ALBUM REVIEW: Wizard Union

Wizard Union

Wizard Union

WIZARD UNION
‘Smoking Coffins’
(January 2014)
7/10

This punchy EP from the Michigan trio (three friends who really, really like wizards) consists of six stomping stoner ditties played with a sense of smoke-wreathed abandon and fuzzed-out fun. These are muscular, powerful songs that do not outstay their welcome, despite often being played at a sludgy pace. The longest of them is just four and a half minutes, ensuring that ‘Smoking Coffins’ whizzes by in a distortion-drenched blur. The shouty vocals stop just short of furious, allowing the fun to shine through.

The EP’s opening track, ‘Into The Wizard’s Sleeve’, is a bit like Family Guy’s Peter Griffin. Funny, lovable, a bit dumb, and heavy as a horse in a suit of armour. There are elements of Kyuss, Fu Manchu and Sleep running through, but Wizard Union manage to put their own stamp on the stoner blueprint. ‘Beyond This World’, with its Kyuss edge, is another highlight, but the most memorable track is ‘Thoth Amon’ – you can imagine these songs (in fact, all of the songs on this EP) raising the roof in a live environment.

These three wizards play to their strengths and excel within their own limitations. Their straightforward chainsaw riffs and hollered choruses make for a tried-and-tested formula, but not all bands can do it with such energy and gusto. Welcome to the Union.

http://wizardunion.bandcamp.com/album/smoking-coffins

Advertisements

ALBUM REVIEW: Elliott’s Keep

Elliott's Keep

Elliott’s Keep

ELLIOTT’S KEEP
‘Nascentes Morimur’
November 2013
8/10

This is the third album from the Dallas misery-mongers and it’s got to be a contender for the ‘Most Depressing Album Title Ever’ award. ‘From The Moment We Are Born, We Begin To Die’ is the translation from Latin. The band’s decision to choose a Latin name for the album, as they did with their previous releases, indicates their commitment to the noblest traditions of doom metal. The bleak-looking castle on the cover bears further testament.

‘Nascentes Morimur’ is a triumph of tight, epic thrashy doom metal, delicately balanced halfway between Slayer and Solitude Aeturnus (the latter being an obvious comparison, as fellow Texans, but legitimate nevertheless). Elliott’s Keep have a sound and style that’s all their own; a Cerebral Fix for the 2010’s.

Throughout this consistently engaging and inventive full-length album, it is the quality of the songwriting that dominates and controls the listening experience. These guys have the skill and experience to create songs that draw you in – the guitars and drums charge along with power and poise, dragging you with them by the scruff of your neck. The best doom metal uses light and dark, fast and slow, to great effect, and this is something at which Elliott’s Keep excel. The clever changes of direction and pace – sometimes chugging like vintage Metallica, other times slowing it down for a good old wail – are carefully controlled and expertly executed. While the music is often simple and profound, there are a number of progressive elements subtly stirred into the miserable mix.

Elliott’s Keep were named in honour of deceased friend Glenn Riley Elliott, a singer with whom they had formed doom outfit Marauder. Later, when the current band was created, bass player Ken Greene took over at the microphone and he has grown into the role impressively. Greene may not have the range of his vaunted neighbour Robert Lowe but he does his thing with aplomb. Half-growled, snarling verses suddenly burst into panoramic, epic choruses as he enters into a kind of schizophrenic doom-chat with himself. One of the biggest down sides to ‘Nascentes Morimur’, however, is a lack of variety in some of Green’s melodies – he seems to end many of his lines in the same fashion, a habit that gets a little tiring. 

With great production from J.T. Longoria (Solitude Aeturnus, Candlemass, Mercyful Fate, etc), everyone is afforded the space to effortlessly shine through the mix, and the album benefits from a crisp and clear sound. It provides a perfect platform for Elliott’s Keep to demonstrate their unique take on doom metal, one which is as traditional as it is unusual. ‘Nascentes Morimur’ is a masterful effort that is sure to win a place in the hearts of all trad and epic doom fans.

Listen and buy here: http://elliottskeep.bandcamp.com/

ALBUM REVIEW: Rise Of Avernus

Rise Of Avernus

Rise Of Avernus

RISE OF AVERNUS
‘L’Appel Du Vide’
(Code666, December 2013)
8/10

The debut album from Rise Of Avernus, a prog-doom outfit from Sydney, Australia, is gloriously epic. It features colossal guitars, ambitious, intricate song arrangements and bold instrumental experimentation. Bells and whistles, quite literally. From the off, the influence of Dimmu Borgir comes through strongly, and it’s clear that these guys also love Paradise Lost and Opeth. With maybe a sprinkle of Barren Earth or Amorphis. In short, Rise Of Avernus expertly marry the sorrowful with the spectacular.

