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Music Review: Various Artists – Fo(u)r Burials Compilation

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The compilation Fo(u)r Burials was originally released in 2008 — and is being marketed as the most extreme “doom” collection ever. Flenser Records is a San Francisco label that has just re-released the disc. Well hell’s bells — that was a description that caught my eye, and I had to check out just how “deathly” this compilation was.

I hate to make this joke, but I have to. The career of the likes of Justin Bieber is a far more frightening prospect to me than anything on this album. There are plenty of the dreaded “descending Satanic tritones” (as Johann Matheson described them in the 18th century). Probably the most well-known example of this sound is the song “Black Sabbath” by Black Sabbath. It was considered beyond evil by some; the chord progression itself supposedly summons Lucifer upon command.

Well, we all know how that went. It appealed to those who had had enough of the Up With People gang — and good grief, many of those people even enjoyed a bong-hit or two as well. As far as turning anyone into a living gargoyle though, as far as I can tell it was only Ozzy’s prodigious drug-taking that had any lasting effect. And then one day G.W. Bush invited him to the White House.

So let’s move away from the selling of this as the most evil recording one could possibly imagine, and actually listen to it. What we have here are four pretty great (and lengthy) tracks. There is no question that this music is intended for a specific audience. I think that was a mistake, but then again, I wouldn’t know how to market it any better than Flenser, with statements like, “This four-track album reeks of desolation, the gnashing of teeth, and virulent decay.” Well, okay, but then again, I used to be afraid of Mortiis.

With band names such as Mournful Congregation, Loss, Orthodox, and Otesanek, what the freak else are you going to do? The problem is, all four of these groups deserve a lot more attention than being shoved into the “demonic” ghetto.

Otesanek’s “Seven Are They” opens the disc, and it is the “heaviest” song here. It almost exclusively uses the tritone in form, and the “Cookie Monster” vocals (which are such a cliché at this point) are the other most noticeable element. But what happens after they have established their “darkness” is the first example of why I recommend this album so highly. The band is just too talented to stop there, and the song moves into a much more progressive place. They just can’t help themselves, I guess.

Loss’s “(To Pass Away) Death March Towards My Ruin” has much the same effect. Despite repeating the line “I become death, death is the seed from which I grow” for the first 3:12 of the song, they then find themselves at a dead-end, and move into a far more interesting direction. Having established their bona-fides, Loss are just too damned good to stay in such a one-dimensional spot. It gets deeper and darker, and one heck of a lot more interesting as they musically move much further up or down the line (depending on your perspective).

It is Orthodox who own the album. “Heritage” either makes Fo(u)r Burials, or breaks it — again depending on your point of view. I was shocked at the directions this 18:33 track took. So amazed in fact that I listened to it three times in a row just to make sure that my initial impression was on track. Whatever the term “progressive rock” means today, and how it could possibly relate to the (self-described) genre of “extreme doom” was not something I had ever even considered. And yet, here it is.

From the low-key opening, to the nearly Gregorian chant-like period that follows, through the gradual build-up in tempo, this song is truly hypnotic. If there was ever a reason for people to be frightened of so-called “doom” music, “Heritage” is absolutely it. No matter what your particular biases are, there is no denying the fact that this piece of music as the work of musicians far beyond the need for hype. I don’t care what Orthodox’s music is called. These are not kids in a garage trying to write music to scare their parents, or to impress their friends with. The sophistication of “Heritage” blew me away.

The final track on the album is “Left Unspoken” by Mournful Congregation. It’s pretty “deathly,” I guess. A mournful congregational piece with some surprisingly insightful lyrics, here are its opening words:

“I’m failing to bring forth peaceful emotions, for a reason I cannot perceive. But for a moment I am lost, in my own mind, alone.”

I am not sure if my review of Fo(u)r Burials adequately explains just how impressed I am with this album. The whole death metal/doom/gloom/goth business is just too ripe for parody — and I realize that some of that is reflected in this review. Despite the over-the-top hype about this being some of the most “dangerous” music you will ever hear, very few people take any of it seriously. All of my (probably unfunny) jokes aside, this is a CD that that shows a group of talents which merits much more than the usual Halloween face-paint, and predictable music and lyrics.

Listening to Fo(u)r Burials may not automatically send you to meet the man with the pointed tail, and (heaven forbid) a pitchfork in hand. But it just might introduce you to some music you would otherwise never hear.

To put it bluntly, this is a pretty goddamned great collection.

 

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