As anyone who’s ever dealt with it either themselves or through a loved one knows, there’s a huge difference between sadness and depression. Real, clinical depression isn’t just about being miserable. There’s a physical, chemical response that takes place in the body, and it’s not just manifested in someone’s mood, but their every bit of perspective is tainted by it. The world feels like standing in a room full of boxes and all of them are labeled in block letters: NO. Embracing the Lightless Depths (Profound Lore), the second album from Portland, Oregon, death-doomers Aldebaran, is similarly minded, such that even the three shorter ambient “Occultation” pieces that surround the two massive slabs which form the crux of the album sound entrenched in an overarching and overwhelming negativity. Even where there are no drums, there is plod. Their second full-length following 2007’s Dwellers in Twilight, splits with Zoroaster and Unearthly Trance and last year’s single-song Buried Beneath Aeons EP (there were other splits before the first album as well, with Sod Hauler and Rue), Embracing the Lightless Depths pulls Aldebaran into a Lovecraftian void of which, if the title is to be believed, the band are well aware. Topping out at 66 minutes, the album is a terror unto itself, structurally fascinating and unrepentantly challenging: a test that most listeners will likely fail. It’s hard to sit through front to back, and that’s obviously the band’s intent – the alienation as mirror of the alienated.
Longer songs “Forever in the Dream of Death” (24:58) and “Sentinel of a Sunless Abyss” (29:38) – were it not for opener “Occultation of Hali’s Gates,” I might think Aldebaran had shunned the possessive form altogether, so many “of”s show up in their titles – emerge from out of ambient murk and are never quite separate from it. Vocals, handled alternately by guitarist Todd Janeczek, bassist Josh Banke and drummer Tim Call (also of labelmates The Howling Wind) are growls exclusively, which only adds to the overall inaccessibility of their approach, though the guitars of Janeczek and Kody Keyworth (also of the live incarnation of Wolves in the Throne Room) show an immediate penchant for carrying a melody. They do so on “Occultation of Hali’s Gates” (3:22), which starts Embracing the Lightless Depths quietly, setting the atmosphere in which “Forever in the Dream of Death” lurches forth. Chiefly, the first of the album’s two longer pieces is immersive. You hear it less than it inflicts itself on you. Call stands up to the difficult task of giving the song some kind of ground and pace – without him, you’d almost believe it didn’t have one – and the mood remains consuming in its darkness for the duration. Shortly before 16 minutes in, the guitars guide the way through a softer, whisper-vocal section, but the pummel resumes soon enough, and though the guitar leads in the final minutes might lead one to think there’s some kind of hope – ever, at all – that too is swallowed in the low monstrousness of the distorted finish.
Centerpiece and second of the album’s occultations, “Occultation of Ocular Tauri” would on many other releases be considered extended at 6:38, but in the context of the rest of Aldebaran’s second, it’s dwarfed by the two cuts it separates, essentially serving as an ambient interlude between the one and the other. There’s a definite progression to the track, but it keeps to its subdued atmospherics, and so while there’s a presence to it – that is, you don’t automatically pass it by in listening – the onslaught of “Sentinel of a Sunless Abyss” gives “Occultation of Ocular Tauri” a different feel, starting right in with a slow march and deep growls. Crashes, notes sustained to impossible lengths, and a motion that seems to just keep going downward, “Sentinel of a Sunless Abyss” is, if nothing else, aptly titled. Just before 12 minutes into its massive sprawl, Aldebaran offer another stretch of minimalist guitar ambience – this one instrumental – but in less than two minutes, the crushing tones return and the band does no more such favors. There are discernable changes and interplay in the vocals as one member trades off parts with another, but the course of “Sentinel of a Sunless Abyss” is set and Aldebaran do not veer from it. By the time 20 minutes have passed, one feels as though the lungs are nearly full, and Embracing the Lightless Depths has endeavored to consume from the inside out. It is excruciatingly heavy. Gut-wrenchingly heavy. In both tone and atmosphere, overwhelming.
In the only direct bleed from one song to the next – no silence between – “Sentinel of a Sunless Abyss” gives way to the closer “Occultaion of Dim Carcosa.” At 2:04, it is less than a tenth of the length of the song preceding it, and one wonders why if the two songs were going to be intertwined anyway Aldebaran didn’t just leave it as part of “Sentinel of a Sunless Abyss,” but the symmetry that Embracing the Lightless Depths’ final occultation brings provides the answer. As in the opener, in the closer a distorted guitar line weaves its way into the ambience, and though it doesn’t develop as much as the middle track, neither does it need to. They’ve already made that point. “Occultation of Dim Carcosa” instead reinforces the structure of the album and underscores Aldebaran’s commitment to mood, which, again, is a word that hardly does the record’s depressiveness justice. If you feel like you’re going to take it on, you’ll want to be wary of its affecting aspects, as on repeat listens it seems to drain the color from the world surrounding, leaving everything looking a little paler, a little dimmer, a little more like those boxes with NO on them. That this was unquestionably the idea behind Embracing the Lightless Depths – doing just what the title suggests – and so one can only judge and addled or pained reactions as a sign of Aldebaran’s success. They’ve made a pillar of true depressive death-doom, and it’s one not easily climbed.Aldebaran, Aldebaran doom, Aldebaran Embracing the Lightless Depths, death-doom, Embracing the Lightless Depths, Oregon, Portland, Portland doom, Profound Lore