Tiamat is a band that was very briefly important to my musical growth. Along with Opeth’s Blackwater Park, it was their 1994 album Wildhoney, with its blend of dour doom metal and floaty, Floydian atmospherics that helped coddle me into a comfortable acceptance of harsh vocals. Over the years, though, they came to be one of the early casualties as I explored countless new bands, falling by the wayside through no fault of their own. It was with some anticipation, but also apprehension, that I approached their upcoming release The Scarred People, knowing it would be a different beast than what lingered in my memory from their decades-old output. Nonetheless, I remained hopeful that it could be just as enjoyable as their work had been before.
It is with a similar apprehension that I find I have to say it isn’t. This isn’t due to their full switch to moody, atmospheric gothic rock from what they were doing 20 years ago; if anything the Katatonia-meets-Pink-Floyd sound they have going on is far more appealing to me than the retread of what was an original doom sound when I was in kindergarten. However, the spread of genuinely interesting moments on the record is so relatively sparse, surrounded by bland soundscapes dripping with a forced darkness that it prevents me from shaking a sense of disappointment, especially when looking at the record as a whole in comparison to those moments that do shine.
The title track opens the album with a stab of synthesized brass that introduces the theatricality running throughout the album. Much of the time this works well enough, but at its most effusive (such as on the title track), it comes off like a bad rock opera. It is, however, a considerable credit to Jonas Edlund that any other vocalist probably would have caused the music to fly irretrievably off the rails, while here his flawless performance manages to keep it mostly grounded. His deep croon fits the cheesier music well enough that when he’s not simply doing a great job, the worst you could say is he’s doing well enough with what he has to work with.
The album’s strongest moments are small passages scattered throughout the record, such as the keyboard-and-screams drenched stretch in 384 – Kteis or the much too brief instrumental Before Another Wilbury Dies, the focus of which is Edlund’s gorgeous bluesy soloing that is invariably the highlight of each song in which it appears. The influence of David Gilmour is obvious, and as with Gilmour’s playing there isn’t a superfluous note to be found. One of the most saddening aspects of this album is that the soloing is so strong, it only serves to highlight how frequently weak the music is on either end of it.
If it feels like I’m focusing entirely on Edlund’s performance it’s because there is, frankly, little else that is remarkable about the rest of the band on this record. The keys and synths frequently provide nice atmospherics but just as frequently (as on Thunder & Lightning), drench the music with sappy histrionics. Everything else is pretty much bog standard, not flawed as much as competently mediocre, which in some ways is almost worse. I’d much rather hear someone fail while trying something interesting than perfectly accomplish the task of simply not being bad.
In a way that sums up the entire record: it’s not bad, it’s just mediocre. A mediocre record is often worse than a bad record, because bad records are often bad because a band just utterly fails at trying something new to them, and there’s at least something to respect in that fact even if the music itself is a train wreck. A mediocre record like this is so disappointing because it’s clear that the band is capable of more and just hasn’t produced it. It feels uninspired and lazy, but with just enough moments of great song writing that I know the band could put out something that I would absolutely love in this style. There are seeds of a wonderful record buried here, but the band hasn’t taken enough care for them to grow to their full potential. After numerous listens, I’ve yet to make any real progress in getting through the album’s entire 49 minutes without starting to lose interest halfway through, and the point at which I’m forcing myself to try to like a record is the point at which I’m forced to conclude I just don’t.
About the Author
I grew up listening to a combination of whatever my friends listened to and whatever my parents thought was garbage, and eventually got into metal in the most hardcore way possible: I heard a Metallica song in a Dragon Ball Z music video. As an 11 year old, thought I had found the most badass thing in the world. I would later grow up to realize that 11 year olds are stupid. Since then, not only has my appreciation for music widened exponentially, but I’m pretty sure I could beat my 11 year old self up, too.Favourite genres: Progressive rock/metal, stoner rock/metal, sludge metal, power metal, traditional metal, jazz fusion, post-rock
Favourite bands: 3, Baroness, Bison BC, Blind Guardian, Boris, Clutch, The Company Band, Dark Suns, Disillusion, Earth, Earthless, Galactic, the Gathering, Iron Maiden, Kamchatka, Kamelot, King Hobo, Larry and His Flask, Lionize, Mastodon, Mono, Murder by Death, Opeth, Pain of Salvation, Pink Floyd, Porcupine Tree, Riverside, Symphony X, Tom Waits, Ufomammut, William Elliott Whitmore