There are moments of breathtakingly powerful metal, some passages are like riding through the midnight sky on the back of a dragon – dark, exhilarating, terrifying. The songs change direction frequently, taking you on an adventure into the unexpected. Sometimes they stop-start once too often, and the continuity stutters, but you’ll be too engrossed to really care.

Somehow, Rise Of Avernus manage to make it all work, incorporating their unique brand of madness into a unified and polished package of thoughtfully melodic music. Ironically, the song ‘Embrace The Mayhem’ is one of the more straightforward, linear arrangements on offer, at least until the saxophone appears, at which point any remaining pre-conceptions are entirely abandoned. These Aussies are not afraid to go off on a tangent, breaking out the violins or launching into a few bars of folk metal at will.

Rise Of Avernus have two singers. One angelic, delicate and female. The other big, guttural and male. Their voices interweave like mating serpents, although with so many musical elements clammering for attention, they are occasionally overwhelmed in the mix. One minute Cat Guirguis’s voice is reminiscent of Kate Bush, the next it sounds almost Middle Eastern, creating some spine-tingling ghostly melodies.

Guirguis also handles keyboard duties, which keeps her extremely busy as these and the orchestral arrangements are at the core of the album. The electronic accompaniments are splendidly creative and add a layer of excitement and intrigue throughout the album. Curiously, the only song that doesn’t quite work is the instrumental title track, which has an element of Superbowl montage. A little lightweight, particularly considering the song’s name (translation: ‘Call Of The Void’).

There is no single standout song on ‘L’Appel Du Vide’, but rather every track has something going for it, be it the excellent musicianship, the sheer inventiveness, a moment of beauty from Guirguis or a chorus that soars into the heavens. Following on from their self-titled 2012 EP, Rise Of Avernus have created an impressive album that reveals new secrets with every listen.

Rise Of Avernus

Rise Of Avernus

ALBUM REVIEW: Crone

Crone

Crone

CRONE
‘Crone’
Abysmal Sounds (Dec 2013)
9/10

At times, this blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, cassette-only, four-track release from Australia’s Crone gets close to epic doom perfection. Its simple yet scything riffs are complemented by superbly emotive, cathartic guitar solos and subtly powerful backing from bass and drums, the pounding heartbeat of this living, breathing beast.

But what lifts this EP from being great to being incredibly great is the voice of Mandy Andresen, who also takes charge of four-string duties. Andreson is the singer with respected funeralists Murkrat as well as death-doom maestros Slow Death, but here her voice soars to new, impassioned heights. Some of her melodies and flourishes will send shivers down your spine, especially on the 14-minute epic ‘Carcosa’. Strength and sorrow. Just beautiful.

Mandy Andresen

Mandy Andresen

When ‘The Blade’, the third song presented here, rumbles into life at a slightly higher tempo, Andresen doesn’t miss a beat, her sharply regal vocals coursing through the music like a pulse. There is an element of Gregorian chanting underscoring her style, but this aspect never becomes a melodramatic caricature. Rather it feels like a natural extension of the music and the mournful atmosphere that the Sydney band so effectively create.

Some of the song arrangements could be tighter, and more distinctive choruses would help differentiate between songs as well as adding colour. The EP’s slightly compressed-sounding production makes the band seem distant, and while for some  this might add character, for others it could prove to be a barrier to fully engaging with the music. These are very minor quibbles, which are utterly overshadowed by the sheer brilliance of the songs.

In the minefield that is the genre of epic doom metal, it is rare to hear a band get it so very, very right. As ever, one dud note or poor decision could have brought the whole palace crashing down, but not this time.

This blog is all about searching for the finest examples of doom on the planet. Not just the good, but the extraordinary. Say hello to Crone. Truly Doom Metal Heaven.

http://abysmalsounds.bandcamp.com/album/crone

ALBUM REVIEW: Haast’s Eagled

Haast's Eagled

Haast’s Eagled

HAAST’S EAGLED
‘Haast’s Eagled’
November 2013
7/10

This four-song EP from the strangely-monikered Welsh doom outfit starts brilliantly, but peters out towards the end. The first song, ‘Viking’ opens with an atmospheric piano before launching into an impressively gigantic doom riff. Then the vocals drip over the sledgehammer guitars like a steaming cauldron of troll vomit, before being suddenly replaced with a delicate, clean voice deploying a lighter, rock-orientated sensibility that surprises and sparkles amid the grey gloom. Both vocal styles are delivered by one man, Adam Wrench, and he combines them to great effect. Initially, at least.

