Label: Hammerheart Records
Date: November 18th, 2022
When a big label such as Hammerheart Records picks up a debutant, and a one-man band at that, there really should be something special on the recording, right? I mean, labels with such a history certainly have impeccable scouting and trained sets of ears to hunt down the new talent. So, how can they go wrong with this Englishman on a doom metal pilgrimage? Well, if experience has taught me anything… Let me put it this way: this is a new band but Mr. Simon Bibby is no newcomer to the metal scene, hence you can almost forget about any new energy or a fresh perspective on the genre at hand.
Still, does that necessarily make “Pilgrims on the Path of No Return” a bad record? Sorry to disappoint those expecting another nervous rant of mine, but Thy Listless Heart has a very good debut album. I can only imagine what fans really into doom metal would think if I’m so deep into this recording. And I’m known for not caring all that much about fourteen minute long songs (luckily, there’s only one of those on the album) or weeping melodies often lacking strength and aggression I so yearn from metal in general. Let’s hunt for answers.
Basically, I do not find here any catchy moments, memorable passages or choruses to singalong to. This album is not about that. However, what I did find are beautiful compositions, arrangements and spot-on attention for details that so enrich the debut full length by Thy Listless Heart. What Mr. Bibby achieved on this album is a variety of sounds and atmospheres, by using different “tools” to get there.
Take, for example, my favorite track, “When the Spirit Departs the Body”. It houses such a fine homage to Pink Floyd that forms the foundation for the track, to which Mr. Bibby adds further layers. Mostly, Thy Listless Heart dwells in the classical doom metal domain, where atmosphere dominates throughout. Such is the mentioned track as well, but it shows only one side of the band’s creation. The mellow, weeping one. As the title suggests, the mourning one. In other places, Mr. Bibby looks for a more traditional doom metal means for his own ends. Majority of the recording looks for the expected and obvious My Dying Bride, Anathema (both old and new), Opeth or Saturnus influences.
But, with those in mind, I’m sure you’re thinking that this is just another regular doom metal record. You’re not wrong, I’ll tell you that. For the better part of “Pilgrims on the Path of No Return”, Mr. Bibby doesn’t look far from home in his expressions. While that certainly doesn’t mean this is a derivative recording, since the man displays more than enough of his own ideas, when the band does step out of its comfort zone, however briefly, it’s for absolute benefit. Like that slow burning choir introduction to “The Precipice”. Okay, it’s not the most original of all the ideas ever, but the way the song is developed, its growth and emotional weight are just magnificent. Plus, there’s that growl that indicates death metal is still there, however hidden for most of the recording.
The one that follows it, goes along the similar path of unravelling to the listener. “Yearning” introduces the flute (at least I think it’s the flute or is the fife?) dueling with the piano until bursting into an autumnal sorrow of doomy traditions. Then again, you have “Aefnian”, which comprises of these soft, mellow pieces throughout. Though shortest on the record, clocking in at just over three and a half minutes, and more of an intermezzo than an actual song, it sits majestically on the throne that “Pilgrims on the Path of No Return” strives to become. What’s more, I would say that it brings along some local folklore inputs into Thy Listless Heart. Along with a soft female voice lullabying the listener.
And speaking about the voice, here’s the big advantage of this project. Mr. Bibby’s voice stands out for its unique color that gives a mark up to the entire soundscape of the recording. Even if it’s among the last things I mention in this review, it was the first thing that caught my ear when I pushed play. The voice is somewhat alike to that of Mr. Hansi Kürsch, though much more befitting a Gregorian choir than a doom (or power for that matter) metal band. Of course, that doesn’t mean that it is out of place on “Pilgrims on the Path of No Return”. Quite the opposite actually, giving a distinct tone to the gripping whole this record is.
And what is bound to catch your eye, should you stumble upon this CD (or even better, an LP) at your local record dealer, is the absolute masterpiece of a cover painting. Among the last pieces done by late Mr. Mariusz Lewandowski, this painting captures the essence of this album in all the colorful nuances. Just to give you a clue of who the man is, you’ve all seen the cover for the upcoming Obituary record, right? Yup, the same maestro took the responsibility of visually attiring Thy Listless Heart’s debut. Now, I haven’t heard the new output by Tampa’s favorite sons, but the ear to eye connection achieved on “Pilgrims…” is simply amazing!
On that note, I have nothing more to add, but to invite you all to immerse into the world of Mr. Simon Bibby. “Doom metal newcomer of the year”, states the official Hammerheart Records’ press release. This journalist here agrees to a letter!