While Heaven Wept
Fear Of Infinity
posted on 5/2011 By:
While Heaven Wept's peerless Vast Oceans Lachrymose brought a lot of new faces to the band's doorstep back in 2009. And rightly so: the album marked a new pinnacle in terms of emotional, utterly absorbing EPIC heavy metal. But how exactly does a band appropriately follow up such a thunderous opus? I suppose you simply dim the lights on that year's stage, focus your efforts forward and let the next chapter unfold as smoothly and organically as possible.
But Fear of Infinity doesn't actually represent an entirely new stage in the life of this long-running Virginia-based outfit, despite the fact that it sounds surprisingly different when stacked next to its predecessor. In truth, this record is meant to express a continuation and conclusion to a very painful personal struggle experienced by founding member/chief creative force Tom Phillips shortly before the recording of Vast Oceans Lachrymose. A more thorough commitment to the lyrical themes should bring the subject matter under a clearer light, so I'll leave their precise interpretation up to the listener, but suffice to say, bro got brutally bamboozled by a member of the fairer sex.
With that in mind, I'd say the initial reactions claiming that "something's missing" that I've seen in regards to Fear of Infinity from a few of folks out there -- including a couple regulars here at MetalReview -- are actually warranted, but they make a little more sense considering the fact that both albums are intended to represent the shifting states of mind one might expect to encounter after enduring a love-lost hardship similar to that which Mr. Phillips encountered around the beginning of 2009.
That alluded-to "missing element" stems chiefly from the fact that Fear of Infinity employs a significantly less melodically epic and more stripped-down formula for this endeavor. To those fans newly hooked by those utterly majestic guitar licks nuzzled within "The Furthest Shore" and the pants-tightening grandeur of "Vessel", that's a pretty tough pill to swallow. And hell, during an age when so many folks sample and burn through releases with all the patience of a crackhead with a couple of crumpled sawbucks in hand, why bother allowing an album to percolate for a while when that next fix is only a blog away?
So yes, Fear of Infinity requires a patient ear. In terms of my initial experience, seeing as how this platter stood as one of my most anticipated releases of 2011, I fully intended to gobble it down the moment it hit the ol' desk so that I could properly churn out a review a couple weeks before its official street date. But two quick spins and the early jolt delivered upon discovering the shifted formula made it clear that I needed more time and a different perspective in order to give the album a fair shake.
Now that the dust has had ample chance to settle, my quick and dirty interpretation of Fear of Infinity is that, for the most part, the record trades that wonderfully affecting melodic epicness from Vast Oceans in favor of moods that accentuate indignation and stripped-to-the-bone dejection. The direction works particularly well in terms of the preceding emotion, as the opening "Hour of Reprisal" and its follow-up "Destroyer of Solace" both strike with a cruel, weighty hammer rife with fiery rage and piles of surprisingly dense and often fast riffing during their (unfortunately) short duration. (Hell, the opener damn-near hits black metal territory by the time it hits the 2:40 mark -- more proof that this band is unwilling to pigeonhole themselves under one genre umbrella.) Also adding to the album's stoutness is the heavier emphasis on Jim Hunter's bass playing this time around, particularly on the two opening cuts, that delivers a fluttering flagellation similar to being run over by a slowly plodding combine harvester.
It's when the story takes the sorrowful, stripped-to-the-bone turn that, I'd imagine, creates a stumbling point for some parties involved; surprising, considering this is exactly where While Heaven Wept has nailed the winning goal time and again in the past. Perhaps not so much on "Obsessions Now Effigies", which gracefully pairs up those beautifully majestic keys and Rain Irving's phenomenal voice with just a pinch of the melodic guitar flair of VOL. But the album's midpoint -- the soft and repetitive piano ballad "Unplenitude" and the inching and starkly barren stretch of "To Grieve Forever" -- is decidedly devoid of hook, so I can understand why folks would make claims of "what's missing" if they're busy jamming this album while speeding down the road taking care of the day's business.
Luckily, the album's pinnacle, the remarkable "Saturn and Sacrifice", swoops in and grabs the drowning hand and hauls the listener back in with one of the band's most affecting tunes to date. The doomy stride that opens the cut is just fucking brilliant, as is Rain's infectious chorus, and we finally get that warm, engaging "Awaken the Guardian on 45rpm" feel the band so resolutely stamped down with the previous release. It also marks a fitting entry-point to the album's 11-minute closer, "Finality", which splits its time between slowly meandering acoustics and a bottom half that casually lifts the listener to an unexpectedly uplifting and triumphant conclusion.
In the end, it would be ridiculous to expect people to not compare Fear of Infinity to its magnificent predecessor. But I don't think that's such a bad thing, really. Vast Oceans Lachrymose is the sort of release that will forever be marked as one of epic heavy metal's crowning achievements, and that's something to be unceasingly celebrated. And while I'd agree that Fear of Infinity doesn't reach the same summit, I would argue that it does indeed make a fitting companion and conclusion to the story for those with enough patience to give it a proper chance. Hail While Heaven Wept; I can't wait to hear where they go next.
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