Monday, August 10, 2009

Tiamat - Clouds (1992)

In 1992, Tiamat returned to Woodhouse Studios, in Dortmund, Germany, to record their third full-length album. On this, their second collaboration with producer Waldemar Sorychta, the band continued their evolution. It is difficult to believe that this is the same group of musicians that recorded such things as The Sign of the Pentagram and Crawling in Vomits, back in their days as Treblinka. It is easy to follow this progression, through the previous two albums, however. By the mid-90s, many Black and Death Metal bands began experimenting with their sounds (often, to the dismay of their fans) and it seems that Tiamat was one of the first to do so. Released in September 1992, Clouds sees the more overt Death Metal tendencies fading, ever more, into the background as they go down the path toward eternal doom.

Long ago, I was introduced to this band (and many others) thanks to a mix tape from a European pen pal. The songs that were to represent Tiamat were taken from this album (as well as a live song, from the E.P. that followed this). As such, this was the first one of their albums that I owned. Honestly, it took a little getting used to. I was expecting something slightly different. However, I gave it a chance and came to appreciate it for what it was.

"In A Dream" begins with strange keyboard effects and an acoustic melody. This straddles the line that separates melodic Death Metal and simple Doom Metal. The guitar riffs are heavy and depressive. The vocals alternate between clean and harsh, with the latter dominating the album, despite not being as extreme as in the past. The song is mid-paced and only speeds up for a brief time, late in the song. There are some traditional Metal lead solos, as well. The production is fairly clear, yet seems a little soft. It's as if the rough edges have been smoothed down.

The title track starts out with a decent old school drum beat accompanying a complimentary riff. The song soon shifts into a higher gear, not really getting fast, but keeping up a decent pace. The lead solo is pretty epic and fits nicely into the song. The song isn't very dark, as the lyrics seem to convey a nearly optimistic message. This track has a relaxed kind of feeling, similar to what Amorphis would do, a couple years later.

"Smell of Incense" opens with a nice solo, though the main riffs aren't any more intense than what you'd find on Metallica's Black Album. As the riffs shift from Doom to Thrash, it is impossible not to notice that there is no edge, whatsoever. I actually like this album, but it certainly is rather light. People say the band went soft on Wildhoney, but I think it happened two years earlier, on this record. The lyrics aren't dark enough for this style of music, which has a lot to do with this, since the vocals are easy to decipher.

The next song features a very doom-inspired riff to start things. "A Caress of Stars" takes the atmosphere to a darker place, despite the keyboards and clean vocals. It all works well together in creating a much more dismal feeling. The haunting guitar melodies manage to take you in their powerful grip and to squeeze the life out of you. The quieter parts are executed quite well, giving off a sense of melancholy. This really drains the energy out of you, making you wish for nothing more than to crawl into a grave and pull the dirt over you, entering the eternal sleep. So far, this is the best song on here.

"You left me for dead"

This feeling is carried over into "The Sleeping Beauty". The live version of this song was actually the one that got me interested in the band, though it took some time to get used to the studio recording, since I'd heard the other one countless times before this. It starts with a sorrowful acoustic melody, joined by thunderous drums. This is followed by a very haunting doom riff, one that is sure to remain in the dark recesses of your mind until the grim day of your ultimate demise.

"What I need I'll never feel
This world is for me unreal
So I drink to darkness with a candle lit
And through the whole night alone I sit"

The overall pace is a little faster than the live version, which doesn't suit it as well, in my opinion. The vocals aren't as harsh here, either. However, this does not kill the doom-ridden atmosphere. There is a section where the pace increases, though this is brief enough. Later in the song, there is another acoustic melody, adding to the empty feeling.

"The more I drink, the more I see
That suicide could be the key"

"Forever Burning Flames" adds a sense of dread to the album, as the sinister aura is even darker than the previous songs. This one is mid-paced as well, only speeding up right after the chorus. The keyboards are less experimental and serve to create tension. The lead solo, near the end, adds a lot of life to the proceedings. This is one of the only songs to feature any actual Death Metal riffs, as the rest is dominated by the slower Doom Metal sound. This is also found here, for the most part, but it seems to alternate between the two.

The next song wastes no time in kicking into gear. "The Scapegoat" has the most intense opening riff (if one can use that word, here), giving the impression that this song is going to be faster or more forceful. Within only a few moments, it becomes clear that this is not the case. This song consists of slower Doom riffs and melodic riffs that are more in line with traditional Metal. The theme of the song appears to be a personal one, almost some sort of revenge on those who opposed the band in its earliest stages. I've always found such writing a little boring, so there's no need to focus on that.

The album reaches its end with "Undressed". Despite the odd title, it bears some of the best riffs on the record. Of course, it is slow and sorrowful, being filled with doom and gloom. The vocal performance is a bit odd, but the guitar melodies make up for it. Within a couple minutes, there's another acoustic part that is slightly reminiscent of Testament, followed by a woeful lead solo. The real brilliance comes once the verses conclude. The song takes on a far more epic nature and the melodic solo work, joined by the keyboards, conveys a mournful sentiment.

"I opened my veins"

As the song slows down, more and more, it carries you up, only to let you crash. As the instruments fade, nothing else is heard but the sounds of a heart monitor, in a hospital. Slowly, you can hear the person flatline. The sounds that follow are very ethereal, produced by keyboards, giving the impression that someone has died and is now floating off toward another realm.

Overall, this isn't the best Tiamat album, yet it is enjoyable. Looking back on it, it would be more accurate to call this Doom Metal with traditional and Death influences. If you appreciate such albums as Tales From the Thousand Lakes or even The Fourth Dimension, you may want to give this a chance.