ALBUM REVIEW: Pale Horseman


‘Mourn The Black Lotus’
7 July 2014

Scientists recently discovered a 50,000-square-mile peat bog in a remote part of Congo – a massive, shoe-slurping swamp packed with billions of tons of decaying vegetation. But that is nothing compared to the immense pile of sludge created by Chicago’s Pale Horseman. This Godflesh-inspired racket is bleak and filthy, but often expansive and expressive. Behind the sludge, there are distinctive hardcore and industrial undertones, and plenty of groove when required. Depending on the song, you might hear echoes of Obituary or Neurosis, Celtic Frost or Fear Factory.

The guitars and bass are heavy enough to shatter glass, although giving you a headache does not seem to be the band’s primary motivation. The drums add a lively musicality to the misery, although the irritation of the ‘clicking’ bass drum lessens their overall effectiveness. The vocals are an impassioned, mournful roar that fill you with a sense of revulsion, awe and terror, especially on the song ‘Conquistador’.

So, Pale Horseman have all the weapons required to create a great record, but while their second full-length release is impressive, some songs are more compelling than others. ‘Whispered Wings’, for example, is a little awkward and does not flow – for all its relentless heaviness and grinding riffage, it feels like it might have been developed into something bigger. Similarly, the track ‘Black Lotus’ doesn’t quite convince.

However, ‘Running For The Caves’ provides a satisfying slab of slow, chunky early 1990’s death metal, while ‘Clairvoyant’ – the most upbeat track on the album – delivers a more engaging, almost stoner-style vibe that encloses you like a green mist, hypnotising and enthralling. The song loses some of its focus the longer it goes on, and is marred by some ugly guitar warbling later on. ‘Fork In The Road’ is a remix (by Justin K Broadrick of Godflesh/Jesu) of a track from the band’s 2013 self-titled debut album. It’s a curious, otherworldly new version – a nasty, industrial joyride underscored by seething distortion and effects-drenched vocals.

‘Conquistador’ is an intense and skilfully controlled sludge assault with a pretty epic guitar solo. Perhaps best of all, though, is ‘Grudgulence’ – a song with real muscle and personality. An emotional and heartfelt composition, this track features a swirling riff that builds into something monstrous, while the interesting time signatures keep you guessing throughout.

‘Mourn The Black Lotus’ is an often idiosyncratic album that occasionally reaches great heights, and generally delivers a kind of gleefully apocalyptic sludge that proudly pays homage to the likes of Godflesh and Obituary.





‘Obsidian Monolith’
Kozmik Artifactz/Bilocation Records, November 2013

Sweden’s Mexicoma play a refreshing and mature brand of switched-on stoner metal. On this, their second full-length album, they skilfully blend the blissful density of Kyuss with the potent populism of Foo Fighters and the compelling mastery of Vol 4-era Sabbath. In a genre that can easily become a bottleneck packed with musicians with only one idea, Mexicoma are far, far above the average. On ‘Obsidian Monolith’ the band let their progressive side run riot so that while we get plenty of hard-riffing, whisky-drinking rock music, there are twists and turns hidden in every song. The album is a real adventure from start to finish.

Judging by the initial notes of the opening track – the high-octane rollercoaster ‘Keep Me Alive’ – it seems that this will simply be a really good traditional stoner record. But, as it unfolds, things get more complex and they drop some of the fuzz and go for a combination of ferocity and fun. The guitars are sharp and deadly as daggers, going straight for the jugular. The snarling vocals of Magnus Olsson fall somewhere between ‘JB’ of Grand Magus/Spiritual Beggars and the mighty Lemmy Kilmister. While Olsson perhaps lacks the dexterity of the former and the sheer power of the latter, his voice flits impressively between raucous and delicate, notably on the slow-burning ‘Island Of Ghosts’. On the immense chorus of ‘West Of Memphis’ the guitars and vocals combine to create a tidal wave of metal that crashes into your brain, cleansing and destroying.

Some of the songs are a little low-key, such as the psychedelic  ‘Supersonic Speed’ and the slightly cheesy acoustic ‘Salvation’, but on the whole ‘Obsidian Monolith’ motors along like a Lewis Hamilton in a ten-ton, 18-wheel truck. Best of all, perhaps, is the quirky ‘Abyssus Abyssum Invocat’ which invokes not only the likes of Monster Magnet and Queens Of The Stone Age, but also brings an element of the brilliantly barmy Voivod or Primus. Whether you’re looking for big riffs or big ideas, Mexicoma have created a great album that is sure to satisfy your stoner needs.


