Cheltenham-based gothic doom unit, Edenfall, looked to have disintegrated in 2016 with the loss of their irreplaceable drummer, Marcelo Teixeira. His return to the drum stool in 2019 put them back on track to write the follow up to 2014’s Under Sultry Moons and Velvet Skies and saved one of England’s most promising bands. Naturally, Covid-19 exacerbated this process, but their self-belief and enthusiasm for creating a unique synergy of folk and extreme metal allowed them to complete album number three with no regrets and no stone unturned. If anyone deserves to triumph after nine years away, it’s Edenfall.
With Texeira back in the band, the core foundations of Edenfall can now centre around the soprano brilliance of Clare Webster and the song arrangements of Rob George. Indeed, the latter two are the only remaining founder members since their formation in 2009, and how indispensable does this make them if their drummer is so important? Opener, ‘Forest of Veils’, begins with an enchanting multi-layered pine of voice from Webster before the rhythm section get into gear for a lively joust of gothic metal posturing. The tessitura of this song relies on Webster to guide band and listener through a “tangle of tresses and debris”, yet the malevolent roar of Rob George threatens to pull it into a blackened death metal direction. You can hear a piano motif like My Dying Bride’s ‘The Cry of Mankind’ among the sap and soil. Sharp kick drums and crisp snares counter the high-reverb keyboards at the climax. Tempo and purpose carry them through like a field army with rich supplies and abundant reserves.
We must use the term “gothic metal” loosely to describe Edenfall’s art. Their songs seldom rely on a chorus to help you navigate in the absence of a compass. ‘Penumbra’ expects you to be swept up in its black metal menace with an intro of violent riff patterns and excitable drum accents. Rob George takes control of the microphone like a vengeful Anglo-Saxon warrior with a vendetta against the Norman invaders that seized his family’s lands. Cradle of Filth fans will enjoy the interplay of beauty and the beast when Webster enlivens the mix with her soaring register. The glistening piano sprinkles at the beginning of ‘Altar of Grief’ transport you from the woodlands of England to the childhood of Tori Amos. Listen to the cadence of the plucked guitar chords and the hypnotic power of the tom drums. These provide a magical backdrop for Webster to demonstrate the effulgent majesty of her sorrowful voice. Imagine an avant-doom interpretation of Dead Can Dance fed through the prog metal timbres of Wilderun. Even the doom metal contemplations radiate with pastel textures before Rob George unleashes his vicious bark. Could you put this side-by-side with the latest Thy Catafalque record? Absolutely.
Edenfall’s confidence shines through with the zest of musicians reborn. Their decision to place their two singles at the midway point is testament to their bravery. Most songs here break through the seven-minute mark. ‘Oaken’ is the nearest thing they have to an orthodox song structure draped in a dense variation of gothic colours. ‘The Wild Hunt’ follows as a sinister black metal onslaught with undertones of My Dying Bride circa The Dreadful Hours. You’d believe it if somebody said that Jeff Walker of Carcass guested on this song (he doesn’t).
Of course, it’s always a worry when the running time of an album goes beyond one hour (unless you’re Between the Buried and Me, Dream Theater or Tool). You can marvel how the melodies and tritones collide in ‘A Wistful Reverie’, but the listening experience starts to decline when you realise that the six minutes and twenty-nine seconds have no desire to emancipate beyond a gothic doom saunter. Likewise, ending the LP with a song of sixteen-minutes is poor judgement, despite My Dying Bride’s Aaron Stainthorpe bringing it back to life at the eight-minute mark with his spoken word poetry. Clare Webster’s command of the microphone would be spellbinding if she had a more disciplined instrumentation to elevate her. The candle-light procession of ritual doom metal here does not serve her well.
Nonetheless, To Gaze Longer at the Earth is a triumph for Edenfall after so many setbacks and line-up failures. It’s also a victory for English underground metal. Let’s hope the next record arrives in half the time it took for this one to appear.
Release Date: 14/07/2023
Record Label: Self Released
Standout tracks: Penumbra, Altar of Grief, The Wild Hunt
Suggested Further Listening: Lethian Dreams – Bleak Silver Streams (2009), My Dying Bride – Feel the Misery (2015), Akilla – The Gods Have Spoken (2023)