Debut albums are seen as a band’s first chance to set themselves apart and to make a lasting impression, to prove their art is worth noticing. “First impressions last” and Vanha made sure their first release would firmly stand out on its own – ‘Within the Mist of Sorrow’ was released in December 2016 via Swedish underground label Black Lion Records.
Vanha – meaning “old” in Finnish – hail from Trollhättan in Sweden. What initially started as a side project for Jan Johannson, eventually grew into something more and Johannson brought Jesse Oissen onboard to contribute on drums and complete the band.
True to Scandinavian doom metal, Vanha focuses on those deep feelings of forlornness, grieving death, depression and emotional anguish. ‘Within the Mist of Sorrow’ evokes a sense of all enveloping melancholy as each chord and drum beat is drawn out to the point that it feels like the utmost effort is required to just keep going, further contributing to the atmosphere of the album. Vanha is a fitting band name as the topics and emotions expressed are some of the oldest in human memory.
Each track shifts seamlessly between clean and harsh vocals – the death growls carry the unbridled emotional frustration, whilst the barely-contained hopelessness of the clean vocals bring forth the emotional depth of each track. The instrument arrangement on ‘Within the mist of Sorrow’ has the typical complementary setup of bottom-heavy bass, slow-hitting drums and outreaching thick guitars, whilst adding piano, various string instruments and even a sparse pipe-organ to creep a subtle gothic metal suggestion into the blend. With repeat listens you can slowly hear the input of the other instruments on the album and gain a greater appreciation for the delicate difference they make as a whole.
“Old Heart Fails” is a quintessential for those who enjoy doom metal, and even those who like a little gothic metal flavour to their doom via the pipe-organ on the track.
“Into the Cold Light” is arguably the centerpiece of ‘Within the Mist of Sorrow’; a dirge that encompasses all the anguish lingering throughout the album and essentially encourages you to go into the (cold) light.
“The Curse” has an extensive piano and drum segment for the first half, but what really hooks this track is when Johannson whispers an emotionally wrecked “please”, then finally a sluggishly splendid guitar solo in the later half. Even the final track on the album (an all-instrumental version of this song) stands out on its own without the vocals; such is the raw energy of the instruments behind this particular piece.
“Reaching the end” has a deceptive start which builds up into a guitar solo and then finely spins into a painful march of lyrics concerning suicide.
“Dark Heart” carries a few decent guitar solos and doleful lyrics – “Do you know how hard it is? Do you know how wrong it is?” are words that haunt, even after the final note.
Album strengths: simplicity in subtly with powerful emotions. This album is worthy of a listen if you enjoy My Dying Bride, early Katatonia, Draconian and some elements of later releases by Woods of Ypres. A commendable debut album and repeat listens will further entrench how truly miserable this album is – each track flows into the other as emotions usually do. With that said, ‘Within the Mist of Sorrow’ is an album that must be listened to in its entirety to achieve the full effect.
Album shortcomings: ‘Within the Mist of Sorrow’ does not reinvent the wheel but the question is if the album contributes to the proud body of work from the regional scene. It is fairly straight forward in its lyrical content and whilst that may contribute to the overall feel of the album, it denies what could have been a complex album open to self-interpretation.
Vanha has made a well-produced, compelling first album and it is death-doom music fit for a dark day when you need a slow, embracing catharsis.
‘Within the Mist of Sorrow‘ Track Listing:
- Old Heart Fails
- Into the Cold Light
- The Curse
- Reaching the End
- Dark Heart
- The Curse (Instrumental)
Jan Johannson – Vocals, guitars, piano
Jesse Oinas – Drums
- - 8.5/108.5/10