Music I Love: “Crimson”, Sentenced (2000)

I first wrote about this album five years ago here, but I’ve been going through a brief resurgence of depression over the past few days, and there is no album that better summarizes those feelings for me than Crimson, by Finnish goth metal band Sentenced.

Sentenced’s career (now a decade over) started as a fairly traditional death metal band, before growing their singer’s melody from a guttural growl, and for many people their breakthrough album was Amok, released in 1995. Their lyrics have been filled with loathing and depression from the outset, but for me their peak was with 2000’s Crimson. The previous two albums, Down and Frozen have some gems, such as The Suicider, but for me Crimson was the first time that Sentenced truly abandoned their death metal roots entirely for a more pop-goth metal sound, never heard better than on their (Finnish) chart-topping Killing Me Killing You.

This album resonated deeply for me in my youth, for the lyrics seemed to perfectly encompass the bleak despair and misery that I lived through every day:

And yet in some twisted way
I enjoy my misery
And in some strange way
I have grown together with my agony

Home in Despair, Crimson (2000)

Now, seventeen years later, it brings back powerful memories of darkness and despair, and has ever been the soundtrack to depression throughout my ever-changing mental illnesses. Sentenced deliberately broke up in 2005 after releasing their final album, The Funeral Album, and although both it and 2002’s The Cold White Light were phenomenal monuments of bleak despair, nothing will ever top Crimson for its utter, devastating depression.

 

 

Music I Love: “Crimson”, Sentenced (2000)

Sentenced are a genre-defining band in many ways; hailing from Finland, their career has been marked by music of an intense, dark and depressing nature. Beginning as a melodic death metal band, their seminal album Down (1996) saw a departure from the guttural vocals, leaning towards a more melodic style, both vocally and musically. This was followed by Frozen in 1998, which furthered the new melodic style of the band. However, it was two years later, in January 2000, that Senteced pulled it all together, and released (to my mind) the most perfect album of their career: Crimson.

Sentenced’s themes universally revolve around depression, loss and death, though there are – every so often – rays of bitter hope that shine through. One of my favorite songs, Brief Is the Light, from their 2002 album The Cold White Light, contains the words:

Hear these words I say;

Make the most out of your day

For brief is the light on our way

On this momentary trail

Hear these words, awake:

Make the most out of your day

For brief is the time that we’re allowed to stay

However, there is little of this hope on Crimson, an album dominated by self-loathing, guilt and despair. At the time of its release, I was in a very dark place in my life, and every word on this album spoke to me, intimately. From the opening track, Bleed in my Arms, we hear of the destruction of love, for nothing but the knowledge that it is the only thing to do, the only just self-punishment. The second track, Home in Despair, is perhaps one of the most immediately identifiable songs to anyone who has suffered depression:

Again the sky has fallen down on me

Once more a world has crumbled down and over me

 [break]

And yet in some twisted way

I enjoy my misery

And in some strange way

I have grown together with my agony

 [break]

I feel home in despair for I dwell in grief

And I feel home when the air’s too thick to breathe

And I feel home anywhere human lives are going down the drain

 [break]

For as long as I remember life has been hard

I guess they have “misery” written somewhere in my stars

[break] 

For I have mourned for so damn long…

That I’ve forgotten what it was for

Everything has gone so wrong

That I really couldn’t think of anything more

[break]

I feel home in despair for I dwell in grief

And I feel home when the air’s too thick to breathe

And I feel home anywhere the light of the day is drowned in heavy rain

 [break]

Yet I know the worst is still to come

A further departure from their traditional style, the album opens to a slow-paced tempo, and in fact doesn’t pick up at all until Broken, five tracks in. The mood of the entire album, from start to finish, is morose, doomed, and dark. Halfway through, we have the anthemic Killing Me, Killing You, perhaps the best known song from the album. In some ways, this song of a torturous relationship is, if anything, the high point of the album, followed by an unstoppable descent into the black, all the way until the final, dying My Slowing Heart.

This is an incredibly strong album of frailty and despair, and its words speak a powerful message of depression. One of the most memorable, and heart-wrenching lines comes from Fragile, three songs in:

Sometimes it feels it would be easier to fall

Than to flutter in the air with these wings so weak and torn

Sentenced disbanded deliberately in 2005; a sort of pre-announced musical suicide. There could be no better end for a band so lost in despair.

Music I Love: “Blackwater Park”, Opeth (2001)

Blackwater Park is the fifth album by Swedish band Opeth, and represents in many ways the pinnacle of their early career. Musically, their style began to vary and diversify greatly after this album, but in many ways, it still represents the perfect place to learn their music, for it forms a bridge – both the culmination of everything they had ever done to that point, and the starting point for every album since.

Opeth began their career as a death metal band in the early 1990’s, releasing their first album, Orchid in 1995. Even here, there was evidence of their trans-genre styles; at a time when death metal was reveling in sonic brutality, Opeth presented a refreshing balance between heavy guitars and beautiful, lullaby-like jazz-inspired acoustic soundscapes. Their second album, Morningrise (1996) pushed further against the genre, including extended sections of jazz improvisation, and finishing with the beautifully sad To Bid You Farewell, a 10-minute ballad with no growls in sight.

While they continued to refine their style over the following two albums (My Arms, Your Hearse and Still Life), it was in 2001, with the release of Blackwater Park, that Opeth genuinely defined their sound. While most bands would have considered this the stopping point, for Opeth it proved merely the jumping-off point – each subsequent album has pushed the boundaries of what defines death metal (and metal in general), with their most recent album, Heritage, shedding all vestiges of their roots, and providing a stunning tribute to the bands of the seventies that had inspired them in the first place.

Blackwater Park opens with a ten-minute track, The Leper Affinity, kicking off the musical journey in a terrifying and exciting manner. Fading in from silence, a massive discord of sound builds to a swell, ever increasing until, with no warning, a shocking and harsh rhythm bursts in, thick chords and fast drumming. Over the top of this, Mikael Åkerfeldt’s guttural and devasting growls push the musical tension forwards until, if possible, the rhythm doubles in speed and moves into the secondary theme. Throughout the exposition, we are treated to a dizzying variety of rapid themes, each building organically from the previous. Then, quite suddenly, the song moves onwards into the development section, taking on the melodies and rhythm of a veritable waltz before, impossibly, giving way to a gorgeous acoustic section, and for the first time we are treated to Åkerfeldt’s stunning singing. Eventually, this leads us further into the development, the heavy guitars kick in again, building to an off-rhythm climax which culminates with a solitary scream leading back into the original opening theme. Just to push the contrast as far as possible, at the tail end of such intensity, the song finishes by petering out into a beautiful, slow jazz piano solo.

This one, single song represents in ten minutes everything there is to know about Opeth. The album progresses on beautifully from there, through a simple and serene ballad in Harvest, a stunning ballad in Dirge for November, and ending finally with the title track, a twelve-minute mammoth which, though starting and ending with heaviness, includes a six-minute acoustic jam right in the middle.

Opeth are an utterly unique band, and their music transcends genres, from metal to jazz to prog rock, and taking into consideration a hefty dose of western classical tradition. Though their subsequent albums have, in musical terms, bested even the mastery of Blackwater Park, this album remains their golden masterpiece – the defining moment in their career when everything that had led to this point was justified, and providing the foundation for everything to come.