Since releasing this EP towards the end of 2013, co-founder and bass player Greg Perkins has departed for a new life in Australia. While this is undoubtedly a blow for the band, it is also an opportunity to take stock and then push the music forward in the future – hopefully they will continue down this ‘Viking’ road rather than the somewhat formulaic stoner stuff that comes later.

Before that, though, is ‘The Eye Of God’. This is a fantastic stoner-sludge epic with a swaying, melancholic vibe, and some really enjoyable, original vocal melodies. But then, tragically, Wrench disappears altogether and we are left with two instrumental tracks that, while compelling and dramatically layered,  are essentially pretty standard stuff. The subtlety and creativity of the first two tracks wanes as the listener is pummeled rather than entertained.

Eight out of ten for the fascinating first half, but only six for the slightly disappointing second.

NOTE: Now extinct, Haast’s Eagle was a terrifying airborne raptor with a wingspan that reached up to three metres. Yes, three metres. That a bird of prey as kick-ass as that ever succumbed to the same fate as the lame-ass dodo is one of nature’s little jokes, perhaps. Why this band from South Wales added a ‘d’ onto the end is another mystery, although maybe it was to distinguish themselves from another, lesser band with a similar name, who play some seriously pointless soft rock out of Auckland, Australia. Perkins should pop round and have a word.

ALBUM REVIEW: Grand Magus

Grand Magus 'Triumph And Power'

Grand Magus ‘Triumph And Power’

GRAND MAGUS
‘Triumph And Power’
Nuclear Blast, 31 Jan 2014
7/10

It’s always worth checking out Grand Magus, a band formed in the mid-1990’s with its roots in iron-clad power-doom. Almost two decades later, the appropriately-titled ‘Triumph And Power’ is the seventh album from the Swedish riff maestros, and, while there’s not much Doom Metal on offer this time around, it kicks off in suitably epic style with ‘On Hooves Of Gold’.

Grand Magus are undoubtedly a band at the top of their game, following the commercial success of 2012’s ‘The Hunt’. The new album continues the trio’s enduring passion for big, Deep Purple-inspired hooks and unapologetic old-school metal-ness. Singer/guitarist JB is again centre-stage, delivering a typically high-quality performance on what is an extremely consistent and thoroughly enjoyable album.

There are few surprises on offer: songs alternate between chugging and galloping, with a number of spectacularly memorable choruses thrown in. Not that these are simplistic, three-minute radio-friendly numbers. There are plenty of muscular Viking stylings and Manowar-ish “hails”, and even some Swedish folky influences, but essentially this is a balls-out Heavy Metal album of the highest order.

In recent years, Grand Magus have perfected the art of writing ‘classic’ metal that doesn’t sound like it’s stuck in the past. ‘Triumph And Power’ continues their journey to rock immortality with a great deal of skill and craft. They will be heading on tour with Nuclear Blast label-mates The Vintage Caravan (also riding the crest of a wave following the great response to their new album ‘Voyage’) in the spring.

ALBUM REVIEW: Blackfinger

BLACKFINGER
‘Blackfinger’
(The Church Within Records, 30 Jan 2014)
8/10

Blackfinger

Blackfinger

This album has been a long time in the making. After tiring of life on the road with reformed doom legends Trouble, singer Eric Wagner – owner of one of the most distinctive voices in the business – shut himself away to write some new material. That was in 2008. And the result, six years down the line, is an album that will please fans of old-school Trouble, whose mid-1980s masterpieces have been enormously influential, as well as those who appreciate the band’s later, trippier recordings.

Unwilling to embark on some ego-stroking solo project or to record with special guests in the vein of Probot (the all-star Dave Grohl side-project which brought the former Trouble frontman to an even wider audience in 2004), Wagner got together with some local Chicago talent to form a new band. Albeit a band with Wagner very much front and centre, doing things his way.

