Tiamat’s journey from Swedish death metal also-rans to brilliant doom / death / goth experimentalists to pedestrian purveyors of cheesy mediocrity is well documented, at least for anyone who has paid attention since about 1998. When conversing about how I would be covering Tiamat’s tenth album The Scarred People, reactions ranged from “they’re still a band?” to “I never really listened to them much.” Fact is, their years spent wallowing in sappy simpledom have not only diluted the overall quality of their recorded output, but denied many from experiencing what Johan Edlund and his cohorts were once capable of: greatness.
That greatness came mostly on Clouds and Wildhoney, classics of that ever-expanding wildness of the 90s. The former was a pillar of doom / death and the latter a sprawling twist on the formula that upped the goth and atmospheric factors. The band has tried quite recently to regain some of this former glory, with 2008’s Amanethes offering a much-hyped reinsertion of extreme metal threads, but the results did not meet the expectations. Perhaps shifting their throwback intentions, The Scarred People has a notable Wildhoney feel in its use of atmospherics and textures, but keeps the heavy goth metal / rock framework that post-millennial albums such as Prey were based on. Regardless of how it was conceived or designed, this is the band’s best set of songs since A Deeper Kind of Slumber, and ought to let people know that yes, Tiamat does indeed still exist, and might just have a few things left to say.
The particular brand of goth employed on The Scarred People reaches across multiple decades. For example, the title track and several other tunes almost sound like a textured and layered Paradise Lost with Nick Cave at the microphone, while other moments, most notably the chorus of “Winter Dawn,” come off like the soundtrack to a heavy metal Brat Pack movie. At its core, it isn’t all that different than what Tiamat has been up to for years now, and the band itself hasn’t changed – Edlund is still an expressive crooner and the collective instrumental skills remain tightly professional – but there’s a confidence and completeness here that recent albums haven’t exhibited. From the big moments to the minimal, understated material, Tiamat really nails the details and overall flow. Memorable choruses are around every corner (with the one in “Love Terrorists” being particularly grand), as are tasty guitar leads and examples of how well keys and sound effects are employed for depth and layering. The way that “The Sun Also Rises” leads smoothly into the emotive instrumental waves of “Before Another Wilbury Dies” gives a minor nod to the connected tracks of Wildhoney, while also giving the album an emotional peak without uttering a single word. Even the ultra cornball goth country tones of “Messinian Letter” work to a certain degree, and anyone who says otherwise should just imagine Peter Steele singing it; it isn’t that hard to imagine.
Over nearly 50 minutes, the mood does tend to drag at times, but just when it seems to be getting old another strong track shows its head. Granted, you’ve got to actually enjoy this sort of stuff for that to hold true, but I’d bet money that deep down, a lot more people would get a kick out of this than would care to admit it. Make no mistake, there’s some cheese here, but it’s the finely-aged, gourmet variety. The Scarred People isn’t perfect, and it certainly doesn’t approach the band’s classics of the 90s, but there’s a real here sign that Tiamat is finally getting it again, and to those who have paid attention all these years, that by itself is something to celebrate.