Epic Heavy/Doom from the UK
Lethean was formed in 2012 by musician James Ashbey, but they have existed beneath the fold for quite some time now. Ashbey created Lethean with the goal to combine his love of various traditional metal genres: doom, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, and epic metal, with a world of mythical & magical themes. James put out a demo sometime in 2013 – this led to his involvement and re-recording of those songs into an EP with members of Wrathblade and Convixion joining him. Neither material from the demo nor EP is currently available. Fast forward to today and Ashbey is ready to unleash Lethean’s debut upon the metal world with Thumri Paavana on vocals.The Waters of Death, comparable to works by Atlantean Kodex and Solstice (UK), is available via the mighty Cruz Del Sur Records later this week.
Both James Ashbey and Thumri Paavana are veterans of the scene in one way or another. James has spent over a decade playing various instruments across a number of bands that span all sorts of genres including black/thrash outfit Craven Idol and epic doom staples Solstice. Ashbey also ran a traditional metal fanzine titled Cimmerian Shadows driven by the relationship between fantasy and heavy metal. In this fanzine, he’s interviewed and covered metal legends such as John Arch and Manilla Road among others. Despite the fact that Lethean is her first proper studio effort, Thumri has also been involved in a number of other musical endeavors. Thumri also runs a blog focused on her journey through a subject that is very much near and dear to my heart – United States power metal. You can find her writings over at https://uspmdoctor.com (yes, she’s really a doctor). Ashbey and Paavana’s experience and deep knowledge of the scene shows because the level of musicianship and songwriting prowess displayed on The Waters of Death is entirely atypical for a debut album.
Lethean’s style of acoustic-laden doom metal brings to mind a few bands – Atlantean Kodex, Doomsword, and Solstice to name some. Given Ashbey’s involvement with Solstice, this comes at no surprise. However, these comparisons does no justice to what Lethean have accomplished with their debut effort. It became apparent to me after just one listen of the opening track that The Waters of Death is something very special and unique.
James handles all the instruments on The Waters of Death and his talent shows – none of the album’s components are lacking. The guitar riffs and leads are wonderfully written and executed. The riffs are varied and crushing epic heavy metal – think Solstice post-New Dark Age. While I’ve made multiple comparisons to Atlantean Kodex and Solstice, the lead guitar reminds me of Argus‘s distinct style of constructing melodies. Ashbey’s drumming also stands out to me here as particularly powerful. There’s a focus on the drumming at multiple points throughout the album and they serve as a key tool in driving the music forward – this is reinforced by the mixing which brings Thumri’s vocals and James’s drums to the forefront. To round it all off we have the bass which just acts as a tool to support the bottom end and nothing more – it works perfectly fine in this context.
There’s no dancing around it – female vocals in this branch of metal are virtually unheard of. In a landscape littered with hyper-masculine singers, barbarians and pseudo-opera stars alike, Thumri stands out as an oddity and I mean this in the best way possible. Thumri’s vocals are dramatic and filled with emotion. Her voice is distinctly feminine and she wholeheartedly embraces this rather than trying to make her vocals fit the conventional mould. Paavana’s melodies just ooze with melancholy and when combined with her femininity it creates an entirely different vibe for the music. Rather than fist-pumping triumph we have gloom and grandeur. Reducing Thumri down just to her gender of course discredits her capabilities as a singer. If you told me she was classically trained then I would certainly believe you. She’s without a doubt a skilled vocalist and her presence adds another dimension to Lethean that helps set them apart.
I can confidently say that The Waters of Death is one of the most breathtaking debuts I’ve heard in recent memory. Lethean’s debut is a bold journey through themes of decline and departure, through the epic and melancholic, and most importantly – through forty minutes of pure metallic bliss. James and Thumri have stayed very true to the roots of their sound while not being afraid to innovate. I have no doubt in my mind that I will be listening to this album in my regular rotation from now on. This is absolutely essential listening.
Album Rating: 94/100
Favorite Track: In Darkness Veiled