Celestial Season are perhaps best known as a band with two distinct phases – gothic death-doom and then stoner doom. The switch between these phases was pretty sudden; shortly after releasing Solar Lovers in 1995, they released the Sonic Orb EP that same year which was more akin to Kyuss, Sleep and Queens Of the Stone Age than their ex genre-bedfellows Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride. Their logo even changed from the slightly medieval looking gothic script of days past to a more modern slanted block lettering job.
With The Secret Teachings, their first release in 19 years, Celestial Season are back to their original gothic death doom sound. From the opening track 'The Secret Teachings of all Ages' this can be heard clear as day with violins and piano coming in almost straight away. The old original-era vocals are back too and hearing those death growls coming in for the first time on this album with the violin melody playing over them is pretty exquisite and refreshing to hear after many years of Eddie Vedder inspired grungy cleans during their stoner doom phase.
Despite this album primarily being a return to a more death-doom sound, there are still plenty of nods to their classic doom/stoner doom leanings in the latter half of the album such as the Black Sabbath inspired bass solo on 'Salt of the Earth' and the guitar riffs and percussion of 'They Saw it Come From the Sky'. In fact, the album seems to grow progressively more stoner doom as it goes on. They blend the stoner doom elements into the death-doom very effectively, as they did on Solar Lovers. Another notable element is the middle eastern influenced violin melodies on 'The Ourobouros', 'White Lotus Day' and 'Salt of the Earth', which create a nice recurring thread throughout some of the album.
There are 3 short instrumental interludes scattered fairly evenly throughout the album: 'Dolores', 'White Lotus Day' and 'Beneath the Temple Mount'. These help to break the death-doom dirges up a bit and act as a palate cleanser between every 2 or 3 songs.
The album wraps up with a a cover of Type O Negative's 'Red Water'. For the most part Celestial Season's cover is pretty faithful to the original except for the vocals which they have reimagined as layers of harmonised female clean vocals over death growls. The result is quite effective and it fits well as a song for them to cover as there are some noticeable similarities to Type O Negative. The album is also scattered generously with gothic and Black Sabbath inspired riffs and pick slides. 'Red Water' ties the gothic and doom sides of The Secret Teachings together neatly.
Overall, considering this is their first death-doom phase release in 25 years, The Secret Teachings is as at least as fresh and inspired as the album they are perhaps best remembered for: Solar Lovers. It parallels this earlier release in many ways: they both blend of death-doom and elements of stoner doom, the song 'Lunar Child' goes hand in hand with 'Solar Child', and they both include a cover (on Solar Child it was 'Vienna' by Ultravox). This is clearly the sound of a band excited to be returning to their roots.
Recommended for fans of: My Dying Bride, Paradise Lost, early Anathema, Katatonia, Officium Triste