Finnish post-metal debutants, Light Beneath, know how to conjure an image of despair. Their music is the despair of gesture and feeling. Like any human being with an element of self-consciousness, their art thrives on the paradox of needing recognition from others while hoping the outside world can remain at a distance. It’s the perfect analogy for the winter season in their home city of Tampere, where its inhabitants subside on only six hours of daylight and go to sleep at night with temperatures of -18 °C beyond their door. Light Beneath are hostile and introspective at the same time.
As with any post-metal album, you start by asking if the music has more in common with Neurosis or Cult of Luna. Of course, this has its limitations and risks misunderstanding the artist, but you’ll hear more of the latter in opener, ‘Beneath Water’, especially in the way they use clean guitar chords and drown them in low bass frequencies with a heavy touch of treble. You’ll identify a similar approach in the dark rock of Nick Cave and the alternative blues of Tom Waits, but Light Beneath use this only as a foundation rather than as the main hook. Your ears might be unprepared for the twisted black metal that follows the inevitable transition into the heavy doom distortion. English post-metal quintet, Ba’al, come to mind in the way they mix blast beats with John Bonham-esque quarter notes. How they emerge from this dirge and into a Jane’s Addiction passage of mystical arpeggios is what makes it so enthralling.
It’s impossible for the quartet to remain too far estranged from the contemporary metal that dominates the musical scene in their country. ‘Sirens’ starts with a cinematic post-rock musing but soon transforms into a vicious tirade of palm-muted crunches underneath the mighty roar of vocalist, Antti. Along with black metal, the ‘post’ variation is perhaps the genre least dependent on the poignancy of lyrics. They could be singing about anything in this song, but it’s the raw emotion and cathartic unburdening of a heavy soul that connects with the listener. Unlike doom metal, this style manifests as a transcendent struggle that demands fortitude and the promise of rebirth. There’s always a flicker of light, but it’s a distant vassal of hope that remains elusive.
The first two tracks set a precedent with their extended intros, and you’re right to expect this to be the default setting for most compositions. ‘All These Faces’ reminds you that predictability is a false security. The band waste no time in ripping through guitar-heavy chest-abrasions here, yet they reverse the mood with quieter verse parts. ‘Ravens’ is like The Cult playing an Iggor Cavalera drum rhythm with Steve Von Till (Neurosis) behind the mic. You sniff the air expecting a scent of burning timber and the squawk of flocking birds in the trees. Only on ‘3/4’ do they sound like lonely lumberjacks looking to Cult of Luna for artistic direction.
It’s dangerous to over-analyse grief, and Light Beneath understand this conundrum on closing track, ‘Redivivus’. Listen to the interplay between the moody distorted bass notes and those maudlin guitar arpeggios that ring like the echoes of a Ry Cooder score. There’s a hidden beauty to this music that tries to blossom but often struggles to emerge. Here, the band experience no such difficulty. The black metal eruption at the end is the perfect way to end this record.
Light Beneath know their mission and have most of the tools ready to reach their end goal. This is a promising debut that gives them plenty of room to experiment on their sophomore effort. How they evolve from here guarantees them a second listen.
Release Date: 25/03/2022
Record Label: Inverse Records
Standout tracks: Beneath Water, All These Faces, Redivivus
Suggested Further Listening: Cult of Luna – The Raging River EP (2021), Agnes Vein – Deathcall (2022), Adliga – Vobrazy (2021)