Like so many emotions, the ‘beautiful gloom’ of melancholy has been pursued in music to the point where it may as well be a codified entity, living amidst soundwaves. Happy songs may be bright and include references to going to the beach and maybe even taking the last dance with your best girl at the prom or some such idiocy. Angry songs seek to be offensively loud and aggressive—the list goes on. There are a thousand different feelings available for human consumption, and with one comes an individual expectation we’ll have regarding how it’s manifested in music. Considering how inherently unextreme and mixed melancholy is, it’s surprising that metal (a genre commonly, but not exclusively defined by its relative extremity) has taken such a liking to it. Make of it what you will, but a band like Canada’s Abandoned Palace stands in my mind as an embodiment of that feeling; like melancholy, the music is timid and bleak, but for the life of you, you can’t seem to shake it once it hits.
Abandoned Palace define their music as ‘grey music with black and blue edges’. While this is probably a less helpful description of this project’s sound than accurately pegging it a gloomy black/death/doom hybrid, there is a certain sense in approaching their work from a subjective point of view. It’s a style of music we’ve heard from a hundred other similarly ‘grey’ or ‘dark’ metal bands, and discussing Abandoned Palace as a fusion of genres would imply their sound is less pure than it is, or that it’s been arrived at from more than one psychic origin. Like the band’s most apparent influences (My Dying Bride, early Katatonia, and Anathema standing highest among them), an experience of Abandoned Palace’s debut recording will be made or broken based on how far the listener is willing to open themselves emotionally to it. While their chosen road to gloominess may be familiar and arguably even overused these days, the four songs carry a melancholic infectiousness and sincerity that serves to elevate these recycled elements towards an eloquent and memorable experience of their own.
The EP begins with a lackadaisical slow-to-mid-pace tempo and never shifts. While Abandoned Palace’s songwriting and atmosphere are at least predictable, it could never be said that the music lacks life; the performance between vocalist Void and multi-instrumentalist Von Warugi has injected life into the work that the compositions might have lacked otherwise. While the musicianship is unpretentious and focused entirely on the arrangement, there’s clearly skill that went into its realization. The guitars sound akin to the rich-but-raw tones that Katatonia were prone to use circa Discouraged Ones. Although Von Warugi is as close to an anonymous Transylvanian warlock as any we’re bound to see in the modern world, it’s been speculated that his extensive drumwork with prog-rockers OmnisighT has lent him some considerable expertise in the realm of percussion. Nonetheless, the drums here are programmed, using samples from his own kit no less! While a lot of the metal musicians who use programmed drums only do so out of necessity, there is a certain coldness to sampled percussion that a human performance is too imperfect to capture.
If there is any part of this formula that I’m not entirely sold on, it would be the implementation of vocals. Both as a clean singer and growler, Void is a strong vocalist, and the harsh vocals (particularly on ‘The Instrument’ and ‘To Ghosts of Old’) are fantastic. When it comes to the cleans however, it’s almost as if they are too clean for their own good. Surrounded by fuzzy gloom, the timid vocals sound straight-laced in their execution. It does work well with the overarching melancholy on this album, but the somewhat sleepy integration of vocals is something Abandoned Palace could improve upon with future exploits.
Once the EP introduces its style, there is little in the way of twists or surprises, and yet each of these four songs feels uniquely imagined and sculpted. Considering all are crafted from the same gazey (read: sleepy) style of riffing and homogeneous mid-tempo, this is a particularly impressive feat. Although we’re still talking about a relatively narrow variety, there’s the sense that each subsequent song becomes a little more riff-focused and energetic than the last. ‘The Instrument’ is the most atmospheric and eerie of the four, with a meticulous synth arrangement behind it that recalls similar orchestrations I’ve heard in dungeon ambient and black metal. By the point of ‘To Ghosts of Old’, it becomes clear that Von Warugi has let his penchant for Swedish melodeath come across; the song still takes the same gloomy tempo and atmosphere, but the uncharacteristically anthemic chorus has clearly been inspired by something other than Abandoned Palace’s go-to doomster influences.
Discussing Abandoned Palace from an objective, stately perspective would work for nil. The music may be quite a bit better executed and arranged than many of its like-sounding peers, but Abandoned Palace ultimately speaks to the heart more so than the mind. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; the four songs are undoubtedly intelligent in their design, but the greatest impression I’m left with is emotional. For all of their stylistic predictability, Abandoned Palace have seen fit to conjure up old ghosts of melancholy. They may have the objective elements down pat, but it’s that alchemic effect that is the most promising. I do wonder if their overcast disposition will carry enough dynamic to engage a full-length offering, but if this EP is any indicator, there are great, and greater, things ahead in store.
01) The Instrument
02) Second Sight
03) To Ghosts of Old