The marriage of death and doom metal is one of my favorite things in all of metal. I like the slow, deliberate instrumentation and aesthetic of doom metal, so putting that together with death metal’s more ‘metal-y’ and extreme elements, like occasional bursts of speed and melody, is a winning combination for me. Some bands lean more into one direction than the other, but Spain’s Ataraxy seem to balance these two sides pretty well, which is something I find hard to do well. What Where All Hope Fades achieves may not be groundbreaking, but is nonetheless an effort worth talking about and exploring.
Ataraxy manage to check all the boxes on this effort. Javi’s vocals sound like a deathly ill Mikael Akerfeldt, or perhaps Horrendous‘ Damian Herring, being low, raspy and distant, which is perfect for this type of music; the guitars range from eerie and expansive passages to lurching metallic death; and the drums trudge through the mix, offering up double bass pummels in addition to deep, echoing accents during slower parts. The gang’s all here, and there’s a number of highlights on this 45-minute album.
The primary sound of Where All Hope Fades is quickly apparent. There’s some mightily cavernous tones on display here, most evident in the vocals, which seem to bellow from the depths of an empty dungeon and echo throughout. Even during cleaner spoken word sections, they’re haunting. For instances of both, just check out “Matter Lost in Time”, which starts with the raspy vocals and bleeds some of the spoken word stuff in between those harsh verses. This song is doom first, but that doesn’t stop the impatience of death metal from usurping from within. It’s like the doomier sections weigh down and hold back the faster, heavier ones, but are eventually forced to yield, unleashing a wealth of pent-up energy and chaos. It’s a dynamic that plays out again and again on most of the tracks here.
When songs like “A Matter Lost in Time” relent to the temptation of speed and ferocity, it’s usually after a short instrumental breakdown that segues from one section to another, or a gradual ramping up of intensity. Therefore, the music gains a slight cinematic edge where the ups give and the downs take as far as tone and tempo are concerned. For songs that start out closer to this point than away, like in “One Last Certainty”, the music has a lot of room to dip down into doom territory and play with the atmosphere. There’s nowhere to go but low and outward.
“The Absurdity of a Whole Cosmos” is a capable intro track (only on a doom album can a nearly four-minute song be an intro song). It’s in no hurry to show off its creepily plodding guitar arpeggios. Each note sounds like a monstrosity shuffling forward on a forgotten, desolate landscape. The beginning measurements of the final track, “The Blackness of Eternal Night”, have a similar feel, although it’s a bit more ruminating in nature, with softer guitar tones and a generally more forgiving atmosphere than heard before; even when the heaviness kicks in, it’s rife with melody. It still ends on an unsettling note, much like its name would imply.
There’s not much to complain about here for me, but I do wonder where Ataraxy can go from here two albums in. There are bands that are very capable of making huge left-field changes from album to album, which is good considering the short lifespan that a lot of bands are cursed with in age of the internet and streaming. And yet, reinvention is hard to come by in the death/doom field, as is great advancement of skill and sound. This band’s members have some great chops, and while I definitely don’t doubt they could improve and surprise, I’m wary on if they are capable of it within the genre they currently inhabit. Sometimes bands just end up in a creative corner, and I hope that’s not the case for Ataraxy, because I like what they do and hope they go places!
As much as I like this particular genre of music, I can only listen to it for so long before needing something else to offer reprieve. So to me, the most telling thing about Where All Hope Fades is that repeated back-to-back listens didn’t make the music stale. It’s a very solid effort, doing everything a good death/doom record should. It walks the thin line between the menace informed by its death metal accoutrements and dark, dreary doom aesthetic. The album doesn’t rewrite the rulebook, but instead provides a fine example of how it should be executed to intriguing, entertaining and palpable results. It’s another notch on Dark Descent Records’ belt, a good show of metal literacy from Spain, and something that’s well worth a listen regardless of either.
Notable Tracks: “The Blackness of Eternal Night”; “A Matter Lost in Time”; “One Last Certainty”
FFO: Spectral Voice, Blood Incantation, Asphyx