Somewhere, in the intersection between melodic death metal, doom and post-metal, lies a sweet spot that acts from Finland seem to be able to hit more consistently than any other. Something about the land of the thousand lakes inspires artists to deliver consistently on the balance between metal, melancholy and melody, and Hanging Garden is one of the scene’s more experienced bands. On their seventh album, Skeleton Lake, releasing on May 21 via Lifeforce Records, the group’s seven members seek to process the “endless winter” of the year gone by, whilst reflecting the hope and optimism of a forthcoming spring.
With the cold winds of “Kuura” kicking off the album, Skeleton Lake launches straight into some of the more gothic metal-influenced sounds with the clean vocals of Riikka Hatakka taking centre stage enticing in the listener. Comparisons with Swallow the Sun and artists such as Katatonia are well-founded and enforced further as complementary harsh vocals kick in through the chorus. The song serves as a reasonable introduction to the album however there is continually better songwriting and deeper emotion on display as the record progresses; an unusual curiosity that each track appears to improve on the last but an enjoyable listening experience.
Skeleton Lake often pushes keyboard and synthesizer textures to the fore, with guitars used to add body rather than provide riffs, and the drums of Sami Forsstén serve to bound each song forth with gentle momentum rather than the relentless drive of some bands who embrace the ‘death’ portion of their subgenre more. Hanging Garden is capable of moments of magic, and when keys and guitars find perfect balance such as in the latter passages of “Faith,” one could almost close their eyes and believe you were listening to Ghost Brigade in their prime – high praise indeed. Skeleton Lake is also arguably less ‘heavy’ than its predecessor Into That Good Night (2019), however, outside of this wholly non-objective metric, the album is entirely more polished with the harmonized vocals of (now husband and wife duo) Riika and Toni Hatakka some of the most beautifully intertwined ever found in broader melodic metal.
The album transports the listener on a journey via ballad-esque “When The Music Dies” and the heavier Finnish language “Tunturi” and, by the time it concludes following the 7-minute plus epic title track, there’s been a broad showcase of the melodic death/doom genre that should satisfy any fan thereof. Followers of the previously mentioned Katatonia, in particular, should give the record a spin as there’s a lot to be enjoyed here – and others unfamiliar with the experienced Finns would be well-advised diving into Skeleton Lake as their first exposure.
Hanging Garden may not be as synonymous with the genre as some of the aforementioned bands in this review, but in Skeleton Lake they have nine outstanding tracks in their arsenal to win over many a new fan towards its more melodic end.
Skeleton Lake Track Listing:
3. Nowhere Haven
4. Winter’s Kiss
5. When the Music Dies
7. Road of Bones
8. Field of Reeds
9. Skeleton Lake
Run Time: 46:08
Release Date: May 21, 2021
Record Label: Lifeforce Records