The early 1990s saw some major movements in the realm of heavy music. Not only was death metal making itself known, it was already starting to blend with other genres. As such, a European death-doom variant arose out of the UK and Europe. While some bands like Asphyx combined death metal and doom metal in the most basic aspect, the most noted members of this movement played a uniquely gothic and melancholic variety that drew just as much from Fields of the Nephilim as it did from Celtic Frost.
Likely the most well-known would be British acts Paradise Lost, Anathema, and My Dying Bride, but another marker-maker was that of Dutch band Celestial Season. Their use of ethereal, guiding violin arrangements and light/dark dynamics, coupled with their release of classics such as Forever Scarlet Passion and Solar Lovers, has made them regarded as one of the finest in death doom.
Celestial Season have returned in 2022 with Mysterium I, a logical follow-up to 2020s The Secret Teaching. After a brief flirtation with a more stoner sound and a reformatting of the band’s lineup using members from different periods, they have come back with their signature mixture of beauty, terror, and despair.
The opening Black Water Mirrors is classic death-doom in its definitive form, with Stefan Ruiter’s menacing wraith growls against a backdrop of intertwined violin and cello performed by Jiska Ter Bals and Eliane Anemaat respectively, as well as a main chorus riff that would feel right at home on Solar Lovers. The second track The Golden Light of Late Day sees us at a slow funeral progression interspersed with quiet folk moments accompanied by the appropriately mournful spoken-word lyrics. But the decidedly more ‘upbeat’ feel of Sundown Transcends Us is reminiscent of melodic doom stylings of The Obsessed and Spirit Caravan.
they’ve effortlessly crafted a record of their signature sound that still sounds fresh and honest as their early 90s heydays…
There really is a genuine feeling to Celestial Season‘s delivery. After thirty odd years they still understand the importance of differing dynamics which made their classic albums so noteworthy. This Glorious Summer has something of a more triumphant plodding death-doom sound as opposed to being wreathed in sadness, while All That Is Known contains some very spirited and majestically beautiful interplay between Bals, Anemaat, and guitarists Pim Van Zanen and Oly Smit.
Using the various stringed instruments in conjunction with each other, instead of fighting against each other for space (which, to my ears, happens quite often in these sorts of folk and classical pairings with metal) makes the listening experience that much more intricate, enjoyable and heavy. The closing title track, Mysterium, is basically a display of all of the differing moods and textures the band has employed, from misty psychedelic and prog flirtations coupled with a bleak and gothic outro.
It honestly feels like the Celestial Season has never left us as they’ve effortlessly crafted a record of their signature sound that still sounds fresh and honest as their early 90s heydays. Mysterium I in my mind surpasses their previous offering and shows how music, meant to evoke sadness, and loss can still sound gorgeous and alive.
Scribed by: Rob Walsh