Editor's note: This is a new feature we're rolling out in lieu of our "Song of the Day" installments. Instead of focusing on one song, we're going to delve into entire albums, albums that we feel have been overlooked, under appreciated, and underrated, but are worth seeking out at all costs (or by free download), hence the tag "Criminally Underrated, Mandatory Nonetheless." You'll see these features pop in and out of our regular feature posting schedule, so hopefully you'll get as much of a kick out it as we do. Have a suggestion? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll take it into consideration. Happy reading!
Rapture - Songs for the Withering Spinefarm Records, 2002
"One day darkness showed up at my door Ate the light, closed my world." Rapture - "Two Dead Names"
Save for some sparse live activity, Finland's Rapture have been on hiatus since 2005, with their last recorded output being that year's Silent Stage. The usual member squabbles have been the inoperable cancer for the Finns, leaving them with an unfinished legacy of a meager three albums. Their 1999 debut Futile was met with critical backlash, with many citing its all-too-noticeable Brave Murder Day worship (one will never forget the scathing Metal Maniacs review which obliterated Futile into a pulp), yet it is the ensuing Songs for the Withering that still resonates nearly ten years after its release.
Originally released in the fall of 2002 internationally by Spinefarm, but picked up for a first quarter 2003 release via Century Media in North America, Songs for the Withering exposed the Finns to a worldwide metal public who initially cast them as one of the emerging Opeth baby-bands. Vocalist Henri Villberg is largely the reason why, possessing an Akerfeldt-like bellow that was short on enunciation and ran in contrast to the band's primarily melody-driven sound. It's this particular juxtaposition that gave Rapture a distinct edge while sounding familiar to those already immersed in dark metal.
With the vocal tandem of Petri Eskelinen (clean) and Villberg (growls), Rapture's sub-death metal package was emboldened by a smoldering 4/4 pace, one that was more often than not, embellished by comforting melodies. These melodies often came in the form of the patented Katatonia guitar layering technique, where several harmonies were piled on top of each other, played in a repetitive pattern resembling something like a "da-da-da-da-da-da" stream. However, Songs has far more versatility than previously indicated, with opener "Nameless" laying down a sauntering mid-tempo pace, not unlike latter-day Sentenced, but with more urgency. And once Eskelinen drops in with a simple, two lines in the chorus, it sets the pace for Songs. From there, the harmonies flow freely on "Gallows" (the album's unabashed nod to mid-90's era Katatonia), while the above-mentioned "Two Dead Names" weaves in a desolate acoustic intro to embark on the album's most foreboding journey.
"Transfixion" chimes in as the album's most potent moment, as sideways melodies bop in and out, perfect for headphone listening. "The Vast" is an all-Eskelinen venture, therefore, it's clean vocals to the max, leading up to album highlight "Raintracks," which is the band's best song and if we really want to push it, one of the best songs of the last ten years (we like it so much we included it below). A song that appears destined for sunny-day real estate thanks to its saccharine melodies and chiming guitars, the beauty of "Raintracks" lies in Rapture's ability to work the clean/growled vocal combo to its maximum potential, all the while zesty guitar lines and a driving beat carry it home. Album closer “Farewell” is a fitting salvo, employing (as expected) somber, joyless melodies that put an effective cap to the album’s nine songs and 45-minutes.
Buried in the annals of the Finnish metal boon, Songs for the Withering is a cult favorite, savored by those who continually chomp at the bit for metal’s darker underbelly. Rapture made barely a dent with Silent Stage (which is formidable in its own right, mind you), and have faded into obscurity since the mid-90’s. Songs for the Withering however, remains one of the subgenre’s true shining beacons, an album worth tackling if you want to go a step beyond Opeth, and make a lateral move in the untouchable arena manned by Katatonia and Sentenced.