Ikuinen Kaamos was poised to blow the living shit out of the dreaded sophomore slump with Epilogue when purported shenanigans on the part of their label brought the proceedings to a screeching halt. Rather than wallow in the mire, the Finnish quintet made three songs from that album available on their website as a free EP, aptly titled Closure, and subsequently stirred up a circumscribed but spirited frenzy of high expectations for the upcoming Fall of Icons. In spite of the band’s relative obscurity, the enthusiasm was clear testament to the quality of those songs.
Fall of Icons retains the critical elements that underscored the promise of Ikuinen Kaamos’ preceding works in extended, progressively styled songs that capitalize on outstanding musicianship and a talent for blending severe and delicate aesthetics. Most notably, the new record’s major strengths are reflected in the unabashed celebration of stellar guitar work from Juhani Mikkonen and Jarno Ruuskanen, a symbiotic pair who draw from a seemingly limitless reservoir of exquisite rhythmic structures and passionate leads in a range of instrumental media, from powerful electric solos to acoustic Flamenco flourishes. As the bridge between the melody and the rumbling barrage of the rhythm section, vocalist Risto Herranen brings a full repertoire of potent growls and rasps, but it is his cleans that set him apart here, as they authenticate the album’s perpetual desperation with an undeniably human frailty. And, while they’re a little weak on the opener, they gain strength successively through the following tracks and are exceptionally strong on centerpiece “In Ruins.”
In measured takes, Fall of Icons sounds great and stands distinct enough overall to remain relevant, but it has to be viewed as a bit of a step back for two reasons. Foremost, where their first LP, The Forlorn, and Closure shone progressive elements through a fundamentally black metal prism, Fall of Icons shifts the sound to prog-death to such a degree that the Opeth influence is well beyond debate. Album opener “The Indoctrination of the Lost Souls” is so startlingly reminiscent of Ghost Reveries material that the similarities overshadow the quality of the song, and the reach of the Opeth affinity extends well into the tracks beyond.
Less obvious is a relative muting of that indefinable quality that distinguishes the outstanding record from the merely well-executed and that glossed Closure and The Forlorn. Despite the evident technical proficiency in the pieces and songs crafted in largely similar style, there was a gut-wrenching pain on Fall of Icons’ predecessors that just doesn’t translate here except in bits and pieces until it is fully realized in the album’s closing movement. Prior to this, the songs feel frustratingly interchangeable, generating sometimes listless builds and releases within too predictable broader dynamics, although the shortcomings abate slowly over the course.
That slow developmental trajectory is this record’s most intriguing aspect. Interestingly, the arc of the album follows a strange evolution in which, from that giant backward step (or two), each song sheds a layer of the Opeth cloak until “Apart” finally rebuffs the comparisons entirely, save for the most superficial. Surely no coincidence, the aforementioned indefinable spirit enjoys a comparable revitalization. Following the arc of actualization, the album closer captures and exploits the band’s heretofore intermittently latent greatness with an astute balance between all that sublime melody and smothering weight, allows contrasts to emerge naturally and ultimately refuses to relinquish the band’s distinctive character.
Given Fall of Icons’ steady build to a first-class finish in “Apart,” only a fool would write this band off on the basis of the album’s dubious opening. The record is something of a rarity in that it amasses the bulk of its substance at its end, but it also rediscovers and culminates the band’s strongest qualities as it progresses and this evokes a palpable sense of rising power. Would that Ikuinen Kaamos hold tight to the upswing and fully recommence their ascent.