Welcome to The Lazarus Pit, a biweekly look at should-be classic metal records that don’t get nearly enough love, stuff that’s essential listening for students of extreme metal that you’ve probably never heard of. Stuff that we’re too lazy to track down the band members to do a Hall Of Fame for. This week, we have the only (as far as I know) metal band to name themselves after a brand of tea: Celestial Season, and their second album, Solar Lovers (Displeased).
When (if) you think of the Netherlands and doom metal, you invariably think of The Gathering. And that’s pretty much the right reaction. Those particular Dutchmen (and woman) brought a classiness and 4AD-inspired beauty to a pretty ugly genre. They weren’t the only game in town (Amsterdam) in the mid-90s, though. There was also Celestial Season. Like The Gathering, it took them a little while to really find their groove. When they started, they were obviously big fans of My Dying Bride. By the time 1995 rolled around, though, their ranks had swelled to seven members (including two violinists, also probably a first for a metal band at the time) and, like a lot of the other Euro-doom crews, they shifted towards a more melodic sound a la Paradise Lost’s Draconian. That was a fortuitous move, because it led to them producing their masterwork, Solar Lovers.
Just to get it out of the way: this album sounds like crap. Lex “The Druid” Vogelaar is credited with mixing this thing, and if so, he should have his ears revoked. Once you get past that, though, you’ll find an unsung genre classic – and it’s not like the early efforts by the Peaceville Three had impeccable fidelity. CS had two things giving them the edge: those violins, and a burgeoning love of stoner rock.
Later on, they would embrace the red sun blues fully, but here it works as flavor, most notably as some crunchy guitar tone that would be more at home on a St. Vitus record. It adds some welcome wah-wah to the solo on the spectacular “Dancing to a Thousand Symphonies,” a pleasant surprise to find amongst the moody instrumentals and sepulchral vocals that comprise the rest of the disc. They even go for sheer psychedelic splendor on the closing track, the incongruous (and prescient) “A Tune from the Majestic Queen’s Garden.” The violins, meanwhile, add a stately elegance to the melancholic melodies, balancing out the fuzz and elevating some of the more traditional dirges like “Soft Embalmer of the Still Midnight.” If you want heavy, rocking bursts of doom, you can’t go wrong with “Decamerone” or the title track. If you want creeping death, try “The Scent of Eve” or “Will You Wait for the Sun?” Something for everyone! Just ignore the laughable Ultravox cover.
After this, they went too far into Teepee territory and lost what made them special. Celestial Season succeeded by finding the perfect balance between Katatonia and Fu Manchu. Solar Lovers proved that stoner rock wasn’t the bastard child of doom, but instead its kissing cousin. Some of the more orthodox (i.e., boring) doom metal outfits of today could learn a valuable lesson from these guys. You can be gloomy and still rock at the same time.