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.