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Doomed : Anna


Doomed consolidate their place as the defining Death/Doom band of the decade with a focused concept work.



Well, I think I may just as well come out and say it at the beginning: as far as I'm concerned, Doomed are, quite simply, the defining Death/Doom band of this decade, and have well and truly earned their place amongst the truly classic bands of the genre. Bold, and not a little gushing, you might think. Well, yes. But also, I consider, entirely justifiable; and not without some lengthy deliberation, given that I've been mulling over what to say about 'Anna' for a few weeks now, particularly given that it's following on from an album - last year's 'Wrath Monolith' - that I felt compelled to rate as a perfect 10/10 refinement of the Doomed aesthetic.

But perhaps that's what differentiates the superlative from the merely great: assuming you can reach that initial pinnacle, where do you go next, and what do you change along the way? In this case, the answer is largely "focus". Previous Doomed albums have been sweeping blunt instruments, suffused with a boundless anger against the petty stupidities and cruelties of humanity, rigid orthodoxies, unquestioning and blind obedience: their unambiguous calls to arms unleashed like a force of nature, and none the poorer for taking brutal aim at different targets within the same thematic range. 'Anna', however, is more of a sharpened naked blade, directed at the specific concept of how the innocence of children is destroyed, and told through the individual experiences of the titular girl, growing up during the Second World War.

It is no more dewy-eyed and sentimental than its predecessors, no less raging against the machine: in that respect, it's entirely fitting that the look-and-feel of the packaging continues the series (this time supplemented with images by German artist Käthe Kollwitz, 1867-1945, noted for her lithography/etching work showing the suffering of the working classes). Other subtle touches, illuminating the mood of the backstory, can be found in the use of Sütterlin script: the last evolution of historical German broken blackletter typeface, banned in 1941 for being "Jewish letters".

Nonetheless, 'Anna' is also quite different to the previous albums: largely in the development of the Progressive Metal elements initially hinted at on 'Wrath Monolith'. There's no lack of the melodic Death/Doom core that hallmarked previous outings: massive, choppy, variable riffs flirting with dissonance and contrast, full of harmonics, and offset by deep growls over a solid battery of bass and (programmed) percussion. As ever, there are appearances by various guest vocalists (Ed Warby, Kris Clayton, Markus Hartung, Uwe Reinholz and Daniela Laube), all of whom deliver sterling work, whether complementing or contrasting Pierre's own voice. But there's also a more complicated structure within the tracks, as well as one linking them, joining the concept together in a more or less continuous flow, and presenting - at times - an almost-cinematic experience. Opening the album: a haunting guitar melody, distantly soft crooning lullaby, the sounds of marching footsteps...and then the screaming, explosive crash into the body of the track - it's all too vivid a picture Anna's of orphaned nightmare beginning. Other authentic-sounding samples and songs weave threads through the rest of the album - most disturbingly effective, the jaunty dancehall number at the start of the furious 'Withering Leaves'. It has a feel similar to the original 'Bioshock' videogames: once-sumptuous art deco environs decaying into a dystopian, threatening menace. And the title track and brief classical piano instrumental 'Roots Remain' are closer to being tragically emotive than anything in past releases, though still stopping short of being manipulative.

Anna survives, it would appear, by refusing to surrender: her inner self becoming hard, strong and rooted as the metaphorical tree. No glib answers are provided: questions are left hanging as to what she, and uncountable others, might do or change with that survival. There is an elaboration on that, in the bonus tracks, especially 'Remembrance', which adds a personal coda that the lessons of the last great war are in danger of being forgotten, and that Anna's legacy and memory should not be lost or abandoned in that way.

'Anna', despite its gentler moments, is not an album that offers much in the way of comfort. It presents a brutal, unflinching premise inside an equally uncompromising musical framework. There's nothing pretentious or florid about the Progressive nature of it; more of a purist technical and structural pushing of boundaries through the incorporation of unexpected elements, and the use of rhythm and tempo changes to drive the musical dynamic. Although there are moments of virtuoso skill on display - such as Uwe Reinholz's guitar solo at the end of 'Withering Leaves' - the compositions remain balanced and grounded, without any trace of over-indulgence. As you would expect from previous outings, the execution and production are detailed and flawless. Above all, it is still totally, unmistakably, and uniquely Doomed, and I have nothing but respect for the way that all of those factors have been near-seamlessly drawn together into this tighter, sharper, and yet broader-ranging conceptual vision. Somewhat alarmingly for scoring purposes, I am beginning to suspect that Pierre's talents can, and will, stretch even further than this, but, nonetheless, as an absolutely essential album easily amongst the handful of top releases of 2016, I'm going to mark it accordingly.


(As an aside: once again, for a lucky few, the special limited edition comes in a unique hand-finished and personalised wooden box with extras including a CD of bonus tracks. Loath though I am to increase the competition for any such future releases, these really do set a bar for presentation of collector items as high as the one for the music they contain).


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Reviewer's rating: 10/10

Information

Tracklist :
1. Your Highness The Chaos
2. Anna
3. As The Thoughts Began To Be Tarnish
4. The Weeping Trees
5. Withering Leaves
6. Roots Remain
7. The Frozen Wish
Bonus Material: Special editions only
8. This Secretive Silence
9. Remembrance

Duration : Approx. 51 minutes (Standard material only).

Visit the Doomed bandpage.

Reviewed on 2016-11-21 by Mike Liassides
Rotten Copper
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