Originally reviewed on 2014-04-08 by Mike Liassides (Doom-metal.com)
From early beginnings as a one-man project in Poland, Suffer Yourself has expanded to a Ukrainian-based three-piece for this debut. It’s essentially a re-working of the solo demo (originally released as a super-limited cassette through Contaminated Tones USA), also titled ‘Inner Sanctum’, created by guitarist/vocalist Stanislav Govorukha.
Young label Cimmerian Shade have done a reasonable job with the fold-out digipack: it’s obviously not the most expensive of formats, or presentations, but looks stylish enough wrapped in a grim, cadaver-strewn reproduction woodcut. More importantly, it sounds good, with the mixing/mastering by Greg Chandler of Esoteric as crisp and high-quality as you would expect.
Like many Funeral Doom acts these days, there’s more than a nod towards the Death/Doom camp in style and aesthetics: partly, I suspect, a general move to escape the strictures associated with the purest form of the genre. In this case, it’s probably appropriate to digress a little by observing that Stanislav has an interesting past CV: Coram Deo (melodic Death Metal), Illuminandi (folk-ish Gothic Metal) and Auto Da Fe (Funeral-Death/Doom), all of whom incorporated a number of non-standard or unexpected elements (such as soprano vocals in Funeral, and Christianity in Death). One might reasonably expect this fondness for mixing in the unusual to continue into Suffer Yourself, and it does.
The core sound is provided by two guitars and bass, with some well-programmed drums, keys and effects to supplement the ‘live’ musicians. Guest accompaniment is provided by a violin, and the aforementioned Greg chipping in with guitars and vocals on closing track ‘Eternity’. The pace is moderate, most of the time, hovering around giving as much of a slow Death/Doom feel as a Funeral one, though the deliberate and dignified repetition in the procession of the compositions is testament to the latter. Vocals are largely drawn from a reservoir of powerful growls, but adding some clean and even spoken moments that fit in well with the character of the passages in which they appear.
It is, of course, befitting the title – and despite the various flourishes – a dark and oppressive album, dealing out lengthy tracks anchored on extreme and heavy guitar riffs and cleaner melody lines, textured against background distortion. Those flourishes – the squall or lament of violin, the subtle ambience of keyboard melody, cold wind and rain effects, even the quieter guitar moments and the spoken words – serve not to illuminate the greater darkness, but to intensify it, like a miserable, fading torch glowing feebly into a vast abyss. There is little of romance or relief to be found here, with a bleak and lethal atmosphere somewhat reminiscent of the band’s quoted influences of early Evoken and mid-period My Shameful, along with a touch of Esoteric in the production.
The album itself gets progressively better as it unfolds: the reasonably straightforward, steady and solid opening tracks set a decent-enough benchmark, but the second half, from a sudden burst of uptempo aggression about midway through ‘Darkness, Pt. 2’, reveals a lot more variety and creativity in the compositions. This is where the majority of the extra elements can be found, along with album highlights, the almost-emotional ‘Winter Evening’ and the massive, bruising ‘Eternity’.
For a debut album, ‘Inner Sanctum’ impresses greatly, in its own right and as an improvement on the demo version. It’s a mature combination of influences, carefully and thoughtfully crafted, which continues to reward with repeated listenings. Having already committed my own money to a copy (and a stylish, limited T-shirt), I have no hesitation in recommending that others do the same. As a plus, although not relevant to the music itself, you’ll also be supporting a very pleasant and approachable band, as I discovered during that purchasing. 8/10
“This album will remain high on my list of best doom albums of the year.” -Chris Axe (Axes Leftovers)
The CD packaging:
Summon the CD: Buy Inner Sanctum Now $10.00