By Craig Haze
The 11th Hour is the doom metal, almost solo venture of acclaimed multi-instrumentalist Ed Warby, famed for his work with Hail of Bullets, Gorefest and Ayreon. As well as writing and producing Lacrima Mortis, Warby also played all the instruments—sharing vocal duties with Pim Blankenstein, who handles the guttural growls. The album’s title translates as ‘tears of death’, and that’s a more-than-fitting description of the seven funereal laments to be found on this sophomore release.
Lacrima Mortis is swathed in a woebegone aura. Its weighty riffs, orchestral swells and delicate keyboard passages make for rich furrows of downtempo instrumentation. And Warby’s vocals, which are of the somber, clean and crooning variety—rather than baleful and howling—are supplemented by Blankenstein’s gravelly snarls, which are in turn put to good use livening up the album. “Rain on Me” and “Tears of the Bereaved” are fine examples of Warby’s desolate timbre channeling the overwhelming sadness, with Blankenstein’s gritty (often ghoulish) interludes adding some welcome texture and lift.
Warby has mixed the album very well, and there’s certainly an unaffected, grief-laden ambience to the release. He utilizes the distinctive doom stamps—dragging riffs and plenty of macabre subject matter—but he’s not afraid to inject some death metal tonality into the proceedings; “The Death of Live” has passages that could easily have appeared on a Hail of Bullets release. The album is definitely a step up from 09’s Burden of Grief, which was solid enough, ticking all the trademark doom boxes, but lacked any long-lasting resonance. Lacrima Mortis, however, has more of a lingering aftertaste.
Opener, “We All Die Alone”, begins with a flourish of keys, strings and vocals, working together to set a melancholic mood that Warby entrenches with some giant despondent riffs. “Reunion Illusion”, with its intertwining vocals, churning cadence and monumental riffs, is rich pickings for fans of ornate doom. And “Nothing but Pain”, on which Blankenstein’s broken-glass vocals are backed up by a dispiriting riff worthy of Celtic Frost, offers up some torturous machinations.
Lacrima Mortis finds Warby refining his songwriting skills admirably. And aside from the scruffier vocals the album is very polished, with all the hefty riffs and pounding percussion captured pristinely. While that’s an issue for me personally—I like my doom rough-edged, organic and filthy—the overall clarity of the album is actually one of its greatest strengths, and the full production bolsters its melancholic disposition.
The album is extremely forlorn, being one long musing on death and despair. So if you like your doom with a bit of grunt and swagger, that’s going to be a problem. As it is, Lacrima Mortis has a bountiful palette of sounds to luxuriate in. Warby has worked hard to draw attention to the very dark places one goes when confronted with death, and Lacrima Mortis is philosophically ambitious and genuinely moving. There’s also a lot on the album that would be attractive to non-doom fans as well, particularly if you’re fond of the quieter moments of melodic European death metal. Opeth and Amorphis fans, there are tracks here that’ll ring your (mourning) bell.
Album number two from The 11th Hour is darker and more bombastic than their debut. Throughout the album the two interweaving vocal styles add a lot of contrast, meaning the epic-length tracks never fall flat. Lacrima Mortis’ collection of harrowing tales is cloaked in a godforsaken veneer, and it’s a credit to Warby’s talents and songwriting ability that he manages to preserve that requiem-like atmosphere throughout. A great album for fans of sumptuous, heavy-hearted metal, especially those who don’t mind things spiced with a little death rattle.