The 11th hour, a new Dutch/Swedish doom outfit from Ed Warby (Gorefest / hail of bullets) and Rogga Johansson (Edge of sanity / paganizer), have succeeded in creating a colossally heavy, six-song album based around the cheery concept of a man dying from terminal lung cancer.
Haunted by dreadful nightmares, the protagonist of this album is forced to revisit the harrowing depths of his own subconscious while facing his imminent demise. Opening track ‘One last smoke’ sets out 11th hour’s most uncompromising stall – riffs encased in tungsten, vocals that range from a Black Sabbath-esque classic rock approach to deathly growl and Satan’s own drum kit propelling the whole thing along at the speed of tar and introduces us to the epic approach that Ed has taken towards song writing. With keyboards adding light to the dramatically bombastic guitars, no opportunity is missed to offer musical variety within the heart of this black-hearted doom fest – it’s a most impressive opening gambit.
‘In the silent grave’ is a remorselessly heavy, stupendously lengthy work out that distinguishes between clean and deathly vocals over a grinding riff that simply hammers the listener into submission. But, like the first track, it is the little details, the keyboard flourishes and sound effects that maintain interest. ‘Origins of mourning’ introduces a glorious harmonised guitar intro, set to a suitably melancholy piano backdrop before the guitars hammer into place, creating a lock-solid groove that threatens to over-shadow the first two tracks in terms of sheer belligerent heaviness, rendered all the more potent by the occasional flashes of clean vocals and a soaring guitar solo that sheds light into the otherwise bleak atmosphere. It’s a lengthy track, even taking into consideration the other monstrosities on offer, but it’s so fuelled by invention and atmosphere that you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s half the length.
‘Weep for me’ is calmer, and features heavy orchestration and a sterling clean vocal performance that echoes across the track until about four minutes in when a riff that is part Paradise Lost, part pure evil shatters the aura of peace and the growling voice of doom re-enters with earth-shattering effect. ‘Atonement’ is at once heavy, yet lush thanks to the swathes of keyboard that cut through the darkness. The vocals are, once again, sublime and the track itself offers the merest ray of light after the harrowing journey of the previous four tracks. ‘Longing for oblivion’ is the closer – and it doesn’t disappoint, entering with a hefty crunch that seems to pound away at the nerve endings all the more for following the vocal harmonies of ‘atonement’. It’s as tense and dramatic a statement as one could wish to make and like much of what has gone before there is a filmic quality that comes from the successful integration of a true story into the lyrics, rather than a looser concept tying the pieces thematically. Indeed this is one of those rare records that warrants playing from beginning to end without a gap, as the whole is far greater than the sum of its (admittedly great) parts and the listener truly feels that they have undertaken a journey alongside the ill-fated narrator of the story.
11th hour have created an album that goes beyond the expectations that one may have of its worthy creators. Grandiose, powerful, inconceivably brutal in parts, yet tender and beautiful elsewhere, this as a fantastic album that will grace the shelves of any metal fan and will be essential for anyone who is interested in the doom genre – this is a masterpiece.