While Heaven Wept – Suspended At Aphelion (Nuclear Blast)Sunday, 26th October 2014
Epic doom forgers, While Heaven Wept, a Virginian band specializing in colossal works of song – huge in both their musical density as well as in their emotional gravity, return for their eagerly awaited fifth studio album (and third with their current singer, more on him later). In a quote from mainman Tom Phillips, “The album really is, quite simply, the greatest EPIC in our canon in that it is a single, 40-plus-minute monolith divided into 11 parts” (blabbermouth.net). Now, all bands pretty much have to believe and to state that their current work is their best to date, obviously. Yet it is left to the fans to make that ultimate judgment, and when While Heaven Wept, special band that they are, make such a statement, it comes with a high level of anticipation.
Beginning this latest epic is “Introspectus”, an instrumental, dream-like piece comprised of classical guitar, strings, and an exalted, fantastical atmosphere. A lush world is created from the get-go for the band to begin their ascent. It’s at the second song, “Icarus and I” where we are reunited with the memorable vocals of Rain Irving, the charismatic tenor who, upon debuting with the band on their phenomenal album Vast Oceans Lachrymose in 2009, ushered in this latest, and best era for the band. No slight to band co-founder and original singer Tom Phillips intended, as he is the brains of the whole project as well the longest tenured member and guitarist. However it came to be that Rain joined the band in 2008, it was a brilliant move. Between this song and the following “Ardor”, we find two of the albums strongest passages.
So, with regards to the where Suspended At Aphelion stacks up against the last two (the most recent being 2011’s Fear of Infinity), this reviewer and admitted fan would place it in third place. It’s hard to pin down the why of that position – when the atmosphere, musicianship, grand musical structures, and epic, potent emotional demonstrations of progressive doom metal are intact. In fact, in three of anything, there is a third just out of necessity…what I mean is that, a third in a great group can still be very good. To these ears, there is a bit more of a softness to the songs, a little more ballad and perhaps a little less darkness. At any rate, that surely affects my personal ranking, and may have no bearing on your own tastes. With less of the really memorable, goosebumps-moments than previously offered, WHW still deliver great melodies of depth and beauty, nonetheless, with world-class musicianship to boot.
In what is apparently the first of two new albums, Suspended At Aphelion opens this latest chapter in the saga in impressive form, and comes recommended.