The Will is the debut record from Finland’s Counting Hours, and in the interest of getting straight to the point, here’s the point: this record is unabashedly, lovingly, even aggressively 90s in style. Such a broad generalization likely caused you to make one of the following three April Ludgate Reactions:
Annoyed April: “Keep your retro trash out of my face.”
Happy April: “I love that so much that I might vomit!”
Doubtful April: “There were a lot of horrible sounds made during the 90s and I refuse to let you attribute all of them to a single record.”
Also call the last one Inquisitive April. Sure, she’s skeptical about the generalization, but somewhere in there she’s eager to solve the mystery. The Will is not going to appeal to her once boyfriend Derek or his boyfriend Ben, who require much more shameless and oh so cutesy irony in their sound waves. Nor will it appeal to eventual husband Andrew, who won’t appreciate the lack of vanilla, plaid, acoustic Midwesternness. No, Counting Hours’ music is made to appeal to only one member of April’s friend circle:
Orin, the budding goth. Orin, he of the shadows and cloaks. Orin, Pawnee’s young lord of gloom and doom.
Orin would be drawn to Counting Hours not because the band has very 90s influences ‒ Orin cares not for the concept of time or its meaningless references ‒ but because Counting Hours embraces the gloom, the misery, the depressive wallowing of the human condition. Not exactly surprising for a band that has a pair of Shape of Despair members among its ranks.
Renkse-ish in delivery and intent, but not quite in final effect, of course. Few people ever can sound as absolutely despondent as he sounded on Discouraged Ones (maybe just Robert Smith on Faith?). Still, vocalist Ilpo Paasela does a more than admirable job with both the depressive, drifty tone and engaging melodies throughout, not to mention a knack for when to pair a good scream with a hook or huge impact.
While the Katatonia connection is obviously the dominant trait of this record, they aren’t the only lords of sadness that Counting Hours pulled from to assemble their debut. Fans of this particular era of doom and gloom will hear shades of Paradise Lost in the occasional Gregor-ish lead or the harsh vocal passages of “To Exit All False” (which yes, is a funny song title for a metal song), while some of the guitar harmonies are likely to remind listeners as much of very early Opeth or the more stripped down My Dying Bride albums as they are Katatonia. There are touches of late 90s Anathema (“Saviour” shares Judgement‘s feel of being less depressed than simply resigned to a certain fate) and the occasional hint of dreaminess (parts of “Buried In The White”). The dreaminess never enters into shoegazing terrain or real happiness, merely a slightly warmer shade of gray to go with all the coldness.
All of the usual caveats about such a blatant homage apply here, of course, but the band clearly knows that it isn’t trying to cast the widest of nets with its music. This is for a very specific group of fans that love a very specific era of music and want more of that very specific sound. To that end, Counting Hours hits the nail on the head in terms of its lush but slightly distant production, engaging-but-not-too-engaging songcraft, and just generally executing a vibe.
Much like those two Katatonia classics mentioned above, this is a record for staring through a window during early, foggy hours as the leaves slowly turn brown, fall to the ground, and decompose; the intro even features the sound of a gentle rain. The name Counting Hours is almost a bit misleading, as The Will is music for forgetting about the passage of time altogether. It’s an extremely late autumn album, which is good, because it’ll be late autumn pretty soon and one can never have too many appropriate soundtracks.
Play this for the Orins in your life instead of dragging them to the Pawnee Harvest Festival. They’ll be glad you did, even if they don’t show it.