They may not regard their status as anything to smile about, but Skepticism have contributed as much as anyone to the definition and growth of funeral doom.
The inherent nature of the subgenre dictates that obscurity is a desirable commodity, and yet the sheer quality of the Finns’ output over the years, not to mention the expansion of the online grapevine since 2008’s Alloy, means that Ordeal is likely to receive more attention than any of the band’s previous works. The fact that these songs were recorded live at Klubi in Turku, Finland at the beginning of this year ensures that there is a talking point here beyond the usual snail’s pace riffs and crucifying melancholy, but such is the clarity and power of the sound with which these six new tracks and two old classics have been rendered, that Ordeal feels less like a live album and more like the vivid manifestation of all those clichés about snapshots in time and the capturing of a band’s essence, mid-evolution.
Skepticism’s arrangements continue to be an absolute joy. Although often underpinned by a sonic sparseness and sense of space that sets the band apart from their more impenetrable peers, the likes of opener You and the gently harrowing March Incomplete thrive amid the shrewd addition of unexpected elements: slithering swathes of cryptic keys, a suggestion of austere brass, the skittering of peripheral percussion.
In true funeral doom tradition, melody remains king throughout, but there is an elegant fragility to the central motif of Closing Music that almost strives for transience. The result is that Ordeal feels like an invitation to join Skepticism on their slow trudge towards the abyss, combined with a promise that none of this will matter when we finally arrive.
If there is a drawback here, it’s that Shape Of Despair released an album earlier this year that truly redefined the potential might of Finnish despair and, more importantly, that convincingly hailed the possibility that some shred of benevolence lingers in oblivion’s embrace. Skepticism have been frustratingly outclassed, but only just. Ordeal is still an irresistible shrugging off of mortality’s grip.