female fronted, although My Darkest Time plays up the stronger leanings towards the doom-ish and symphonic side of things.
In terms of mainstream acts, Tristania, Theatre Of Tragedy and Trail Of Tears are within the ballpark but also fall short with their ‘beauty & the beast’ mixture of extreme male vocals and clean female vocals. Perhaps this is what separates My Darkest Time - in the most positive sense - from much of the hybrid Gothic and doom metal crowd from how it (mercifully) makes female vocals the centerpiece while eschewing any of the disheveled-hairy-caveman-extreme-metal-guy growling in the process. Speaking of which, Marnia Atanasova might not have the raw power or operatic presence of many female Gothic contemporaries, but she does a fine job all the same in staying true to her own defined style that walks a fine line between the airy and ethereal and that which is more somber and lower register.
Album opens to a short piano and orchestral instrumental entitled “Last (Intro)” before launching into “The Gates”, a forlorn, chilling and grandiose plodder in which distant crashes of rhythm guitar and occasional outbursts of churning low-end play prevailing roles. Interestingly, with some of the guitar tones playing up a Middle Eastern quality, I can see “The Gates” fitting in on any of the Saviour Machine Legend trilogy release.
The two-minute instrumental opening to “Ephrath” aligns piano and a full bass presence with lighter rhythm guitars to create an almost jazzy effect. Ascending through its verses in the same collected manner, the song smoothly transitions to its climactic refrain in which Marina Atanasova highlights the mirror like feel to her delivery (by far her albums strongest performance). Helping make this one of my favorite tracks here is the minute and a half long instrumental ‘outro’ upheld by the emotional soloing of guest guitarist Torbjörn Weinesjö (Veni Domine).
“Unceasing” also features a lengthy instrumental opening that finds orchestral keyboards and forwardly placed guitars contesting. The composed feel maintains itself as the song serenely drifts through its verses, gaining slight elevation as guitars take on a doom-based tone for both the resonant refrain and chilling instrumental moments. I also rate “Unceasing” with my choice cuts due to being one of the heaviest, with the full on guitar focal point placing it well within metal territory.
“Blurred Truths” stands out as a mournful and plodding sigh of a song, reverberant with its spacious bass line but also sublime in terms of its delicate front to back guitar signatures. I particularly enjoy the bluesy soloing that closes out its final minute. Yes, this one backs from the technical fortitudes and lengthy instrumental proclivity of its predecessors but succeeds by reaching for Gothic to symphonic ballad based territory. Am I out of to suggest HB in terms of comparison?
“You” gives rise to a worshipful Gothic doom formula. The song flows its first minute to stilly done guitars only to take off at a moments notice as snarling rhythm guitars kick in to sustain the albums strongest up-tempo demeanor moving forward. It would also be fair to state this is also the most symphonic influenced here, with plenty of tranquil piano in the backdrop and majestic refrain upholding the worshipful elements from continually repeating ‘Blessed be the name of the Lord’. Zarko Atanasova bestows another flattering stretch of moving lead guitar to close things out.
“Written Names”, albums lone instrumental, drifts wistfully to staunch guitars and serene keyboards in giving rise to a fusion-like feel. Passages transitions between heavy set and steadfast (as doom territory is touched upon) and celestial (in reflecting some New Age musical qualities). I am somewhat reminded of the artists Gothic instrumental project True Wisdom.
“Pearl” represents Gothic doom manifest. Albums most downcast, melancholy and forlorn, the song mournfully plods through its verses to keyboards and drums - almost reflecting a jazzy vibe in the process - only to elevate in tempo as guitar feedback cuts in to buttress the every bit disconsolate chorus. Once again, things fade out to another stretch of eloquent soloing.
“O Beloved” stands out as the albums most even and calm as a cover of the classic medieval hymn. Piano, orchestration and ringing bells accent the song its short (3:19) length as Marina Atanasova again exhibits her crystalline vocal abilities. Guest piano is courtesy of Sime Stefkovski.
My Darkest Time did a good job on production, with mix and mastering capably handled by Slava Malinin (Angel 7, Holy Blood). With the possible exception that rhythm guitars could have been elevated in places - impression is that the group walks a fine line between Gothic rock and metal so perhaps I am out of line - everything stands out with proper separation of instrumentation. Also of note is the eye catching cover art designed by Zarko Atanasov
Lyrics leave little doubt as to how The Last is a Christian project. As previously noted, “You” takes a worshipful tone:
But above all You gave us Your Son
Your flesh and Your blood
You gave us Bethlehem
You gave us eternal life
You gave us eternity
Blessed be the name of the Lord
I thank you Lord for all
All that is good in my life
And at the end I admit
As Job did that all is from You
“Blurred Truths” deals with Creation:
In the short life
There is a brief moment
In the last moments
Where the spirit stands
And think of the One who created us
And everything around us
And then the endless discovery
Of the world mind rejects
That line between life and death
Manifests the Truth
As befitting the nature of the music at hand, lyrics focus on hope in the midst of trying times, such as on “Unceasing” -
The sun in the heights
Becomes darkened for me
May Your light shine for me
And disperse the darkness of my mind
Before the wheel of time
Stops in my mind
The wind of death blows
And diseases appear on my body
Have mercy on me
For the souls cleared
From dust of the unknown
Fear, pain, separation
Solitary minds the wind
In the gray sky
Showed the narrow bright path
To the New Jerusalem
The Last is one of the more challenging reviews I have written in some time. Fact is that I am not a natural connoisseur of the Gothic genre nor bands that join elements of the Gothic, doom like and symphonic. So I am sure you can understand how during the review process I attempted to listen to as many Gothic/doom bands as possible, and almost without exception each took a ‘beauty & the beast’ approach with extreme vocals playing a primary role and clean female vocals relegated to a secondary position. I find this disconcerting in light of how (in my opinion) extreme vocals can grow tiresome when overused and all the more so when the female equivalent stands out that much more in comparison.
One band to get it right (again, my opinion) was Virgin Black, at least its Requiem - Mezzo Forte release (noting the 80% Angelic Warlord review), from allowing soprano female vocals to play a more prevalent role with those of an extreme nature diminished. In similar fashion, My Darkest Time separates itself from the Gothic crowd in placing emphasis on female vocals with none of the extreme kind. In taking a step back (and I do not wish to contradict myself here), I wonder if The Last might have stood out further if imbued with occasional (the key word) extreme vocals to ‘blacken’ an already somber musical setting? It is also worth noting I would liked to have heard My Darkest time further explore its classical side by including more classical instrumentation (cello, viola and violin) and choir vocals to lend an operatic effect (in similar fashion as Saviour Machine).
In the end, I grew to appreciate with repeat listen the layered and complex My Darkest Time songwriting. The group succeeds laudably from capturing the at times swarthy and others salient qualities distinctive to the Gothic and doom metal (and to a lesser degree symphonic) genres. Hence, if a fan of either style I cannot help but encourage you to give My Darkest Time and its most recent release The Last strong consideration.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Last (Intro)” (1:08), “The Gates” (4:45), “Ephrath” (6:17), “Unceasing” (7:11), “Blurred Truths” (4:57), “You” (6:14), “Written Names” (4:32), “Pearl” (4:40) & “O Beloved” (3:19)
Marina Atanasova - Lead Vocals
Zarko Atanasov – Guitars, Bass, Keyboards & Drum Programming
Torbjörn Weinesjö - Lead Guitar
Sime Stefkovski - Piano