ALBUM REVIEW: Capilla Ardiente

capilla ardiente

‘Bravery, Truth And The Endless Darkness’
High Roller Records (6 June 2014)

Awesome epic riffs, heaven-sent choruses, guitar solos that lift your feet from the ground… From the guys who brought us Procession, here’s some more top-quality doom metal from Chile.

Claudio Botarro (bass) and Felipe Plaza (vocals) received much adulation for last year’s ‘To Reap Heavens Apart’, but while Procession is led by the latter, this band is distinctively the brainchild of Botarro. He has even thrown in a few bass guitar solos, and created the album’s classic-looking artwork himself.

More complex than Procession, Capilla Ardiente use a surgical blade rather than a hammer (of doom). Every song is an exciting experience, unfolding like a treasure map to be explored, with ‘Towards The Midnight Ocean’ probably the best of a very good bunch. This track showcases the band’s great musicianship and sophisticated composition skills, which were first unveiled on the 2009 EP ‘Solve Et Coagula’ but which now have reached new heights.

This is an album that could easily sit alongside some of the best offerings of the classic early-1990s epic doom scene, enjoying a richness and warmth in its production, as well as in its homage to some of the genre’s greats. And yet it’s also full of energy and invention, and sounds both modern and relevant.

The PR material that accompanies DoomMetalHeaven’s promo copy of the album makes a number of astonishing claims. “What a record!” it says, which is fair enough – this is a very impressive piece of work. “Album of the year so far!” it hollers – and that will certainly be the case in some people’s eyes. “The most important doom metal release since Candlemass’s masterpiece ‘Nightfall’!” it shrieks. Woah, hang on a minute. The best doom album in the last 27 years? That’s pushing the enthusiasm lever just a little too far.

There are a number of reasons why ‘Bravery, Truth And The Endless Darkness’ is not quite of the absolutely highest standard as set by ‘Nightfall’. Plaza does not have a Messiah-like range to effortlessly hit the ultimate highs and lows and on occasion he strains slightly at the demands Botarro’s music places on him. Not all of the songs on this album deliver a killer central musical theme that immediately stands out from anything else you’ve ever heard and digs into your brain forever. Moreover, the album offers just four full-sized songs plus two small instrumentals, which seems rather minimal, even if the four songs in question each stretch to ten minutes or more.

So, no, not quite ‘Nightfall’ but still better than most. Comparisons with Candlemass, and Solitude Aeturnus, are applicable though, because Capilla Ardiente is one of few epic doom bands capable of making this difficult style of metal sound effortless. ‘Bravery, Truth And The Endless Darkness’ is wonderfully ambitious, dramatic and emotional, without ever becoming pompous or fake. The band demonstrates an enviable ability to be creative and individual, even considering the tight restraints and many potential pitfalls of this most delicate, self-conscious of genres.

Capilla Ardiente have clearly read ‘How To Bake A Doom Metal Cake’ by L. Edling so often that melodic heaviness comes naturally to them. And they have added a few secret ingredients of their own to create something pretty spectacular.



REVIEW: Reclvse (demo)


Self-titled demo
4 May 2014

Listening to Reclvse is like discovering a dusty, cobweb-covered tome of magic spells in the furthest, darkest corner of some long-shut library. This demo is more old-school than a really, really old school – it’s traditional doom metal that successfully mixes the slow and sorrowful with the spectacular and groovy. There are lovely warm guitar tones, strong vocals, big riffs and galloping solos that add light and melody.

Opening track ‘Temptress!’ is a bona fide, 9/10 doom beast. Heavy as a house, slow as a stone (except for the fast bits) and catchy as a cold. And as the band hails from the UK’s drizzle capital, Swansea, these guys should know all about that. ‘Temptress!’ suffers slightly from some structural clunkiness, but that is easily forgivable when they launch into another gigantic chorus. And after all, this is a demo, a place for the band to begin to identify and iron out possible glitches. Maybe some smoother transitions next time.

The only problem with the second, slightly rockier track – ‘Of Many Names’ – is that it’s too brief. Another two or three minutes of this would have been welcome, as it’s a great, characterful Jex Thoth-style yarn, featuring breezy guitars and plenty of other bells and whistles to tickle the listener.

