Doom metallers My Silent Wake are back with their 11th album overall, and their 4th in the acoustic/ambient/experimental series. The band has taken to experimenting with their sound rather frequently and on Damnum per Saeculorum, the experiments lead to astounding results. The collection of songs was written and recorded in various sessions across 2019-20, but still sounds delightfully cohesive. Marking their 15th anniversary as a musical entity, it also features 15 tracks to commemorate their existence. While not a Christian band in any sense of the term (no members currently profess Christianity), many readers will be familiar with their work due to the connections of Ian Arkley and Simon Bibby to their previous band Seventh Angel. While DPS does not make any faith statements, it also does not make any statements that would be deemed anti-Christian.
Let’s talk about the music, shall we? Buckle up, but this album is quite the ride. Electric guitars are present, but very minimal. There is no distortion, and nothing really resembling conventional metal, except for the occasional harsh vocals, but even those are used sparingly. And yet, to my utter surprise, the album is still very heavy metal in its overall feel and aesthetic. Mostly comprised of very dark sounding folk tunes, the album makes extensive use of frame drumming (more on that in a moment), also employing medieval-sounding melodies, and a heavy reliance on keyboards.
The album begins with the quiet, darkly ambient piano-driven instrumental “An Affectionate Remembrance,” later enhanced by the use of strings and keys, before picking up the intensity on the appropriately-titled “Warhawks.” One of the strongest songs on the album, it features powerful use of the frame drum and a medieval, minstrel-like melody. This is all offset by the juxtaposition of harsh vocals. The song is incredibly intense and would make the perfect soundtrack to a bloody battle scene between men and orcs.
“Diadem,” carrying on the medieval theme (pounding the frame drum again), sounds like it could have been on a Dead Can Dance album (from their 90s ethnic fusion era), until the layered vocals come in. In fact, this use of multiple vocals is a recurring theme on the album—2 or 3 different vocals with different styles and ranges singing in a rhythmic unison. It’s incredibly effective! Once again it conjures in my mind images of warriors riding across the plains and up to the king’s court.
“Bacchanal” takes the medieval theme even farther, and yet it still has that MSW dark feeling to it—mostly due to the use of deep keyboard sounds and more of the drumming style again. “Arfyn” slows things down considerably with an acoustic track of mostly classical guitar, join with some ambient keys and choir-like vocals.
“All Our Fears Are Over” is extremely dark and heavy despite it still being largely acoustic. This is largely accomplished through the use of electric bass guitar. It’s dark and ominous and sticks in your head long after you’ve stopped listening. It is probably the ‘heaviest’ track on the album in the conventional sense of heaviness, and probably my favourite track on the album.
“Fertile Ground Pt. 1” is another mostly acoustic track with some whispered/spoken vocals, which is another tactic used to great effect across the record. “Of Loss and Regret” is a mostly acoustic guitar instrumental with some dark synthesizer underneath that almost resembles a really low bagpipe; again with the pounding drums and some powerful spoken word over the top.
“Fall in the Sea” is one of the mellowest songs on the album, featuring acoustic guitars with some bells and the trademark multiple voices—almost choir-like but that still doesn’t give you the full picture. This track really features the production skills of keyboardist Simon Bibby.
If you haven’t gathered it yet, a theme of the album is loss and grief. Track 10, “To Feel the Caress of Long-Dead Lovers” drives this home in particular. The song is dark yet mellow with some keys, clean electric guitars and bass, and again lots of layered vocals. The lead vocal is a hushed/sung with an almost whisper-like delivery. It reminds me slightly of some of the romantic-themed tunes on Seventh Angel’s The Dust of Years.
“Triple Life” is an instrumental ambient track with lots of keys and tribal percussion, followed by “The Rhyme of Winter’s Children” featuring layered vocals and keys. While the track starts out melancholy and mellow, it builds into big sweeping, epic soundscapes. What started out quietly actually becomes one of the ‘largest’ tracks on the album.
“Monochrome” is one of the most ambient tracks on the album, beginning very sparse/minimalist, but then that builds into a noisy cacophony of sound. “The Mourning Earth” continues the ambient vibe but adds some of that now characteristic and powerful frame drumming. The album closes with “Berceuse,” a piano-led ballad with soft female vocals, that leads into operatic male tenor vocals backed by a theatrical chorus, thus finishing on a high note.
I can’t say enough positive things about this album. While not traditional heavy metal by any stretch of the term, it is nonetheless very ‘heavy.’ It should appeal to fans of folk metal, mellower doom metal, and even post-metal. Links for ordering are below. 5/5
Release Label: Opa Loka Records