Legend, and probably some interview posted somewhere on the internet, has it that halfway through recording The Funeral Album the members of Sentenced decided it would be their final project together. I suppose there's the potential for criticism in giving this album a stellar rating. Such a move might smack of the silver medals awarded to aging figure skaters because they won't be around next time to compete anyway, or of the "consolation" Oscar given to actors years after their best performances have been overlooked. After all, Sentenced's majestic previous album, The Cold White Light, is a tough act to follow.
But make no bones about it, The Funeral Album is a thing of beauty - eminently listenable from start to finish. There's much to be enjoyed about this album while plumbing its dark and periodically schlocky depths (a sample lyric from the song "Ever-Frost" - "Jesus Saves? We will piss upon your graves!"), and much to be respected in the band's choice to quit at a consistent, high-quality plateau established with their previous albums. Touching on themes of war, despondency, and death with equal parts aggression and tender conviction, The Funeral Album is, quite simply, a truly engaging slab of skillfully executed melodic metal.
It's gloriously free of the meaningless, flashy technical show-off elements inserted purely for their own sake that one often finds on metal records. Each musical passage works together with the others for the good of each song, and the result is that every possible element is harnessed to produce some of the finest tracks of Sentenced's varied career. Ville Laihiala's full-bodied voice is rich and varied throughout the record, working with and against the guitar work of Mikka Tenkula and Sami Lopakka. Each instrument is crystal clear in every song and is showcased to its fullest effect; the production is slick as a whistle.
The real strength of Sentenced's songs are their choruses. The vast majority of the album's thirteen tracks are fantastically catchy and compelling, which is pretty amazing given the aggressive and despondent lyrics. Okay, so I personally have issues with the unexpected harmonica in "Despair-Ridden Hearts", but the song itself is epic. The brief instrumental track, "Where Waters Fall Frozen," hearkens back to the band's death-metal past; a nod to their origins. Truly standout tracks include the war-themed "May Today Become the Day" and "Lower the Flag", and the mournful "We are but Falling Leaves", "Her Last 5 Minutes", and "Karu." Overall, it's an exceptionally clean album; neat as a pin.
It's easy enough to say this looking back on the final product in its entirety, but everything seems to fall into place on The Funeral Album to create a fitting, noble exit. Sentenced have proven that they could sustain a very high level of musicianship and production, and go out on a high-note with dignity. The concept meshes purposefully with this last project of the Finnish Kings of "suicide metal." Brutal in its way, perhaps, to cut something down in its prime, but what can you do? Sentenced knows that sometimes there just might be a case to be made for choosing your own way out, and leaving a pretty corpse.
8.9 / 10
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