Artist: Hanging Garden
Album Title: The Garden
Label: Agonia Records
Date of Release: 24 March 2023
The words ‘death’ and ‘doom’, when often uttered together alongside the word ‘metal’ are some of the most used when referring to music that emanates from Finland. Insomnium and Swallow The Sun are just two names that come to mind immediately, but there are many more if you dwell on the thought for just a few more moments, including early Amorphis, Dawn Of Solace, and Mariana’s Rest – this list goes on. Hanging Garden are yet another band that ploughs a similar furrow, and I am familiar with their name. However, I am less familiar with their musical output. When I am a self-confessed lover of this kind of music, that sets alarm bells ringing in my mind. Why haven’t I paid more attention until now? After all, the rather unimaginatively titled ‘The Garden’ is their eighth full-length, and it comes just over a year after the release of their last, ‘Skeleton Lake’.
I did review their EP, ‘Hereafter’ back in 2016 and rather liked it as I recall, so there’s no time like the present to see whether I’ve made the biggest mistake since accidentally pressing play on an Ed Sheeran song on YouTube. Oh, the horror!
The answer is yes, I have made a mistake, but not quite on the scale of the Sheeran debacle. ‘The Garden’ is a very fine, slick, and polished slab of death/doom metal with strong Gothic overtones and a fair sprinkling of electronic sounds. It benefits from some genuinely arresting melodies too, as well as a three-vocal approach at times – a clean female voice and two growly voices, although clean male tones add a fourth dimension. You’re all sensing a ‘but’ and it arrives in the form of this: there’s something just a little too easy about the album. For a supposedly heavy death/doom metal album, everything feels just a little too straightforward and smooth. As I have discovered, I can play it, and before I know it, the album is at an end. I don’t feel like I’ve been challenged in any way but neither have I been bowled over.
Having said that, there are some great moments that grab my attention, starting handily with the opening title track. After a moment of quiet, the intro has an immediate Swallow The Sun vibe to it, thanks to the lumbering pace, the swathes of keys and the sound of a tolling bell. The melody is very melancholy, as is the dual male/female clean vocal delivery, the gentle, sombre tones of Riikka Hatakka in particular. The ensuing growls are satisfyingly deep and gravelly, but I do wish the guitars had just a little more grunt to them, to really batter us over the head with their heaviness. As it is, they feel just a tad light for my personal taste. Nevertheless, the moodiness coupled with the central melodies win me over and it’s a great start to the record.
Instead of more of the same, ‘The Four Winds’ carries us in a slightly different direction. More Gothic in tone, and a little brisker in pace, there’s a less downbeat atmosphere to enshroud us. The central melody is, if anything, on the sprightly side, more akin to mid-era Amorphis than the crushing despair of Swallow The Sun. The synths are more prominent too, but in keeping with my previous criticism, I want a more destructive, blunt guitar tone. As good as the song is, it is too smooth and safe.
We move more to the shores of Blighty for ‘The Construct’, which has more than a hint of Paradise Lost about it. The tinkling Gothic-tinged keys, chugging stop-start riffs, and plaintive clean male vocals definitely call to mind one of Yorkshire’s finest musical exports, despite the deep growls that punctuate the track with some proper menace.
For my personal taste, the best moments on ‘The Garden’, aside from the title track, emerge in the form of ‘The Fire At First Dawn’, ‘The Stolen Fire’, and ‘The Resolute’. In the case of the former, it’s a Gothic death/doom anthem, brought to life as Hanging Garden really let loose with the melody. The Insomnium vibes are there, albeit in a slightly less heavy form. The female vocals are almost ethereal, and I love the way the verses are calm and serene, as the brooding number builds to release via heavy guitars and a wailing lead. But it’s the strength of the atmosphere, coupled with the aching melodies that makes it such a special track.
‘The Stolen Fire’ is a bit of a dark horse, coming out of nowhere after a few spins to hit me with its full power. Drenched in synths, the early guitar work feels a little more edgy, giving it gravitas against the quieter passages. But again, the melodies are insidiously strong, catching me unawares just when I was on the verge of dismissing it. ‘The Resolute’ is the album closer and it certainly ends the album on a positive note, that’s for sure, with a swansong-like flourish and more melancholic beauty.
It is fair to say that ‘The Garden’ is definitely a grower of a record. There is much to enjoy about it, more than I first perhaps thought. I still wish that it upped the ante in terms of overall heaviness and bite, but I suspect that was deliberately not what Hanging Garden wanted with this album. It’s unfair to say that this is a good background album, but it does play things just a little bit safe which ultimately undermines it a touch in my opinion. I’d urge you to check it out anyway though, as there’s enough quality to demand a recommendation.
The Score of Much Metal: 79%