It does not take long into Eternal Elysium‘s Resonance of Shadows for one to realize they stand in the presence of masters. The long-running Japanese outfit, comprised of vocalist Tana Haugo, guitarist/vocalist/founder Yukito Okazaki and drummer Antonio Ishikawa offer the 2016 release as their sixth full-length, and it arrives some 20 years after the band made their debut with 1996’s Faithful. American audiences might recall their 2000 sophomore outing, Spiritualized D, and its 2002 follow-up, Share, were released on MeteorCity. It’s now been over seven years since they offered their last long-player in 2009’s Within the Triad, but they’ve stayed reasonably active with shorter outings, their Highflyer EP and a split with SardoniS both surfacing in 2012. Some of the material on Resonance of Shadows (issued through Cornucopia Records dates back to the era of Within the Triad as well, with “Views on C#” and “Unbound” having appeared on 2008’s Mysterious Views in Stone Garden EP and the aforementioned SardoniS split, respectively.
As such, one might wonder from whence the rest of the eight-track/56-minute collection comes — cuts like the boogieing “Cosmic Frequency,” the more-Pentagram-than-Pentagram opener “Ingah,” the classically rocking “The Breeze Says Go” and the slow-paced crusher “Hiroshima” — but it ultimately matters little for the kind of doom and heavy rock Eternal Elysium proffer, which is about as close to timeless as the style gets in its incorporation of influences modern and old. These songs could’ve been sitting around for years, and who cares? Not like they’re going to age. In their rolling nod, fullness of tone, interplay of Japanese and English-language lyrics and easy shifts between upbeat and downer atmospheres, Resonance of Shadows conveys the years of experience at work behind Eternal Elysium while never sounding staid or overly composed. It’s heavy rock and roll for the converted, and the rest be damned.
Laying out such sonic ultimatums is one thing, and a lot of bands do it, but to actually have the material to stand behind them is rare. As such, the more one digs into Resonance of Shadows, whether it’s the immersive lumber of “Unbound” or the catchy Sabbathism of the penultimate “The Ancient Soul” — to my regret, I speak roughly zero Japanese, and I’ve still had that hook stuck in my head for the last week — the further one is taken by its methods, its subtle fluidity that draws together a full-album flow across standout individual pieces, and the natural clarity in Eternal Elysium‘s sound. Not unreasonable after so many years for them to know what they want from a recording, and with Okazaki working as producer, engineer and mixer at Studio Zen in Nagoya, the command they show is most definitely their own from the tones they capture in “Ingah” onward, but on a pure execution level, the apex that “Ingah” hits in its second half is particularly affecting.
And while it doesn’t set up all the sonic shifts that will play out across Resonance of Shadows, starting immediately with the shuffle of “The Breeze Says Go” and continuing through the memorial bells that launch “Hiroshima,” it does step forth as an excellent lead-in to them. More over, one that a lesser band wouldn’t be able to wield with such grace. To look at Resonance of Shadows as two halves, each with four tracks — though vinyl invariably wouldn’t split that way given extended runtimes in back end — it seems to bring shorter rockers like “Ingah” and “Cosmic Frequency” and “The Breeze Says Go” while letting the seven-minute “Hiroshima” (which breaks into a faster rush in its own second half, churning to an instrumental crescendo that serves as one of the record’s finest) work to foreshadow the doomly plays throughout the instrumental “Views on C#,” the ultra-grooving “Unbound” and the spacious closing pair of “The Ancient Soul” and “Sekibaku.”
The truth of Eternal Elysium‘s scope, however, is more complex, and Resonance of Shadows isn’t nearly so binary. As much as “Unbound”(8:49) and “The Ancient Soul” (9:17) take their time to patiently flesh out ideas, they’re not lazy in doing so, and among the album’s principal achievements is how organically it crosses the sometimes vast divide between doom and heavy rock, so that the languid, rich low end, echoing lead guitar and open spaces of “Sekibaku” feel no less appropriate here than the march of “Unbound” or the mournfulness of “Hiroshima” earlier. Setting up multiple contexts and moving swiftly between them, the three-piece are able to harness a vitality that works as the thread tying everything together, and accordingly, they allow their material to go where it seems it wants to go without having the push of “Cosmic Frequency” are out of place next to the aughts-style stonerism of “Views on C#,” or for that matter, anything lose a step feeding into anything else.
“The Ancient Soul” and “Sekibaku” underscore this triumph, but again, it’s evident from “Ingah” onward, and the argument that Eternal Elysium make in favor of conversion, “never so blatant as “drop out of life with bong in hand,” is no less convincing. To call them underappreciated feels like understatement, and thinking of how one might approach Resonance of Shadows as a fan come to the genre since 2009 who is maybe taking on the band for the first time, the best way I can think of is as a blueprint for how heavy rock and roll and doom should sound when done right. No pretense, fluid boundaries and songwriting at a paramount. Recommended.