There are plenty of heavy moments on this self-titled debut, but a fair percentage of the album is given over to gentle acoustic songs, where Wagner’s love for the likes of Pink Floyd and The Beatles shines through. There’s even a homage to The Mamas & The Papas in ‘All The Leaves Are Brown’, the album’s first, storming single. Elsewhere, ‘As Long As I’m With You’ is a catchy and beautiful track, featuring only cello, bass, piano and voice. ‘For One More Day’ is similarly understated, and in this regard the album is reminiscent of ‘Raising Sand’, Robert Plant’s award-winning 2007 collaboration with Alison Krauss. Wagner has much in common with Plant, physically and aurally, and both albums confidently apply simplified instrumentation and arrangements to great effect.

For anyone seeking something a bit more muscular, songs such as the grungy ‘Why God’ and ‘My Many Colored Days’ stand out as impressive, original compositions that stay true to the legacy of Trouble. Many of these new recordings could sit quite comfortably on 1992’s  ‘Manic Frustration’ for example. The vocalist has a healthy relationship with his former band (whose recent album ‘The Distortion Field’ with new singer Kyle Thomas received a mixed reception), and is happy to play the old stuff live with Blackfinger – and this respect for the past is evident, if not quite as blatant as with Wagner’s other project The Skull. 

Wagner has said that he did not want this album to be “self-indulgent”, preferring his music to sound like a relaxed jam. ‘Blackfinger’ achieves this with ease and the 11 songs fly by swiftly and enjoyably, some of them weighing in at three minutes or less. They are snippets rather than epics; a fascinating, varied and extremely personal glimpse into Wagner’s state of mind.

Whenever Eric Wagner gets behind the mic, you know good things are going to happen. His unforgettable voice is inevitably prominent in the mix, and it sounds as strong as ever. He openly admits that, at 54, he cannot emit quite the same banshee shriek that he could 30 years ago, but he has learned to adapt. As always, his lyrics are both intriguing and charming, while his vocal performance is that of a master. 

This may not be the heaviest music in the world, but it is quality stuff that digs its hooks in and won’t let go. Alternating between kickass doom riffs and swaying, dreamlike acoustics, ‘Blackfinger’ builds on Wagner’s enormous contribution to music.  It was worth the wait.

More info here: http://blackfinger.net/

Blackfinger

Blackfinger

Check out more stuff from The Church Within Records: http://shop.doom-dealer.de/

ALBUM REVIEW: Major Kong

Major Kong's Doom Machine

Major Kong’s Doom Machine

MAJOR KONG
‘Doom Machine’
Self-released, January 2014
8/10

Major Kong’s ‘Doom Machine’ is a brilliant barrage of fuzzy instrumental stoner metal in the glorious tradition of riff worship. The Polish band deliver five thundering songs that are catchier than the bubonic plague, with highlights such as ‘Tractor Beam’ and ‘Voidwagon’ demanding instant replays.

Formed in 2010, in Lublin, Poland, Major Kong create slow, simple, Electric Wizard-style songs that are capable of getting a room full of people to swing their beards in delirious unison. The work of guitarist Misiek is varied, skillful and never less than interesting, while the headache-inducing drums sound like a planet exploding and the heavyweight bass holds it all together with a lively groove.

‘Doom Machine’ is delivered with such a sense of enjoyment and energy that even listeners who might not usually bother with instrumental stuff will surely be won over. The real key to the band’s success, of course, is in the arrangements. Major Kong do not repeat the same killer riff over and over until all the life is squeezed from it. Nor do they wander off on multiple self-indulgent solos that interrupt the flow of the song. Instead, they build atmosphere gradually, taking a musical detour here and there before returning to the central theme.

This ability to keep the listener entertained is particularly evident in the longer tracks – ‘Planets & Suns Consumed’ and ‘Skull Of The Titan’ – which clock in at almost 10 minutes each. These swirling cosmic adventures explore the furthest corners of the universe on the back of gigantic metal rocket and, crucially, they never get lost or overly repetitive. ‘Doom Machine’ is a natural progression from the band’s great 2012 album ‘Doom For The Black Sun’ but it is tighter and more mature – the sound of band at the top of its game.

This release might benefit from an occasional surprise or change of pace, or perhaps from some audio samples (in the vein of the opening seconds) to provide a little more human contact in an otherwise voiceless environment. But Major Kong are to be applauded for their ability to imagine such immense, hypnotising riffs – and then craft them into addictive stoner doom songs that put a spring in your step.

Major Kong are one of the leading lights in Poland’s flourishing doom scene, and with the release of ‘Doom Machine’ they are flying the nation’s flag with passion and pride.

Listen and pre-order here: http://majorkong.bandcamp.com/album/doom-machine