With an emphasis on the sublime, the Nashville funeral doom band Loss have made one of the year’s most beautiful metal records.
“Move Beyond Murder”—
Judas Priests’ 1978 take of “Better by You, Better Than Me” landed them in court on allegations that it caused two young men to shoot themselves. But the album it came from, Stained Class, also had “Beyond the Realms of Death”—a song that actually dealt with suicide. There, death was a cosmic journey, as Rob Halford, a jaded but wise psychedelic sage, guided us through a process of mental anguish and eventual peace. Nashville’s Loss don’t sound anything like Priest, but they similarly dedicate their music to death’s journey and the ways suicide occupies our brains—in a way no other metal band has since “Realms.”
Loss are on the bleaker end of funeral doom, already the most grief-stricken form of doom metal with nearly nonexistent tempos and depressing lyrics. Few bands have recorded songs that defined their own aesthetic as well as Loss did with “Cut Up, Depressed, and Alone,” from their 2011 debut LP Despond. On their follow-up, Horizonless, Loss move beyond suicide (though it’s still a prominent theme) and broaden not only their approach to discussing death but their sound in general. The result is one of the year’s most beautiful metal records.
Across Horizonless, Loss distinguish themselves from other funeral doom bands by cutting back on gothic trappings, leaving a death metal husk to fill with despair. There is an emphasis on the sublime that Despond lacked. A brief moment of radiance opens “All Grows on Tears,” and when vocalist and guitarist Mike Meacham comes slamming in, the riff grows to superhuman strength, growing brighter amid the overwhelming darkness. That is just one of the many flourishes in Loss’ most moving song yet.
They’ve taken the bleak harmonies of melodic death metal bands—in particular, the Maiden-gone-gloom of early At the Gates and Dissection’s more black metal side—and brought them to their absolute slowest. Those particular influences are all over Horizonless. As “When Death Is All” concludes, a lead spirals towards the end, withering without losing poignancy. Horizonless is a record that romanticizes death, where thorns are petals, and it couldn’t have ended more appropriately.
Meacham is still the main presence on this record, and his subterranean growling itself seems to move in and out of life and death. His voice has a gravity that plunges riffs lower, no matter how drenched in melody they may be. Even so, Horizonless is a more collaborative album. Bassist John Anderson contributes piano to “Naught,” and he is also the sole performer on “The End Steps Forth,” a short piano, organ, and drum piece that deconstructs the gothic doom of My Dying Bride. In both, he brings the band closer to funeral doom’s more conventional archaic beauty while abstracting it. Guitarist Tim Lewis wrote and performed “Banishment,” Loss’ most death metal-leaning track yet. “The Joy of All Who Sorrow” is the first Loss song to feature vocals from all four of its members. Funeral doom is characterized by its lethargic pace; in that context, “Sorrow” has bountiful dynamics. It feels much faster than it actually is, with progressive death metal stylings chained to their doom anchor.
Horizonless is a study of how great modern metal records have all gone beyond genre exercises. Metal’s various styles have long been codified, and strident worship is now rarely enough of a statement. Despond contained songs from Loss’ demo and previous splits, but the band began anew with Horizonless, and it shows. If most doom is death closing in, this is opening a coffin and conversing with death head on. There’s an openness to Horizonless—even as Meacham sings about wanting the earth to consume him, about not just facing death but becoming it, about how death robs us. Through it all, Horizonless evokes metal’s most important message: in confronting death, we are freer in life.