To call "Watching from a Distance" a classic might be contentious to some, although the record has retained plentiful acclaim and recognition in the ten years since its release. As first impressions go, it can often be considered a mark of quality, to some extent, when the relative recency of an album's release comes as a surprise. I had the album down, subconsciously, as being from some time in the nineties, until I investigated further. Regardless, the record is one of quite a reputation; primarily for being thoroughly and unfathomably miserable - and that, indeed, it certainly is. Akin to its burden-carrying aesthetic representation in the artwork, the album is drenched in a cold, miasmic fuzz, moody and gloomy without being so frigid as to scathe - rather, it cocoons. The riffs plod forth, funereal and downtrodden, the drums restrained; echoing. While no single aspect of the album can be said to bear the majority of its merit above the others in their synergy, it is safe to say that for a lot of people, the vocals probably strike the greatest chord. Further redoubling the sorrow with which the entire record is replete, Patrick Walker's vocals are immediately distinct. The inconsolable wail carries a sincerity and theatrical cadence reminiscent of the most tragic of folk-music; the ballads of disasters, heartbreak and misery - and here too are they such; soaring and cathartic and yet steeped fully in despair and introspective sorrow; raw, tender and laden with feeling, at times more-so than elegance.
In its coalescence, the soundscape of the record is a large place indeed; communicating intimate sorrows whilst emphasising isolation and loneliness through this vastness. Of course, plenty of doom bands succeed in doing such; but Warning does possess its own flavour, more than sufficient to set it apart. On paper, the record offers forth just about everything one could hope for from tear-stained and tragic doom-metal. Ultimately, it is the intimacy of these sorrows, however, which make the music challenging, or more bluntly, simply difficult. You need to be in a particular mood for it. This is true of most sorrowful music, so why bring it up? Because beyond that, it requires that a particular strain of sorrow must weigh upon you, so specific are the record's themes. In the wrong mood, the record is a heavier burden to bear, with much of its merit locked up in its thematic resonance with the listener. To listen to it with different sorrows than those of the creators is faintly alienating, with the record failing to live up to its own on-paper quality on an emotional level. This is no musical flaw, it must be said, but stands as a hefty pre-requisite to experience the record on a fully fleshed-out level. For this reason, "Footprints" is the stand-out track for me personally; owing to its vagueness, it has a far greater chance to resonate with me on that basis, whatever my sorrows may be. Couple this with its musical neatness and more eloquent lyricism, and it rises above the other tracks noticeably.
What we're left with, then, is a record which it's actually quite difficult to make a final verdict about - as if grading records numerically out of ten wasn't a ridiculous process to begin with. Watching from a Distance is itself difficult; the beauty and sheer catharsis of the album is plain to see; it has many virtues and merits in its sorrow-drenched running time, but likewise, while its virtues are plain to see, they are at times tougher to feel. It's like a delicate piece of equipment; when deployed absolutely correctly it is magnificent, I'm sure - but when the time and place are even more difficult to find than for sorrowful records in general, it's a hard stone to split, although, I'm certain, worthwhile.
This is a solid 7.5/10.
Warning on Metal Archives