This album opens so delicately that there are only two ways it can go. Either it will remain soft for the duration and soothe us for three quarters of an hour or it'll lull us into a false sense of security and then leap on us like an elephant on springs and crush us completely. Given the band's name, it won't be too surprising to find that Smouldering into Dust goes with the latter option. Doom isn't a style I hear a lot from South America, so it's surprising to hear it from a band based in Santiago, Chile, but it definitely comes in a different flavour to usual. Their Bandcamp page states that they incorporated "aspects of the deepest and most emotional tunes of traditional Chilean folklore".
The opener is On Rain and Thunder, which understands delicacy. The guitar is soft and delightful. The vocals are understated even when not whispered. There are strings before there are drums. They show up two minutes in when things get heavy but they do it even better six minutes in after another softer passage, this one focused on piano rather than acoustic guitar, with violins circling behind it and a narration floating over it all. It's definitely ambitious stuff, even before I realised that almost all this music is the work of one man, who goes by Niklas, probably because his clearly Scandinavian full name—Ulf Niklas Kveldulfsson—must seem a little unusual in Santiago.
Niklas plays all the guitars, both acoustic and electric, along with the bass, the keyboards and the piano, and even some of the violin, though most of that is provided by a guest, Caroline Salmona, which sounds a little more Chilean, even though she's actually German. Ironically; her other guest appearances are for bands based in Norway and Finland. The only other instrument here is drums, which are played by C Krono. The vocals come courtesy of A.P., who's obviously a busy man singing for seven current bands besides this one.
Niklas and A.P. are the driving force behind the band and I presume the Chilean folklore that they wanted to bring into doom is what I'm hearing primarily in the delicate sections, like the one that kicks off On Rain and Thunder, but also the entirety of the two shorter songs. That means the five minute Sea of Desperation and the three minute Rimü, which never take the plunge into doom at all, even if they share its melancholy. None of the songs that do clock in at under eight and a half minutes, with two making it past ten.
Those songs are built out of melancholy so play less like Black Sabbath or Candlemass and more in the vein of doom/death bands, the ones that don't have a foot in gothic metal. This is less about a hand crafted and polished texture, all mahogany and velvet, and more about the ache that builds out of isolation, whether that's across eternities or, as the cover art suggests, through being lost in the mountains. One of the four epics is called A Funeral Poem, but the lyrics suggest that all of them ought to count as funeral poems, so maybe the isolation stems from loss.
Interestingly, they're all sung in English, which isn't immediately obvious due to A.P.'s harsh vocal and its placement within the mix. He's an instrument here rather than a delivery channel for the lyrics. He aches at us and he wails at us in mourning, but we don't need to understand his words to feel his pain. It punctuates this and accentuates the mood but I found myself being carried along capably enough by the waves of the music behind him, slow and heavy but expansive and notably welcoming, albeit in the way that death can be welcoming. We can stay and absorb A.P.'s pain but we can be swept off into eternity by the immensity of the sound.
The only part that's in Spanish is a section in Grey Was the Chant of My Endless Autumn, easily the longest song here at almost eleven minutes. I believe it's the delicate section early in the second half, with a reprise at the end, after an unusual and subtle echoing drum part that's not ambitious enough to be called a solo. This one feels most epic here and that's saying something, given that a majority of the album feels epic and Chasm of Abandoned Souls comes close. It's surely the ending that nudges this one over the edge, not only with those drums but also the piano/violin duet that closes the song out.
I like this and I felt it deep in my bones. There's certainly room for musical growth, especially with the symphonic tag currently being represented entirely by a solo violin. However I could imagine a serious depth with full orchestration, which surely isn't here because of how expensive that would be. Maybe once Mournument are more established, they can expand that side of their sound. I'm interested to see how that comes out.