Darkness Walks Beside Me
(Stay Heavy Records) Enslain Magazine Issue 10 Darkness really seems to surround Tuomas Saukkonen, or at least his lyrical themes. While many Before the Dawn or Dawn of Solace songs and album titles seem to include the word "darkness" somewhere, and the music is not exactly upbeat, he has taken this downhearted hopelessness into an even darker, moodier, and more personal territory with Black Sun Aeon. While I typically enjoy the works that Tuomas masterminds to at least some degree, this one takes the prize.
The music is not particularly complicated; rather, it devastates by means of its crushing simplicity. The predominant force is the penetrating bass and ultra low-tuned guitars. The guitarwork is not mono-dimensional, either. There are chunky down-strummed riffs, leads that dance around the lower side of the fretboard, and cleanly strummed guitar parts that invariably lead back into a dynamic depth. These strummed passages are often accompanied with translucent, soft synth to enrich the sound. It's these melodramatic dynamics, coupled with the striking and sensitive vocals, that really make the project remarkable.
The primary vocalist, Mikko Heikkilä of Sinamore, has a voice I had previously begun to cherish, but in Black Sun Aeon he presents a more matured and impassioned vocal delivery, with very little of a gothic metal resonation. This stands out even more with the creatively composed vocal melodies, which are full of somber mood, range, and impact. There is often a lack of a chorus, so the eccentrically intonated clean vocals are barely repeated enough to be instantly catchy; rather the rough edges or the extended crescendo into a dramatic high elevates the eventual addiction. Even some of Mikko's more aggressive vocals are still highly melodic and personal, and spilling out with bloody rage.
Rather than limit the vocal inputs to just one voice, several other notable vocalists add their mark to the record. Mynni of Sotajumala, who also takes part in some live sessions, can be heard on a handful of songs, while Ville of Moonsorrow's growls on two tracks add that extra kick, variance, and individuality with his further reaching growls-turned-screeches. Even Tomi Koivusaari adds his long unheard growls on "A Song for My Sorrow", and is immediately recognizable if you've been paying attention to Amorphis' older tales. The production on his voice is of ultimate grumbled distortion and severity - and extremely grim.
Then, of course, Saukkonen adds his voice, which may add the least character to the record, but is dependably present with a good, solid growl. Otherwise, Tuomas surely had enough on his plate composing every single instrument and lyric, and performing most of them as well. With only a muted hint of BtD in a few songs, there's a good line of separation between his projects, which is fairly surprising. The mixing and mastering also seems to have been done quite fastidiously, with a clean but full-sounding result. Just listen to the intro, or "A Song for My Funeral" with headphones for an example of the detail paid to the production, and for a reverberant and majestically sad pianic instrumental.
Given the personal aspect of this record, I truly expected that it would be a one-shot deal, and a band who may do gigs only occasionally, while the members' other bands are inactive. But with their follow-up already having been recorded less than a year later, Black Sun Aeon has the potential to become the bigger project. At least if I had my way. So, cheer up, Tuomas. Things aren't all that dark and gloomy.