It seems very instinctive for the metal world nowadays to prepare themselves for the worst with any deviation from the norm. What norm am I referring to here? Well, perhaps the rise and rise in popularity for one-woman projects to fully embrace the underground world of extreme metal and its darkest, most evocative emotional barriers. Myrkur may have started this trend recently with her sudden surge through the masses of black metal fans, but she isn’t the only one. Yorkshire-based Jay Wissenberg has been working under the name of Darkher for a few years now, but 2016 is the year where her fusion of elegant, wistful folk and doom-laden passages has come full circle, so to speak. With her debut album, “Realms”, Darkher is ready to embark on an emotional journey of her own and on this evidence is certain to succeed where others have failed.
“Realms” isn’t a particularly lengthy effort, and it isn’t the loudest either. What it does demonstrate however, is the work of one person and a marker of how much effort and focus can go into the production of one piece if said person is to make it as truly enthralling and ambitious as possible. Indeed, Darkher’s debut stretches and tests the patience of many listeners, but once you get an idea of how deep “Realms” can be, it seems like a breath of fresh air in a music scene that is now stagnating. Despite the lack of any real versatility here, “Realms” has songs that you can both hum along to and be surprised at the level of menacing darkness in their respective backgrounds. For example, ‘Hollow Veil’ and ‘Moths’ are two relatively solemn pieces, but are different because of their focus on different techniques. ‘Hollow Veil’ seems to centre on Wissenberg’s delicate albeit haunting vocal work, and at times it’s really the only thing that stands out. There is music of course, and the bursts of doomy heaviness leads on fluently from quieter passages, but there’s something about Wissenberg as a vocalist that seems to transend all other aspects of the same song. ‘Moths’ is a different beast, because it focuses on the more dynamic and atmospheric aspects. Wissenberg’s vocals are still present, but the acoustic passages and atmospheric background this time seem to be more prominent as result. ‘Moths’ represents a more imbalanced result because of this, but is nonetheless another marker of Wissenberg’s ambition.
There are other songs which continue this stylistic fusion of folk and doom, but unfortunately the only song which truly stands out from the crowd is ‘Wars’, arguably the album’s sole centrepiece. Building up with more tension than any other song on “Realms”, ‘Wars’ is a mesmerizing display of Darkher’s different levels of energy. It presents all the unique aspects of Wissenberg’s songwriting skills, yet at the same time manages to be perfectly balanced regarding every particular detail of the song’s production. The other songs don’t do this quite as well, and for that reason ‘Wars’ will undoubtedly be the anthem for Darkher. What’s frustrating is that later on in “Realms” is where the centrepiece should be. You have the two-part ‘Burials’, but it simply doesn’t do enough to distance itself from the rest of the pack, especially in the same way that ‘Wars’ does. The longest song of the album, ‘Foregone’, also masks itself as the album’s sole ambitious piece, but all it does is simply build and build without any real crescendo. These songs are beautiful to listen to, but like an unfinished story, there is no end to complement the beginning and middle.
“Realms” is certainly the best debut album Darkher could have created, but at the same time it won’t be suitable for all audiences. In fact, its audience will most likely be limited to those who love to hear raw, emotional darkness unfolding through the medium of doom-tinged folk, and of course those whose patience never seems to wear thing. It’s advised that “Realms”, because of its deep focus and energy, should be listened to without distractions. It’s frankly difficult to do so if you’re planning on listening to “Realms” as a background piece, rather than a product at the forefront of your attention span. That said, Darkher has crafted a work which relies on you putting in as much effort to listen to it as Wissenberg did to create it.
Released: 19th August, 2016.
- Spirit Waker
- Hollow Veil
- The Dawn Brings a Saviour
- Buried Part I
- Buried Part II