Friday 25 November 2022

Eternal Candle - Lava (2022)

Country: Iran
Style: Progressive Doom/Death Metal
Rating: 9/10
Release Date: 13 Nov 2022
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One of the earliest albums I reviewed here at Apocalypse Later was The Carved Karma, the debut album from Iranian progressive doom/death metal band Eternal Candle. I'd stumbled across that sometime in 2018 and adored it, even though I hadn't considered Iran any sort of hotbed of metal activity. Four years on, I've reviewed other Iranian albums from a variety of genres, so it's not just Eternal Candle, but it took until last year for prog rock band Atravan to join them on an 8/10, thus making my Highly Recommended List for the year. Now, Eternal Candle are back with a follow-up to their debut, so I was hoping for it to make three for Iran.

While I'd never stopped listening to rock and metal, back in January 2019, I hadn't deep dived into what was going on across the world in a long time. With almost 1,200 highly varied albums behind me (and the reviews to match), I'm much more aware of what's happening nowadays. I still have to point out that Eternal Candle are still doing things that feel unusual. Sure, their sound is clearly a derivation of doom/death taken in progressive directions, bands like Anathema and Opeth listed on their Bandcamp page as tags. However, that doesn't explain everything.

It might explain their approach to contrast. Their songs tend to include light sections that are sung clean and are often delicate and beautiful, as well as heavy sections that shift to a harsh vocal and intense musicality. It's far from unusual for this band to migrate back and forth between those two extremes and they do it really well. However, they don't do it in all the ways that other bands with similar approaches take. Even their escalations seem different, such as the way that the soft part early in The Last Verdict ramps up during a line rather than between two of them.

For one, however heavy those heavy parts get, the lead guitar tends to float above them with real ache in its heart. I'm sure they took that from bands like Anathema and My Dying Bride, but what it means to Eternal Candle is that even the heaviest material here or the most majestic, such as a late section in The Crows, never loses a sense of melancholy. It's one of the main reasons why I feel an Eternal Candle album as much as listen to it.

For another, I found myself fascinated by Josef Habibi's drums this time out. I'm not a drummer so I can't tell you what he does differently, but he does something very differently, especially during verses. It's like he's discovered a new beat entirely separate to the upbeat and the downbeat, and he's invented a new way of performing fills. Whatever it is that he does, I love it. Somehow he finds a way to make the drums more obvious, even when we're focused on melodies or textures, without actually stealing the spotlight from whatever else is going on.

And, for a third, I wonder if he took that magic trick from Armin Afzali, whom I highlighted last time out and will happily highlight again here. His basswork stands out for me because it feels at once completely apart from anything else going on at any particular point in time and also somehow a pivotal part of everything that's happening. It's as if he's standing away to the edge of the stage, or on a completely different stage, doing his own thing, his bass almost a subtle lead instrument in a different song that's playing only in his head, but somehow it underpins everything and gives it life.

I listen to so many albums from which the bass could be removed entirely without us noticing much except a slightly thinner overall sound. However, If we removed Afzali's bass from this album, what would remain would be completely different. I have a feeling that it would be rather like a human body still going about its day but without any blood. It wouldn't just lose most of its colour, though it would do that; it would leap into the uncanny valley and make us wonder what's wrong with it.

Like The Carved Karma, this is a pretty generous album, its eight tracks racking up nearly an hour of music and, initially, I enjoyed this as a single fifty-four minutes of immersive doom/death. Over repeat listens, the individual songs asserted their own identities and they're still doing that, even though they all stand out in their own way. The Nun was my first favourite track because it was the first track on the album, but Vortex took over a listen in. Then The Last Verdict made its case and a variety of others. It's got to the point now where my favourite track is whichever one I'm listening to right now.

And that means that this isn't another 8/10 for me after all. It's a 9/10. It just keeps getting better. As do Eternal Candle.

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