Counting Hours – The Wishing Tomb (Ardua Music)

Friday, 23rd February 2024
Rating: 9.5 / 10

As these now aching bones have aged through the years (early 40s are a bitch), melancholic music has become more and more comforting. Though having been a major fan of acts like Katatonia and Anathema for many years, there’s always been a special place in this cold heart for the downtrodden hymns of the Finnish variety. Bands such as Rapture and Shape of Despair have been essential, though oddly enough, a melancholic rock band by the name of The Chant has resonated even deeper than most. Reflective, downtrodden, and oozing with soul, their music – along with the oft-overlooked Shamrain – are nearly always my go-to when the storm clouds of depression rear their ugly head. To say that bands like this have saved me in the past feels cliché, but it also couldn’t be more true.

Where are we going with this, you ask? Well, the beautiful voice behind The Chant – Ilpo Paasela – was announced as part of this intriguing new project named Counting Hours in 2016, along with bandmate and bassist Markus Forsström, as well as the guitar tandem of Jarno Salomaa and Tomi Ullgrén. Yup, the same of Rapture and Shape of Despair fame. Not to leave out drummer Sameli Köykkä, whose versatility is astounding. With a lineup that deep, what could go wrong? Absolutely nothing, as when Counting Hours dropped their demo in that same year, it was immediate enthrallment. Almost no band had to date conjured such a flawless mixture of sorrowful death/doom. The debut full-length The Will further cemented their standing, with three of the four demo songs re-done along with six other originals, forming out to be one of the best albums of 2020. Four years later, we’re graced with The Wishing Tomb, and a loftier expectation could not be had.

A smooth, scene setting intro track sets the tone, with “Timeless Ones” assuredly roaring into life, dripping with sadness and Paasela’s endearing croon. Truly one of the most underrated voices in music today. Gorgeous leads and pacey drums give the song some get up and go at the midpoint, but always hovering in that moody atmosphere that Counting Hours do so well. “Away I Flow” gives off a Ghost Brigade vibe in the memorable gritty bits that balance neatly with the emotive, consoling moments that give Counting Hours such poignancy. These vibes continue via the incessantly moving, Daylight Dies-esque “All That Blooms (Needs to Die)” and a measured, thoughtful number in “Starlit / Lifeless.”

The album’s title track is one of the longer endeavors, filled with acoustic guitars and a more drawn out tempo. This piece serves as one of the more chilled out and serene, with an addictive chorus that’ll likely stick within your ear canals. A fitting set up for The Wishing Tomb’s finishing stretch, highlighted by the monstrous “No Closure” and its dismal aura. Paasela’s transitions from snarling, death metal inspired growls to warm, calming cleans undeniably rattle one’s own somber sentiments. The album concludes with “The Well of Failures” – an entry that’s doomy to the core, gushing with tearful fragments within notably intricate songwriting that few are able to reach.

To put it frankly, Counting Hours have further established themselves as the leaders in their respective space. A genre where they currently have few equals, it’s hard to imagine there being a similarly styled release that will challenge in 2024. Where The Will steadfastly put Counting Hours on the map, The Wishing Tomb further ingrains them amongst the best to curate in this realm. There are few, if any, flaws to be found here. Consistently engaging and wistful, blending the heavy and the forlorn with a carefully deft touch, The Wishing Tomb is quite the esteemed accomplishment.

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