Saturday, March 18, 2023

Sentenced - Down (1996)

Down is a bit of an oddity for me, because I view it as both a crushing disappointment after Amok, and also as a pretty catch, evocative album on its own right, a showcase for a new vocalist who at least fits the bill of the direction the band was already spinning towards. This came out in Autumn that year, and I remember really digging that minimal aesthetic of the gold background and leaf, it seemed the perfect fit for the season, and frankly so did the music. I could almost predict what it was going to sound like, a slightly watered down version of the heavy metal influences that took over from the death metal roots on their previous masterpiece, but bleak and suicidal and atmospheric and, at least for this album, fresh and memorable. It doesn't rank up with the big boys (Amok and North from Here), but it's certainly on the upper end of their discog.

The cleaner fashioned guitars of the prior album return and dominate here, a bit less intricate in structure than a song like "The War Ain't Over!" or "Forever Lost", but tunes like "Shadegrown" here with its great, folksy melodic lick between the acoustic verses, show a lot of that still in the DNA. But Down doesn't show any hesitation to grab the hard rock aesthetics by the balls and make an album that is just about 100% song-oriented, radio friendly and they picked a new frontman in Ville Laihiala who could match those aesthetics. His voice is grainy, like there's something rough rattling around in his throat, but it's also quite melodic, and really travels alongside the autumnal riffing and depressing themes. Sure, you could totally picture this guy fronting one of the sleazier glam bands of the 80s, and he's shown in his side band that he can go even more commercial, but that grit to his performance is what helps carry a lot of these songs over the top, and although I was quite let down that Taneli Jarva and his gruesome growls had moved on from the band, I quickly came to accept this change.

Otherwise, the guitars here are pretty wonderful, treading through simpler chords and picking sequences that mesh together Goth rock and traditional heavy metal, with a few minor hints that they had emerged from a slightly more extreme background. The riffs on "Bleed" or "Noose" are instantly memorable, and all the other atmospherics like acoustics and Waldemar Sorychta's guest keys are seamlessly integrated, which they had some experience with on Amok, but really ramped up here to make sure these tunes were ending in chorus parts that would cling to your brain for a very long time. I do think Down runs out of steam in the second half, the songs are good but not usually what I'm looking forward to when I spin this, but it's got a resonant, atmospheric, not-too-polished mix that stands up even today, and when I want something in that contrasting sad/rocking style found in a lot of the more 'natural' Gothic metal, this is absolutely returning to my rotation on a semi-annual basis.

Verdict: Win [8.25/10]

No comments: