Hey you, do you ever wonder what it feels like to float endlessly in a starless sky when the northern lights are at their brightest? Well, wonder no more. Marianas Rest, the Finnish 5-piece, have released “Fata Morgana” an atmospheric expanse that lifts you up and carries you to such a realm.
Marianas Rest have doubled down on the doom and blackened death metal that we heard in their previous releases. Tinged with elements of melodic death metal and even some ambient post-rock elements, the band have pushed hard into creating massive ethereal soundscapes. It could be argued that 2016’s “Horror Vacui” and 2019’s “Ruins”, possessed more musical variation from all members of the band, bar the vocalist. Whilst the doom metal themes were still present, the overall approach was a slightly more energetic and more varied mix of the aforementioned metal styles. It seems to me, however, that the band has consciously decided to focus all of their energy into creating a massive soundscape in this new album, and with this concentration, they have manifested some truly powerful tracks.
Slow, but undeniably heavy, “Fata Morgana” has one objective, to absorb you. The sentiment of the 8-track offering is deeply emotional and dark. There is a deep sense of melancholy that resonates and glissades through the songs, as if it were an instrument in itself. Despite this, there are some tremendously beautiful moments that really lift you up and draw you in. The celestial approach to some of these big instances reminded me of the equally stellar Sojourner album “Premonitions”.
Despite “Fata Morgana” having a relatively routine composition throughout, I didn’t find myself feeling bored or uninterested. The hooks and large universal arrangements have their own mini personalities to them; emotional variations on a theme, if you will. The instruments are present purely as a vessel for the vocals at times, but once the immense instrumental sequences begin, they take over completely, and you’re left suspended in a state of euphony that is just as interstellar as it is gothic.
The album begins with “Sacrificial”, a slow and dense number that dictates the overall feeling that we are to expect in the tracks to come. After a short haunting introduction from keyboardist Aapo Koivisto, we’re soon hit with a wall of sound from the rest of the band. Jaako Mäntymaa’s shrill wail rings out before us, and thus the album truly begins.
Mäntymaa’s vocals have evolved since 2019, possessing a powerful projection that genuinely carries the heaviness of most moments. The grunt in title track “Fata Morgana” is beastly and demonstrates the point above aptly, but his most dominant performance, in my view, is on closing track “South of Vostok”. On the opposite side of the scream spectrum, the shrieks that come out of his body are enough to make a banshee nervous. They’re almost a gothic mix of Dani Filth (Cradle of Filth) in the “Nymphetamine” era, and Pantera vocalist Phil Anselmo’s high screams in “Cowboys from Hell”. It’s a stretch in terms of description, no doubt, but the central point remains. The high screams are damn good.
Mäntymaa’s variance is a useful tool for this album, in that it allows him to add some moments of allure to otherwise wearisome sections. The placement of all of these different techniques in appropriate sequences is also a point of commendation, as it doesn’t disrupt the flow of the icy Scandinavian river that is this album. The spoken-word stanzas that occasionally appear through the tracks are a nice touch; a welcome distinction to the rough vocals, with one such section in “South of Vostok” even being performed in Finnish.
Adding to the vocal variance is that of some angelic and airy melodies, sung by ex-Cradle of Filth keyboardist Lindsay Schoolcraft. She first appears in “Glow from the Edge”, an absolutely outstanding track. The melismatic ‘ah’s that she emanates are perfectly suited to the heavy-hearted nature of the song, yet they generate this feeling of awe; like the beauty in the destructive force of nature. I could almost imagine her spellbinding voice as being the representation of Fata Morgana (derived from ‘Morgan le Fay’), the sorceress who would conjure up mirages of false land and castles on the horizon to lure sailors to their deaths.
The lyrics are an impressive component of this album, conspiring with the music to paint a dire and bitterly cold picture that summons imaginations of the band’s wintery hometown, Kotka. They are quite cryptic, but strongly poetic at most times. Themes change from exploring death and all of its meanings to us, pushing through desolation in the hopes of finding something better on the other side of it, to more Mephistophelean themes with songs like “Advent of Nihilism”, holding damning lyrics such as ‘we are the night sky without stars.”
Whilst they offer an overarching story or concept that ties in with the album’s ethos, they are abstract and speculative enough so that anyone can interpret them in their own independent way. Personally, I like to interpret “Glow of the Edge” as exploring the foolhardy pursuits of ambitions and vices that lead people to their own mental, spiritual, or actual, demise.
The instrumental side of “Fata Morgana” is equally clever as the vocal side, though in an entirely different way. The non-vocal members don’t make a habit of boasting any technical mastery over their instruments, but frankly, this is okay. The intention of the instruments in this album is to create as big and heavy of a sonic universe as possible, to tear the lid off of the sky and overfill it with emotion and mood.
The guitars, strummed into oblivion by Nico Mänttäri and Harri Sunila, are clear and heavy in their distorted tone. The layering of multiple melodies, chord progressions and occasional acoustic guitar strums builds the mood across the album. The spacey outro to “A Pointless Tale” is massive in this regard, topped off with a fluttering guitar riff that sits just off in the distance.
There are also some nice changes to keep things fresh and diverse among the guitars. A dreamy, shoe-gaze guitar solo chills the listener out in “Glow from the Edge”, while post-rock feelings come to life in the beginning of “The Weight”, as well as in other tracks. Lastly, a ripper of a guitar solo is let out on “Advent of Nihilism”, showing us that whilst the band is musically modest, they do indeed know when and how to take center stage. In all of this big sound, the weight of the melodic progressions are carried dutifully by bassist Niko Lindman.
The drums are understated in this album, placed well in the mix so that the guitars are in the foreground along with the vocals. The bass drum is not aggressive at all, but is audible in the form of a soft heart beat-like punch that really adds a concrete weight to the rhythm. There is, unfortunately, not a huge amount of variation on the part of Nico Heininen, but it seems that he’s not here to impress. The drums are present in this release to provide a blank canvas on which the guitars, vocals, and other layers can color their ever-growing oeuvre.
To put it concisely, “Fata Morgana” is an immense undertaking by Marianas Rest. The tracks, though unwavering in their core themes, produce a range of dark and leaden undertones that flow well into each other. The vocals are undoubtedly the standout in this album in terms of performance, but it’s hard to ignore the cinematic opera that beams from the instrumental domain. The band have succeeded in sustaining a deep connection to their Finnish heritage. Just like the arctic landscape of the nation, “Fata Morgana” is cold, dark, hostile, but undeniably beautiful.
Released On: March 12th, 2021
Released By: Napalm Records
Genre: Melodic Doom / Death Metal
- Jaako Mäntymaa / Vocals
- Nico Mänttäri / Guitar
- Harri Sunila / Guitar
- Niko Lindman / Bass
- Nico Heininen / Drums
- Aapo Koivisto / Keyboards
“Fata Morgana” Tracklist:
- Glow from the Edge
- A Pointless Tale
- The Weight
- Fata Morgana
- Advent of Nihilism
- South of Vostok
“Fata Morgana” is a big step forward for the Marianas Rest. Delving deep into their Finnish roots, the band comes together to illustrate a desolate, yet breathtaking sonic landscape in a homage to their homeland. Fans will not be disappointed, but instead inspired and emotionally riveted with this new offering, and will undoubtedly be looking at flight options to Finland afterwards.