Once again thanks to the fabulous partnership of Armenia’s Funere and Japan’s Weird Truth Productions, German one-man act Sinister Downfall is able to release its third full-length. After Eremozoic (2018) and A Dark Shining Light (2020), The Last Witness was created to bring grief, oblivion, doom and despair in its purest – and therefor most beautiful – form. Herr Eugene Kohl (a very productive wandering spirit, also active behind the likes of e.g. Hexengrab, Death Carrier, Morto (as part of the resurrected line-up) or Donarhall, amongst many others) recorded the better part of this material as from 2018 (in the Misanthropic Studios). The physical result is a six-panel digipack compact-disc edition, limited to three hundred copies, including absolutely stunning artwork (photography, design, layout etc.; created by DunkleStille), which is like the visual translation of this project’s essence and concept.
The Last Witness has a total running time of one hour (!), divided into six mournful hymns that continue the captivating directing of the former releases. And those who appreciated the former material, well, I guarantee you the same, and more, better, more in-depth and more breath-taking!
My astonishment, in a positive sense (can you imagine, using the word ‘positive’ when reviewing such privative record), starts as from the very few chords on The Last Witness. Souls Enslaved, the opener (with its length of 8:30 minutes, it’s the shortest composition on this album!), opens with some church bells at first (with some white noise at the background, like rain on a murky, forlorn Autumn day), soon followed by an interlude on piano, which exhales the magnificence of affliction and fairness at once. Very shortly after, the purest essence of Funeral Doom Supremacy joins, entering a universe where cheer once left, never to return again.
Sinister Downfall bring the ‘traditional’ ingredients for sure – no sudden surprises or weird gimmicks – but that’s how it works. The melodies, extremely slow, luggish (not sluggish) and heavy, predominate the atmosphere, with an amalgam of seductive solo-work, mesmeric leads and dreamy themes. At the very sale time, it comes with an overwhelming harshness, caused by a colossal rhythm section. It’s the massiveness of the rhythm / bass guitars, fiercely yet ingeniously supporting the lead melodies, that carries that ‘totality’; I mean, it causes that megalithic sound that unites a certain boldness with a specific guidance into the lightless translation of tune. Also the percussions are part of that mighty experience: slowly crawling forward yet definitely necessary to define the funereal aspects: Saturnine, solemn, even morose in essence.
Characteristic for this specific genre too are the vocals: abyssal grunts from the void, deeply gurgling, breathing messages of imminent doom, impending despondency and infinite oblivion. There are few, limited to just a couple of fragments, yet then again so carefully used, specifically elaborated at the right moment. And okay, it is a challenge to comprehend the lyrics exactly, but the sphere, the timbre and the whole play are evident.
The multiple use of (grand) piano is a characteristic aspect in Sinister Downfall’s raison d’être. I mentioned the introduction in a former paragraph, but keys reappear throughout the whole of the sonic journey. This goes for the intros on most hymns especially, yet the use of the piano injects all compositions, at every turn at the right moment, subtle yet essential.
But above all, all of these things (lead strings, rhythm guitars, grunts, drums and piano) appear in a perfect balance. As said, The Last Witness is another guitar-led exposure, but one cannot consider it a six-string-focused recording at all. It’s the whole package that defines this sophisticated, prodigious experience. Besides, the production and mix are top-notch, retaining a specific asperity in pursuance. Besides the suffocating tristesse, the whole also carries a haunting character (rather than nostalgic or vulnerable), bleak and poignant, which once again proves the distinctive strength of this project. Or in short: a must (or is it: a lust) for the lucky unhappy spirits amongst us…