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Funeral - In Fields of Pestilent Grief

Funeral - CD Review
In Fields of Pestilent Grief

 Funeral - In Fields of Pestilent Grief

CD info
Solitude Productions
12 tracks
English lyrics from the grave

I am reminded of a comment made by a New York Times Culture columnist following Donald Trump’s less than uplifting speech accepting the Republican Nomination to run for President in the US earlier this year. He said, and I paraphrase to some extent, “That speech would have been depressing to a Norwegian Death Metal band”. And, in fact, it was. But, the comment also speaks to the nature of the Norwegian metal scene. Norwegians are known for their Gothic metal, their traditional Death metal, their Doom metal. However, the columnist may have been speaking about the band under review here, Funeral, for they are the darkest of all. In fact, they are largely viewed as the band responsible for the genre now known as Funeral Doom.

Now, to be clear, the release here is a 2015 re-release of a work originally released in 2001. And the history here is more than a little interesting. Funeral began as a band circa 1991. Their original release, Tragedies, came out in 1995 featuring the vocals of Toril Snyen. The release was strong, but the band’s label, Arctic Serenades proved less than satisfactory and the release saw light interest. Bassist Einar Fredriksen later commented that the label had “ripped off” the band and that fact, along with internal struggles, led to a 7 year hiatus between Tragedies and IFoPG. The internal struggles culminated in the release of vocalist Snyen and replacing her was more than a little difficult. However, once that concern was addressed with the hiring of Hanne Hukkelberg, the band went to work on IFoPG, seeing it released in 2001. It was somewhat more successful, however, Arctic Serenades again proved not to be up to the task. The results were devastating to the band and culminated in the suicide of Einar Fredriksen in January of 2003. A further release, From These Wounds, saw the light of day in 2006, at about the same time that the band experienced the death of guitarist Christian Loos. Funeral indeed.

Fast forward a decade of so and Russian label Solitude Productions enters the scene. The label specializes in dark music and arrangements were made with Funeral to re-release IFoPG. . . .with a couple bonus tracks to update the material. Now, I’m a bit uncertain exactly what other updates were made to the material, not having heard all the 2001 tracks. Maybe there are musical updates to individual tracks but I can’t confirm it. Either way, the material presented in this 2015 release is exceptional. The music is timeless, the presentation breathtaking. Of course, that’s a matter of perspective. This music is intended to be depressing and it massively exceeds expectations, both musically and lyrically. Given my background, both professionally and personally, the release speaks volumes to my history and I find it to be among the finest I’ve ever heard. However, listeners experiencing certain psychological stress or unhappiness in their lives might want to look elsewhere. Or at least keep the gun in the top drawer and the downers locked up.

Funeral is not exactly what one expects to find with more traditional metal. It is a different breed, one that takes no comfort from life, views little of the beauty to be found and expects little in return for it’s efforts. The sound is one of slow, grinding guitars over various keyboard sounds, all over a dense, debilitating drum that pounds out a dirge of pain and regret. But these are just the baseboard, the firmament upon which the the majestic key component rides. And that component is the voice of the aforementioned Ms. Hukkelberg. Hers is an operatic voice to be treasured. But, it is this beauty that drives the unholy darkness that Funeral has brought to us. That is the primary vocal on this release although there are limited male death vocals provided by Øystein Rustad on one track, and they blend nicely with the beautiful vocals of Ms. Hukkelberg. Beyond that there are two fully instrumental tracks, neither leaving the funeral house for more than an instant, if that.

Well, on to specifics. The first track is Yield to Me and we head to the funeral procession immediately. Music like this is hard to maintain over a full release but you can generally get at least one song like this in most Gothic or Doom products. The genius of Funeral is that they cover about an hour of it and it never seems to get old. You begin to understand why with this first track as the beautiful vocals over the pounding dirge begin to take you to a darkness that is, at least for me, profoundly liberating. The guitars are actually a bit crushing on this track but, should we take the time to listen, we hear thoughts that surpass even the musical excellence:

You lay as though dead / I did dance for the devil
but judge me not for / into the midst of the fire I suffer now

Scorching pain burning me / for my repentance, my deceive
an orgy full of spite / gliding all through your heart
whatever the sin is / I love you yet

The sound goes even darker in the second track, Truly a Suffering. The track begins with pounding guitars that impersonate a funeral train heading down the track with a remorseless beat. With this one, the production people start overlaying the female vocals, it’s like a chorus of the dead over a pounding and never ending dirge. There is a limited bridge in the middle but Funeral never overworks this component. Here, it’s some fine guitar picking that, on any other release, would be way too short. Again, the dark beautiful lyrics fit the music perfectly:

Scarring of the soul a reminder of / the bitterness,
gained through the years and years / in despair

What gift pays grieving
but the loss of sadness for a moment

Ignorance of children - admirable / they know not grief
The reminder of sadness / is still grinding / Still harvesting delight

One of the interesting things with this release is that you don’t find yourself choosing a “favorite” track. This is not a series of individual tracks, it’s a full listening experience, something like a movie. It may have individual scenes but the overall impression is taken from the complete experience. And that would include the instrumental tracks which just seem to fit comfortably into the overall product. However, as I spent more time listening to the release, I noticed that my focus tended to be on tracks where I was especially overwhelmed by certain lyrical components. One of these was The Stings I Carry which is, probably, no better or worse than any other track instrumentally, but which caught my attention with certain thoughts beautifully expressed:

I do not exist / I am but two eyes and a shadow
I would make you see / If I had the courage

Dance your celestial witch-dance
gracious and hurtful

Weep like the night-clad sky / a crumbled leaf in dirt I lie
For slumbers sweet embrace I try / and in my dream that I may die

I find it hard to get past anything that beautiful, especially when it is presented in such a beautiful way. And that is the essence of this release, beautiful dark thoughts, presented in a beautiful dark musical vehicle.

There are two additional tracks on this release, both being remakes of previous tracks. They have a different feel but the general approach is similar. Both utilize a male vocal on tracks that were previously female. Nice material but neither surpasses the original, IMO.

It’s not often we are provided an opportunity to listen to material that was largely responsible for the development of an entire musical genre. Solitude Productions has done us all a service in making this material available. The band is on stage shortly (as I write this article) in Norway with Evig Natt and another Norwegian band so there is certainly the expectation that more material, both recorded and live, is in the future. One can only hope.