Little can compare to the feeling of being truly leveled by the work of a great artist, whatever the medium may be. The sweep of Vermeer’s brush, the flow of a Gehry building, or the cobbling together of words that keep your eyes pinned to pages for hours on end – to be crushed by an artist’s work is one of life’s true joys, and it’s something I was lucky enough to experience during my encounter with full-length number three from Virginia’s While Heaven Wept.
Very early on during initial spins of Vast Oceans Lachrymose, I knew I wanted to get the record in my ears while enjoying a quiet little craggy spot I discovered along the Pacific about 45-minutes northwest of my home in Oakland, and my LORD did that endeavor ever open the album’s majesty to a new crowning achievement. Obviously that isn’t meant to be interpreted as an indication that one must live near the sea in order to enjoy this thing, but rather as evidence that seemingly rare beauties such as this inspire people to find whatever means necessary to enhance the full reward. Vast Oceans Lachrymose is one of those unique records that’s deserving of unique usage, I suppose.
For those unfamiliar, While Heaven Wept play epic doom with strong traditional and progressive metal leanings. One can clearly pick up the influence of bands such as Solstice, Candlemass, Solitude Aeturnus and Arch-era Fates Warning, but it’s all worked into a WHW blueprint that maximizes a very strong sense of tortured emotion that, quite frankly, is damn-near overwhelming at times. There’s evidence of pure, pounding heaviness (37 seconds into opener “The Furthest Shore” – WOW), loads of exquisite acoustic guitar wrapped in anguish, stretches of knotty prog, and of course, piles of sweeping, melodic grandeur that’s very honestly unmatched by most anything I’ve heard in the last decade. And it all flows so seamlessly from one song to the next, hinting at the staggering amount of time it must have taken to piece the full puzzle together. Honestly, there’s so much going on within these songs that you feel like you just listened to a day’s worth of music in 42 minutes, yet Vast Oceans never manages to sound overly busy.
A quick look at the sheer number of bands these players have all been a part of over the last two decades should be evidence enough of While Heaven Wept’s expertise as far as individual talents are concerned, but I would be remiss if I didn’t focus some additional attention on the vocal end of the record’s strengths. Before the entrance of newcomer Rain Irving, Tom Phillips provided the voice of the band, but he eventually decided to focus his time on guitar and simply provide background vocals – a wise move, as Irving’s version of the high-register vocals adds just a touch more grit to the formula. He sounds absolutely incredible throughout Vast Oceans, but he hits a particularly affecting highpoint during the crushing “Vessel,” a song that’s sure to be a contender for 2009’s Song Of The Year.
It’s a bit embarrassing to gush on at such length about an album as I’ve obviously done here, but Vast Oceans Lachrymose is as close to a perfect record as I’ve heard in years, so it’s deserving of extraordinary praise. In a word, I’d call the record MAGNIFICENT, and with letters that tower high enough to cast a shadow into the next county.
If you count yourself a fan of epic, emotional heavy metal that demands a certain level of susceptibleness that’s fairly rare in our genre today, this one is most certainly for you.
Pant-soilingly bombastic, and 100% recommended.