Album Review: Hanging Garden - At Every Door

As a new year is at its dawn, a wellspring of hope and optimism will once again flourish, the belief that the coming year will be better than the last. It's natural to think that things will get better, that something grand and great will be coming down the line to lift our spirits. It's why we celebrate the coming of a new year, when it's really an arbitrary delineation of where we happen to be in a never-ending orbit. What I love is the irony of crushing that hope under the weight of bleak doom, reinforcing that the future is just more of the past, which is what we get from Hanging Garden's “At Every Door.”

Bleak is the best word to describe the music Hanging Garden serves up this time out, a collection of brooding doom mixed with the muscle and desperation of death metal, rolled up in a package that is a fitting soundtrack to misery. “Ten Thousand Cranes” builds from a drum loop, alternating massive roars and walls of guitars with subtle moments of whispered anguish. It is stark, bleak, and not quite as effective as it needs to be.

The problem with “At Every Door” is a trait that escapes much of the doom scene, an emphasis on heft above all else, and a lack of much that would qualify as traditional songwriting. The pieces are there, everything is executed well enough, but there's a piece of the puzzle missing. If you go through a checklist of what death/doom should be, everything is in place. And yet, I can't avoid feeling that what I'm hearing is the embryonic stage of a much better album. “Ten Thousand Cranes” is the perfect example. It isn't until the back half of the song, and only the once, that the hook appears. Everything leading up to that moment was stage setting, and when the big moment comes, it's not enough to justify that much anticipation.

Likewise, the rest of the record offers up track after track that play the right cards, but never strike the right balance to captivate anyone but the most ardent of doom fans. There are moments on the record where the atmospheres created are mournfully beautiful, but they're never used as the foundation for an even greater song, instead serving as the entirety of what's being presented. Vocally, there's just not enough melody coming through the compositions to break up the slow-churning music the rest of the band comes up with.

“At Every Door” isn't doom in the Candlemass mold, but a little bit of that kind of attention to the audience's needs would have gone a long way. Taken on their own, the songs on the album are fine enough examples of colorless doom, but the album as a whole becomes a chore to sit through, due to the monochrome palate from which the band paints. After hearing one song, there's not much else left to be discovered.

“Wormwood” tries it's hardest to break free of this, and is the strongest cut on the record. There are few, if any, riffs to be found, but the song boasts the best bit of melody on the record, which comes just before it's time to give up on the album redeeming itself.

Ultimately, my opinion of “At Every Door” is that it's too content to fit inside a tiny box, too accepting of the limitations of the bleakest of outlooks on life and music. There is certainly a place for that not just in doom, but in all music, but too much of it goes beyond foreboding, and crushes the spirit to continue listening. Doom is bleak, to be sure, but even the darkness needs a ray of light every so often, otherwise the dark isn't so dark anymore.

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