An intimate display of atmospheric metal
West Yorkshire-based singer-songwriter Jayn H. Wissenberg came onto the scene last year with her solo project, Darkher, releasing a four-song EP titled The Kingdom Field, a brooding and atmospheric journey into the ethereal. The EP took the attention of some fans who were intrigued by Wissenberg’s hauntingly beautiful voice and dark gothic vibe.
Wissenberg didn’t take long to follow it up with her most recent release, Realms, which builds on that same foundation by adding in doom and black metal elements, creating a woefully dark cinematic vibe. Darkher is the type of band that’s not heard enough in metal, music that incorporates the malevolent and grim, but sacrifices the aggression in exchange for the introspective.
Judging by the name of the project, it’s probably fair to say Wissenberg isn’t shy about the feminine touch she applies to her art. Her ghostly resonant voice moves gracefully between delicate and powerful, evoking deep emotions and strong dynamics. The music manages to be heavy and brooding without becoming aggressive. Rather than fueling her metal with rage, she strives for deep introspection and thoughtful contemplation. It’s a different approach that very few bands attempt, and even fewer manage to do successfully.
Her ability to combine metal with gothic elements is actually one of the more impressive aspects of her songwriting, as these very different genres tend to have a tough time working well together. The mainstream observer might see them as very similar (both involve dark imagery and a lot of black clothing), but they actually tend to be pretty distinct from each other, and combining them can be pretty delicate. Doing so will usually either appeal more to mainstream pop music (e.g. Evanescence), or become a self-parody (e.g. Cradle of Filth). Bands who do it well, such as Paradise Lost or Type O Negative, tend to find the thin line between the two and dance across it gracefully, and Darkher can definitely count itself amongst them.
Realms works best when listened to as a whole piece of work rather than a collection of songs. That isn’t to say that it’s repetitive, but the work has an overarching musical theme to it, and each song works best as a smaller movement in a larger piece of work. This type of mood and atmosphere is one that requires some time to allow yourself to get sucked into it, and doesn’t get the full effect in short single-song settings. From beginning to end, Realms feels like a journey into the darkest corners of Wissenberg’s mind, and in it there’s an incredibly intimate and personal connection made between the artist and the listener. If Wissenberg doesn’t achieve much success in the metal scene, she could definitely take a shot at film or TV composing, because this type of music works great for storytelling.
Of course, if you’re in need of a single to get yourself sold on the record, then there’s definitely a few great standout tracks to check out. “Moths” showcases many of the strongest elements from the record: moody acoustic chord progressions, big vocal harmonies, and doomy black metal guitars. Wissenberg blows it away with her vocal melodies that are catchy yet distinctly original. “Wars” is an exemplary piece of modern doom metal that’s atmospheric yet still retains its heaviness.
It should be said that Darkher might not be for everyone. The music lacks adrenaline, and for metal fans, that’s a big part of the appeal. However, it is solid proof that metal can exist independent of aggressiveness and still be good. Wissenberg uses music as a medium to paint a portrait and tell a story, and that may not be something that appeals to everyone, but for those who find comfort in this type of music, Realms is a powerful and intimate experience from an artist who isn’t afraid to bare her soul out. Hopefully Darkher will continue to have more music to offer the metal world.