Home to the likes of The Gaslight Anthem, New Jersey already seems like a depressing place to eke out a living, what with all those tales of blue-collar woe, but if you want to hear some real despair from The Garden State, New Brunswick natives Forlorn Path have just released their debut album “Man’s Last Portrait”, a crushing exercise in blackened sorrow. But hey, it’s not all bad! The band have taken the decision to make the record a free download so anyone who wants to sample their mournful emissions can do so for diddly squat, and this can only be a good thing, for the more people who hear “Man’s Last Portrait” the better.
After the sombre tones of intro ‘The Coming of Winter’, the band launch into ‘Empire of Decadence’, a rapid death metal number enshrouded by haunting keyboards and punctuated by vocalist Dave Imbriaco’s beastly death grunts. The pace lapses into doom/death territory and comparisons to the likes of Evoken spring to mind, but the band’s appetite for speed and aggression appears insatiable, and given the eight minute length of the track, they are free to indulge in a variety of tempos. The grimly majestic sweep of ‘Words Only Wind Can Speak’ soon follows with its monochrome doom riffing reminiscent of early My Dying Bride. The atmosphere suggests dread and sorrow and it’s soon apparent that this is going to be one tortuous journey.
‘Masquerade’ reeks of Finnish melo-death with a subtly sustained sense of melody acting as a desperate driving force to the march of the main riff. Some female vocals and despondent acoustic guitar keep things fresh, as does the stark keys and funereal atmosphere of the aptly entitled ‘As Hope Fades.’ The rhythm guitarwork throughout “Man’s Last Portrait” is solid rather than being spectacular, and it’s the achingly melodic leads that sustain the mournful flow of the album and helps bridge the gap between the doom and death metal sections. By and large, it’s a process that works admirably well.
At over an hour long, “Man’s Last Portrait” is an endurance task in more ways than one. The relentless misery and use of dirge will be too much for some to bear, and while the faster sections could do with some work, their scything attack will cause much damage. Forlorn Path has some miles to tread before they are on a par with their peers, but in a world without Woods of Ypres, there’s certainly room for a blackened doom band to showcase their wares. Plus it’s free, so if you needed a better excuse to wallow in despair, I’d like to hear it.