I remember vividly my first purchase on iTunes. I won’t embarrass myself with the details, but it’s safe to say it wasn’t the proudest of purchases looking back twenty years. A detail that stands out, however, is my father lamenting the fact that I was consuming individual songs instead of albums as a whole, something that my parents’ generation believed and still believe was tantamount to treasonous musical consumerism.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve seen a rare glimmer of wisdom in these words. Some albums are not meant to be listened to as song-by-song compositions. Instead, they should be consumed whole like a glorious Michelin meal. One such Michelin meal is the debut album from The Otolith. Spanning six massive and wide-reaching songs that cross the sonic spectrum from utter brutality to wistful beauty, this is a musical endeavor that will leave even the most gluttonous full and overwhelmed.
I thought I had my albums of the year list all but finalized, especially when it comes to the bands at the very top of the list for 2022. However, Folium Limina is the type of album that forces you to reconsider not just the year in music, but the year in artistic endeavors as a whole. This is a tapestry, a Sistine Chapel, a Mona Lisa full of beautiful and compelling flaws. It is the human experience brought to life through guitars, bass, drums, and strings—dark, beautiful, transcendent.
About The Otolith
The Otolith, for those that don’t know, is born from the ashes of beloved Salt Lake City doomers Subrosa. Comprised of Kim Cordray, Levi Hanna, Andy Patterson, Sarah Pendleton, and Matt Brotherton, The Otolith—according to their Bandcamp—“draw no line between beauty and doom, as the Otolith weave ghostly symphonic strings with crushing bass, guitar, and percussion into a tapestry of velvet darkness across which voices call through time and space to arrive at a sea of liquid stars.”
After a string of singles and an appearance on the Dirt (Redux) album covering Alice in Chains’ “Would?,” Folium Limina is the debut full length from these rising juggernauts.
The Otolith – Folium Limina Album Review
Release Date: October 21, 2022
Label: Blues Funeral Recordings
Track 1: Sing No Coda
Some songs defy words. “Sing No Coda” is one of those, but I’ll do my best to reflect on it anyway.
Beginning with melancholic bells and the deep thrum of bass, The Otolith create a veritable symphony of Doom. As rollicking guitars kick in and the band slowly enters the picture, violins ring out in the background, creating a unique sonic texture that brings to mind a mixture of Post Metal and The Velvet Underground. Vocals that are unlike anything else in the genre enter the fray to do battle with a sonic landscape that, under the charge of a lesser band, might have been a mess but instead coalesces into one of the more titillating songs of the year.
As distorted guitars kick in, the violins rise in volume, backed by cacophonous drums. Guitars chug and power the song alongside some of the most interesting drumming I’ve heard in a long time, bringing to mind Industrial flourishes that somehow mix so perfectly with the rest of the song.
This is a song that is meant to be absorbed, to be breathed in, to become a part of your very spirit as you listen to it. I’ve waxed poetically enough, yet somehow I feel that there is simply too much to say about a song that I personally believe represents a future for Doom.
Track 2: Andromeda’s Wing
“Andromeda’s Wing” is an interesting song in that it sets the stage for the rest of the album. While “Sing No Coda” is an orchestra of Doom in and of itself, “Andromeda’s Wing” is almost a sister song, continuing the vibe and layering of “Sing No Coda.” Here, it is the interplay between the guitars and the violin with the continued presence of bombastic drums that really stands out.
Another element that carries forward from “Sing No Coda” into “Andromeda’s Wing” is The Otolith’s usage of a quiet bridge carried by violin that leads into bludgeoning guitars and harsh vocals. In the hands of a different band, this “sameness” of structure may come across as repetitive but in the hands of The Otolith, it begins a continuity of sound and approach. While this may or may not be lyrically a concept album, the concept is brought through in the musical approach. An astounding song that deserves repeat listens.
Track 3. Ekpyrotic
Eastern harmonies. Guitar and violin in perfect interplay. Vocals that bring about visions of ceremonial magic.
The guitars come in and everything changes. This is—partially because of the interplay between light and shade—the most crushing song on the album. As growling vocals simmer over the guitars and violin, the chords begin a new progression that takes the listener on a new journey, one that breaks from the continuity of the first two songs and refreshes the listener, letting them know that they are on the path to a new section of the album. Certain hallmarks of the album remain, but this song stands on its own legs in a way that perhaps the other songs do not. Each time that the guitars and bass return with crushing distortion, it’s the most sadistically satisfying punch to the gut.
