Eclipse ReviewsReviews

Eclipse Review: Skepticism - Lead and Aether (1997)

artist: Skep­ti­cism
release: Lead and Aether
format: CD
year of release: 1997
label: Red Stream
dur­a­tion: 47:46

detailed info: dis​cogs​.com

A lot of altern­at­ive music is very spe­cific to a cer­tain scene, genre, or style, where the rules are clear and every­one – that is, the insiders – knows what to expect. Some­times, though, albums are released that, while informed of the rules, don’t exactly play by them. The res­ult can be inter­est­ing and innov­at­ive music that defies, at least to a cer­tain degree, tra­di­tional genre bound­ar­ies.

One such album is Lead and Aether by Fin­land’s Skep­ti­cism. Ori­gin­ally released in 1997, it was the band’s second full length album. In many respects, it builds on musical found­a­tions laid in their 1995 debut Storm­crow­fleet; at its core, the band’s music is rooted in heavy metal, and more par­tic­u­larly the cros­sov­ers between doom and death metal that came into being in the early nineties. They pion­eered what would become known as funeral doom, char­ac­ter­ised by its sol­emn and mourn­ful atmo­sphere, and tak­ing to the extreme the doom metal axiom of “slow and low”.

While Skep­ti­cism have been at the fore­front of this style, and hugely influ­en­tial on later bands, the unique sound cre­ated in these early works stands by itself. More so than prac­tic­ally every other band in this move­ment, Skep­ti­cism man­aged to modify the tra­di­tional metal band setup and sound, and cre­ate music that has recog­nis­able roots, but a crown that explores new skies. In prin­ciple a quar­tet, the music is based on drums, gui­tar, synth/organ, and vocals. The bass gui­tar is absent, and while dis­tor­ted and mod­i­fied, the elec­tric lead gui­tar is less dom­in­ant than in most other metal music. Instead, the synth and organ provide a deeper layer to the music. The drums, played on kettles at least one size big­ger than most usual setups, are true to the genre but with an ori­ginal exe­cu­tion: slow, sol­emn, with an emphasis on subtle tim­pani-like per­cus­sion and swirl­ing cym­bals. The vocals, finally, are a death metal growl obscured to a point where it often resembles a surge of breath or a wave, rather than any­thing more sin­is­ter.

Apart from ori­ginal instru­ment­a­tion, the album offers the listener a great deal in terms of struc­ture and song­writ­ing. It opens with the final organ chords of the intro­duct­ory EP Eth­ere, and launches into “THE ORGANIUM”, a deep piece as heavy as its typo­graphy, that intro­duces the two cent­ral lyr­ical themes of the album: metal and air, an alchem­ical whole that ties many ele­ments of the music together. Air and metal are what powers and con­sti­tutes the organ, and it also rep­res­ents the heavy and light in the music, solid­ity and evan­es­cence.

The second track, a reworked ver­sion of the one that appeared on Eth­ere, is “The March and the Stream”, one of funeral doom’s canon­ical songs. Indeed, of this album, it is this mourn­ful mas­ter­piece that lies closest to the styl­istic norm of genre. How dif­fer­ent, then, is “The Falls”, a mas­ter­piece in its own right. It is mys­tical, hope­ful, deep, express­ing dir­ec­tions of thought (wan­der­ing, hope, des­pair, intro­spec­tion, mys­ti­cism) in the lyr­ical guise of three dif­fer­ent (water)falls. The music itself is of an eleg­ant sim­pli­city, per­fectly bal­an­cing dif­fer­ent gui­tar and synth sounds, flow­ing drums, and vocals like drift­ing clouds. Cent­ral to the song is a del­ic­ate melody, doubled and shif­ted, posi­tioned so greatly that it sucks you deeper into the song, which ends in a way that is as majestic as it is emo­tion­ally ambigu­ous.

The second half of the album con­tains much to enjoy as well. There’s the once more aptly named “Forge”, a power­ful rolling track that really sounds like the inside of an alchem­ical metal work­shop. “-Edges-” is more obscure, emphas­ising float­ing melod­ies and atmo­spheres that are more eso­teric than any else. “Aether”, finally, is calm and serene most of the time, bringin the album to a most sat­is­fy­ing con­clu­sion.

There are a couple of factors that make Lead and Aether a hugely import­ant album. First of all, it shows the band at the pin­nacle of its craft. The debut album pion­eered Skep­ti­cism’s sound, but this one com­bined it with more soph­ist­ic­ated song­writ­ing, eclipsing that of much of their later work, with some excep­tions. It also, along with sur­round­ing releases, proved massively influ­en­tial for the small but not insig­ni­fic­ant funeral doom genre. Most import­antly, though, it shows how a gen­re’s (in this case heavy metal’s) basic assets can be taken, hammered, forged, trans­formed, yield­ing wholly new res­ults and a dif­fer­ent listen­ing exper­i­ence. It’s base metal, aether, and some­where in the grey mists, a hint of gold.

Reviewed by O.S.


1. THE ORGANIUM (6:41)
2. The March And The Stream (10:35)
3. The Falls (8:43)
4. Forge (5:50)
5. -Edges- (6:11)
6. Aether (9:49)