It’s not all doom and gloom, but then again…
From its musical output, you could be forgiven for occasionally getting the impression that reasons to be cheerful are in short supply in Norway.
The frozen North is currently bathed in the dusky half-light of winter, and even more frozen than usual. In spite of this glorious weather, plus the reasonable cost of living and employment opportunities completely unrelated to fishing, the Norwegians have gained themselves a fearsome reputation for churning out dark, melancholy and downright malevolent music. Kristiansand natives To Cast A Shadow are no exception. Exponents of a melodic doom/goth metal hybrid, their style is not exactly revolutionary, but this is no reason to disparage them.
Of course, morose introspection is no bad thing. The amount of artists who have used their apparently suicidal state of despair to create often fantastic odes to their pain, rather than simply ending it all in a pathetic puddle of their own failed existence, could almost make you doubt their sincerity. Equally, metal should almost always, by rights, be attacked with the ferocity that has become such a legendary Norwegian hallmark.
The muse of miserabilism is definitely in cahoots with To Cast A Shadow. However, it requires a more refined kind of pain to differentiate oneself from the rest of the groaning, shuffling masses. Similarly, if you want to earn your metal brownie points, it had better be ridiculously heavy or wildly inventive. Unfortunately, it has to be said that TCAS fall some way short on both counts.
This is not to say that ‘In Memory Of’ is without its merits. The presence of Gunnhild Huser’s straightforward female vocals is something of a breath of fresh air in comparison to the usual shrieking goth cod-operatics and incomprehensible metal death growls, and provides an element of accessibility sorely lacking from comparable bands. There is also a commendable balance of space and density in their songs, with clean, angular lead lines, uncomplicated arrangements and rhythms, and a generally unfussy, groove based delivery. It may not be rocket science, but at least you can rely on them not to over-embellish things.
In this sense they tend more toward the realm of doom metal, but with one fatal flaw. There is very little sense of menace, malice or impending doom whatsoever. Their sound is so polished that where there should be threatening atmospherics and ominous depths there is often nothing but a shiny, flat surface. Individual tracks do have a certain melodic heft to them, but seem to blend together into featurelessness when playing through the entire album.
It would be unfair, and far too easy, to pick holes in the lyrics, but song titles including ‘Tormented’, ‘Morose’ and ‘My Misery’ probably give you a more than adequate idea of the area of Gothville in which the band reside. Similarly, the occasional male vocals of Marcus Granlien are decent enough when done clean, but attempts at a death growl can stray dangerously close to the realm of parody.
At the end of the day, there is simply not enough originality to sustain TCAS’s chosen oeuvre over the course of an entire album. The doomy art of sustaining cyclical grooves would work if there were stronger material and atmospherics, but, alas, repetition serves only to work against them. This is only the band’s second album, and there is always the hope that they can add more facets to their music, but for now, beyond being a solid genre piece, there simply isn’t enough on ‘In Memory Of’ to distinguish To Cast A Shadow from their peers.
(Released 14.02.2011 Kolony Records)