Buckle up and get ready for a journey that is overwhelmingly heavy and poignantly beautiful.
One last note: If you’re an Amenra fan, this is the song for you.
In contrast to the preceding experience, Hubris is a moment to take a step back and reflect. Gentle guitars and wistful staccato violin swell in your sonic pathways, expanding and contracting and washing the listener away as if on a wave. As the drums and bass enter the landscape, it is not bludgeoning but instead feels as if a friend has given you an extra firm hug in a time of need. Yet again, we hear a masterclass in record engineering, as none of the layers fall from the center of perception.
The build towards a more aggressive tone is done so subtly that the listener must be actively searching for it. Distorted guitars do not land subtly when they do enter the room, but there is less of a “drop” effect compared with other songs on the album. The guitars and bass are here used to advance the melody as perhaps the best vocals on the album make their appearance around the four minute mark. When the bridge arrives at the five minute mark, we do have a certain expectation of what is to come. Whether that is predictability, style, or the genre of Doom itself, it’s hard to say, but it is worth mentioning, as the return to a bludgeoning intensity is somewhat expected. In my opinion, this is a perk, but some may find it to be a tad repetitive.
5. Bone Dust
Cacophonous sounds lead directly into a hypnotic bassline. The violins rise far in the distance, reverb swelling them to perfect highs and lows. Layers are added, added, added, but somehow it’s never too much.
By the time the drop comes in, we at this point have an idea that they’re coming. But this time, there’s something so much more melodic about it. The violin plays lead under the vocals as the guitars and bass carry a third melody. The songwriting is absolutely tantalizing. These musicians, put plainly, know what the fuck they’re doing and the layering in this song is just another example of it. By the time the chugging riff enters the scene, we are suddenly drawn from beauty into total darkness. This is the first appearance of sludginess in the album and it’s absolutely perfect. We come to realize that the layers were preparation for the absolute heaviness to come, the drag through the morass with the distant sound of violins as our only guide. Voiceover samples, while in my opinion overutilized in modern Doom, no longer feel worn out— instead, they represent new change in the song and melody.
This could be your next favorite song.
Early David Gilmour-era Pink Floyd. That’s what this song brings to mind. Echoes are the name of the game when it comes to “Dispirit.” Even as the violins weep over top a beautiful guitar line, we hear the echoes of our past and future. “I am here/ I will wait” they sing—and so am I for this experience, and so will I for the final drop of the album.
When it does come, after waves of violin and thunderous drums, it doesn’t feel like more of the same. It feels like punctuation, like a coda to this beautiful statement. For an hour, we have been floating on a barque to the underworld. This song is the end of the journey, the final statement, and what an exclamation it is. As a fan of guttural vocals, I was pleased to see their usage on the punctuation mark of the song, echoing much like the guitar from the intro.
It’s almost as if they’re trying to tell us that we’re at the end of our rope.
Final Thoughts on Folium Limina
Final Score: 9/10
Pros: The most important questions about a band could be broken down into the following key questions:
- How talented are they?
- How much will this feel like an ear worm and get stuck in my head?
- How much do I want to hear them again?
- How thoughtful is their songwriting?
- Is there a common theme or thread?
Check. Fucking. Mark.
These are supremely talented musicians at the top of their craft. The melodies and bludgeoning drops are memorable enough to seep into the washing of dishes. I can’t wait to hear this album again and, even more so, what they’ll do next. The thought that had to go into this album astounds me. And if you can’t find a common theme or thread to this album, I question your sanity or ability to focus on a piece of what I would call high art.
Do not miss this album.
Cons: In the end, I struggled a bit with finding cons about this album. On a personal level, I don’t really find many, as I believe this is a fully developed statement in a scene that badly needs them. However, I could see an argument being made about a certain “sameness” to the album, where each of the songs feeds into the next, all with relatively similar structures. This leaves the listener with a certain feeling of one-note-itis. This complaint however, while seemingly valid, fails to understand the tapestry that is Folium Limina and the task at hand for The Otolith. This is a concept in sound, a Romantic statement of intent for a new and well-worth-watching band.