During a time when US-based metal labels were mostly searching for the next meaner, faster, more extreme band, Arlington, Texas’ Solitude Aeturnus epitomized the much less popular doom slant. This left the band with very little label support, and it made it nearly impossible to track down their records throughout much of the 90s. But the band’s devotion to their craft far eclipsed any roadblocks thrown their way, and eventually their perseverance paid off with growing support outside the United States. Over time, word began to spread about the monumental doom being forged, and thanks in a large part to the wondrous World Wide Web, the band’s existence and material eventually became easier to come by. The end of this year marks the 20th anniversary for the Solitude Aeturnus crew, and during a time when it’s actually become difficult to find a doom fan whose life hasn’t been influenced by this remarkable band in some way, they’re finally dropping a new album after eight long years of silence.
Candlemass is the band that’s immediately marked as the most clear antecedent – a very fair analogy, considering both bands’ heavy reliance on pounding riffs, ripping leads and extremely distinctive, grandiose vocals, all delivered with a demand for all things EPIC. However, after spending some solid time digging deeper into Solitude’s material, one can hear a multitude of other influences infused in the doom as well. Early Fates Warning abounded on their first two records, especially the slightly speedier Beyond the Crimson Horizon. Mid-era material, particularly 1994’s amazing Through the Darkest Hour, found the band slowing things down and bludgeoning with a guitar and bass tone that sounded damn near grind-like. And their last release, 1998’s Adagio, infused some psychedelic elements in the guitar work and featured a more polished veneer. No matter what’s been picked to spice the brew over the years, however, ALL their material has been rooted in a solid nucleus of insanely epic doom, and Alone is certainly no different.
On the surface, the new record sounds like a very logical progression from ‘98’s Adagio. Each song is loaded with the kind elements fans have come to expect, but we also come face-to-face with some of the most plodding, glacial riffs Solitude Aeturnus has crafted to date. Said riffs are still cocooned in the melodic, infectious lead guitar work of founding member John Perez, who once again comes up huge on this record. And true to the Solitude formula of old, there’s still a strong pull from Middle Eastern/Arabic ethnology, especially the smoky opening track “Scent of Death,” and throughout the sitar infused “Waiting for the Light.” We also hear more of a Mercyful Fate/King Diamond influence on Alone – unsurprising, considering Perez’s affinity for King’s music, and the fact that one of the engineers involved here has twisted knobs for King in the past. The imprint of Hank Sherman and Andy LaRocque are flashed beautifully by Perez in much of the early part of the record, especially the ripping intro-lead on “Waiting for the Light” and at the midpoint of “Blessed Be the Dead.”
Also to be expected, Robert Lowe’s warm, incredibly impassioned voice complements the somber sentiment of the band’s music perfectly. Tunes such as “Blessed Be the Dead,” “Sightless” and the incredible “Tomorrow’s Dead” all have the kind of choruses that will sink heavy hooks in listeners’ brains, and it’s very clear that the eight year span between releases hasn’t diminished the man’s cords in any way, shape or form.
All too often, grandiose returns from bands after long waits leave fans…discontented. Thankfully, that is very much NOT the case with Alone, a record that could be used as a textbook definition of contentment with regard to hype and anticipation. Treat yourself to one of the finest releases you’ll hear this year; Alone is absolutely and unequivocally essential for every doom fan. Welcome back, Solitude Aeturnus.