While Heaven Wept
Vast Oceans Lachrymose
posted on 10/2009 By:
Little can compare to the feeling of being truly leveled by the work of an artist, whatever the medium may be. The stroke of Vermeer's brush, the flow of a Gehry building, or even the seemingly simple written words that whip up an epic tale of rabbits fleeing to a hill in northern England: it's a wonderful experience, this personal mesmerization through art, and one of the added benefits of having it done by a piece of music is that you can carry this particular medium and enhance the pleasure of its twisting tendrils by experiencing it in an environment of your own choosing. Such was the case with my encounter with Vast Oceans Lachrymose. Once my initial spins were thoroughly digested from the comfort of my home, I knew I wanted to enjoy it in a quiet little spot I discovered nestled amongst a craggy shore along the Pacific about 45-minutes northwest of Oakland. And holy shit did that endeavor open the album's majesty to a new crowning achievement. Now, understand my point is obviously not that one need pack up for the closest shore in order to cull this platter's full reward, but rather that when you come face-to-face with one of these seemingly rare beauties, you want to figure out means to enhance the experience to towering levels. That's precisely the type of album Virginia's While Heaven Wept have accomplished with Vast Oceans Lachrymose, their third full-length in two decades of existence.
So, what exactly is on the menu? Well, to put it simply, While Heaven Wept play epic doom with strong traditional and progressive metal leanings. You can clearly note the influence of sole founding member Tom Phillip's supplementary bands, Solstice and Twisted Tower Dire, but throw in healthy measures of Solitude Aeturnus and John Arch-era Fates Warning to better paint a true picture of what's in store. That essentially means you new-fangled metaller's out there with your heads in the screamy/posty clouds should probably pass on by; this record isn't likely to blow your hair back. But if any of the above-mentioned bands are held close to your heart and you've not yet experienced this band, it's quite possible you'll soil your pants heavier than a baby that's just huffed down five helpings of mashed carrots & broccoli.
The perfect score, while admittedly directed within the stated sub-genre, is something I stand by whole-heartedly. The production is crisp and clear enough to draw out each player's necessary role, not just the expected guits/vox/drums. Past classics from the band's peers have occasionally skimped on bass, but such is not the case here. Jim Hunter (Lord Vicar, October 31, Revelation and Twisted Tower Dire) is clearly audible throughout the album and definitely adds another layer of heaviness to the surprisingly dense riffing dropped by Phillips and fellow axe-man, Scott Loose. In addition, the record's keyboard-play is folded in perfectly as backdrop atmospherics and only take a more prominent role when there's an added emphasis on upping the epic ante.
Songwriting strikes the bull's-eye due to the overwhelming amount of fluid tempo and mood shifts pouring from the speakers. There's pure pounding heaviness (37-seconds into opener "The Furthest Shore" -- wow), loads of exquisite acoustics wrapped in doleful mellowness, stretches of knotty prog, and of course piles of sweeping, melodic grandeur immersed with outright epic-ness. And it all flows so smoothly from one measure to the next, revealing the sheer amount of work it must have taken to string all the pieces into the Vast Oceans Lachrymose whole. Ultimately, there's just too much going on throughout the album's relatively short length (a mere 42-minutes: my only criticism) for me to pinpoint highlights in one review. It's safe to say your emotions will run the gamut between galloping triumphantly to "looking out to sea with heavy heart" from the second the album starts to the moment it draws to a close.
Just looking at the sheer number of bands these folks have all played in over the past two decades should be sound evidence of While Heaven Wept's expertise in the musicianship category. But I'd be remiss if I didn't focus a little attention on the vocals provided by newcomer, Rain Irving. Before his entrance, Phillips filled the role, but eventually decided the band would best be served if his focus remained purely on six-stringing and providing background vocals: a wise move, as Irving's version of the higher register epic doom vocals puts a smidge more grit into the mix -- something I've always felt was missing from the band's previous full-length. Beyond the proggy feel of the music throughout Vast Oceans Lachrymose, it's Irving's vocals that also help bring to mind the Arch-era of Fates Warning mentioned earlier; the 1-minute mark of the excellent "To Wander the Void" is ample evidence of this. Rain certainly stands as the band's rookie of the year, and he truly shines during the emotive chorus that repeats throughout the wonderful "Vessel" that hits at the midpoint of the record.
It's a little embarrassing to gush on at such length about an album as I've obviously done here, but Vast Oceans Lachrymose does such a wonderful job of throwing down the perfect mix of undiluted emotion and crazy amounts of depth, I can't help but trumpet its worth from a mountaintop. In a word, I'd call the record Magnificent, with a capital "M" dropping shadow clear into the next county. It's a fantastic work of heavy metal that's undoubtedly deserving of high accolades, and it just might turn out to be my album of the year.
As a final note, if MetalReview had a separate score for album cover artwork, you'd have to be blind not to see that this one would score perfectly as well. John Martin's (1789-1854) Christ Stilleth the Tempest commandingly augments the entire "epic package" delivered by this work, and it's something I hope to dive into at great length once the record eventually comes out on vinyl.
Pants soilingly bombastic and wholly recommended!
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