The 11th Hour - _Lacrima Mortis_
(Napalm Records, 2012)
by: Mark Dolson (10 out of 10)
They say "art imitates life" (l'arte imita la vita), but can art also imitate death?


And there he lay, life-less, motionless -- and gone. My father. I lost him at the end of September, 2007 in the emergency room of a large hospital here in London, Ontario. It was, perhaps, the worst day of my life. It came out of nowhere; and, within a few hours, he slipped out of my life forever. It was an abdominal aneurysm. And it was, I was told, from a life time (or close to it) of smoking. It was after this experience that I found myself thinking about death, its complication, and existence more and more. And, as I see it now, it was perhaps no coincidence that I started to listen to doom and/or doom/death metal more and more -- though I have been a fan of the genre since around 1992.

More often than not, language runs up against a limit in the experience of someone else's death, especially a loved one. When my father passed, I found myself unable to talk or think about that moment for a long time; and, still to this day, it's difficult for me to put into words what I felt -- it literally is beyond the reach of language. I suppose one could say that death is one of those truly ineffable experiences. Insofar as this is the case, it's not very often when we stumble across a medium or vehicle for experience that can transcend the limits of language, helping us edge closer to limit-experiences. And I find that music -- and for me, this is usually doom/death metal, for some strange reason, though there are other forms -- is one of those special mediums or vehicles that can help me re-articulate or re-frame ineffable experiences; even if the re-articulation or re-framing takes place only within myself.

One of these aforementioned vehicles, for me, is The 11th Hour -- the astoundingly poignant doom metal band from The Netherlands. I first become acquainted with The 11th Hour back in 2009 when I purchased _The Burden of Grief_. Admittedly, I needed time to become accustomed to Mr. Warby's higher-register croon, but after a week or so of listening to the CD non-stop, I was convinced it was my "soundtrack" to my experiences with loss. This is an amazing thing, and Mr. Warby should feel very proud to be able to reach out to fans like this on such a deep and meaningful level. Much like Officium Triste or old Paradise Lost, The 11th Hour's interpretation of doom -- both musically and in terms of conceptual thematics -- resonates and echoes its way languidly through my own personally-rooted memories with those whom I'll never speak with again.

Picking up where he left off with _Burden of Grief_, _Lacrima Mortis_ ("Tears of the Dead") is a more refined and, dare I say, complicated venture into mournful soundscapes. The guitar tone this time feels heavier, thicker and more rounded-out than on _Burden of Grief_. And, much like the aforementioned album, we're treated to a slow, measured and plodding heaviness not really found elsewhere these days. The riffs are gargantuan, memorable, and the heaviness that seethes and breathes its way through the crystal-clear production has a very uplifting quality, ironically.

And amidst the emotionally-inflected riffs, there are brief pulses of groove delivered with an paradoxically precise Neanderthal gait -- steady, sure-footed and slow, not wandering. The sheer weight of the music is offset by a tasteful use of piano and synth, which balances things out in a very delicate and sophisticated way. What I find very interesting about _Lacrima Mortis_, though, is the emotional complexity and depth of the guitar solos. The solo featured in the last song, "Bury Me", is absolutely fantastic in that it is memorable -- the hallmark of great writing. As such, I have not been able to get it out of my head for days now.

Much like the guitars, the drumming on _Lacrima Mortis_ is measured, steady and restrained -- as it should be in that the riffs and vocals, to me anyways, should take centre stage. Regardless, though, you can still tell it's Mr. Warby behind the kit in that the playing style is hard-hitting, suffused with a deep groove, and, above all else, precise. The drum production is fitting as well to the extent that it has a modern, clear production, yet still sounds organic (to use a very hackneyed metaphor) and dynamic.

Where _Lacrima Mortis_ departs from _Burden of Grief_ is in terms of the vocal delivery. There aren't too many changes in terms of approach, but what I will say is that Mr. Warby's vocal melodies, strength, and range are much more obvious than on _Burden of Grief_. You can tell that he's much more confident in his delivery, and is not holding anything back -- perhaps this is due to gaining more experience playing live? His ghost-like and lilting vocal lines and undulations are astounding. Actually, the more I listen to the album, the more Warby's vocals are faintly reminiscent of Thom Yorke's from Radio Head -- especially from the _O.K. Computer_ album (just listen to the opening vocal lines on "Bury Me" and you'll see what I mean). Contrasting Warby's clean vocals are the steady and slowly-delivered (yet understandable) deep growls of none other than Pim Blankenstein of Officium Triste. Though I do appreciate Rogga Johansson's effort on _Burden of Grief_, the texture of the music on _Lacrima Mortis_ allows Pim's vocals lines to weave their way effortlessly throughout and between the featured heaviness of the instruments. I find that Pim's vocal approach captures a nuanced, creeping sense of desperation with each utterance (compared to Rogga's), infusing the music with a very moving and fitting sense of grief.

Inasmuch as each note on this album bears the impress of solid and honest songwriting, underwritten with a keen sense of emotional intelligence -- especially in translating and conveying Warby's experience with loss to his listeners -- _Lacrima Mortis_ will most definitely be in my top three albums of 2012. Though it is rather early in the band's career, I still can't wait to hear what The 11th Hour releases next. Whatever it is, I'm sure it'll be nothing short of fantastic. Fans interested in bands like Officium Triste, Swallow the Sun, Saturnus, Paradise Lost, Solitude Aeterunus, Candlemass, and Memento Mori should not hesitate to check out _Lacrima Mortis_: you will not be disappointed, I can assure you of this.


(article published 12/2/2012)

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