The demo fades away on the third and final song, ‘Bewitch The Sky’. Slow and sombre, this Pilgrim-style track drags on a bit – it might have been an opportunity for the drums or bass to come even more to the fore to add some energy. Drifting away into an acoustic finale, it leaves you pining for that great opening song again. The demo’s production is slightly boxy, and while that does not damage its dusty, retro vibe, it inevitably diminishes a small percentage of the music’s energy.

Aside from the mildly irritating deliberate typo in their name, Reclvse seem to be the real deal. They have concocted some original compositions, added some pleasingly glum vocals, tied it all together with some suitably unpleasant artwork, and overall have demonstrated a huge amount of promise for a doomed future.


ALBUM REVIEW: Witchthroat Serpent

witchthroat serpent

Deadlight Entertainment, March 2014

The main success of Witchthroat’s Serpent’s self-titled doom debut lies in the contrast between the raw vocals and the fuzzy guitars, both of which are produced by Frederik Bolzann (also of black metal band Davulia).

Sounding like a maniacally angry Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins), Bolzann’s raw, troubled pitch rises high over the low-end fuzz-fest that he creates in cahoots with bass player Lo Klav. On occasion, Klav’s four-stringed WMD is so low that it’s barely audible.

Following a rather uninspiring, mood-setting opening instrumental, the French band’s full-length bow begins in earnest with the oddly-titled ‘Have You Never Seen The Substitute’. This is thoroughly enjoyable down-tuned, stoner-infused, sludgy doom, with Bolzann’s anguished hollering prominent over bright and lively drumming, courtesy of the equally-oddly-titled Niko Lass.

The Toulouse-based threesome are perhaps over-reliant on Bolzann’s distinctive voice, and, when the singing stops, the songs can start to feel a little uneventful. For example, the final two tracks – ‘Ranks Up There With The Devil’ and ‘Priestess Of Old Ghosts’ – fall somewhere between ‘hypnotising’ and ‘monotonous’, even despite Bolzann’s best efforts. These songs are loud, heavy and fuzzed off their tits, but just not very interesting. An all-too-familiar story within the genre.

When they put all of their ingredients together, however, the Witchthroat Serpent sound can be a heady mix, reminiscent of Electric Wizard. The standout track  ‘Serpenta Ritual’ cleverly twists some standard stoner-doom riffage and shows encouraging signs of adventure and musical exploration, while ‘The Next Black Moon’ rides on an irresistible wave of fuzzy groove and is sure to get your head nodding with approval.

There is no doubt that this French band, which was formed in 2011, can create some seriously muscular stoner mayhem at times, and they are capable of coming up with some winning grooves amid the slow, plodding misery. But the moments of Gallic genius are too few and far between to really stand out from the crowd.


REVIEW: Heavydeath (demo)

heavydeath IV

23 April 2014

It seems that time cannot dim the passion and creativity of Nicklas Rudolfsson. More than 20 years after forming the death-doom band Runemagick, the Swedish guitarist/vocalist’s love of mournful melody remains as strong as ever, as does his ability to deliver a hair-raising cacophony.

As its less-than-inspiring title suggests, this is the fourth demo released by Heavydeath so far, all of them this year. The first has already been released and re-released on cassette by the valiantly awesome Caligari Records, with the next instalments following soon.

Rudolfsson’s new band features many trademarks of his former outfit, but is slightly more epic and less deathly than Runemagick, and less dramatically occultish than another of the bands for which he is known – The Funeral Orchestra. Heavydeath’s timeless brand of misery harks back to the early era of death-doom, without ever treading on anyone’s historical toes. There are also echoes of Celtic Frost, Candlemass, Cathedral, Entombed, Bolt Thrower, all blended together in sludgy disharmony.

Slow, patient songs crackle with the energy of anticipation, and you are never quite sure what’s around the next corner. Often, it’s a rhinoceros-sized riff that will trample your face into the mud. On other occasions, the ghostly, echoing, chanted vocals will lure you into a false sense of security and then stab you in the neck. Rudolfsson wields his axe with the cruel elation of the eternally doomed, while the bass of Johann Backman (also ex-Runemagick) is the sound of the Grim Reaper’s digestive system. Even the nameless session drummer gives his kit a muscular pounding, as if he’s beating the life out of a humpback whale.

This demo, and the three others that Heavydeath have put out in recent weeks, show the band’s inventiveness in full flow. It takes a few listens to really get a feel for each individual song – they tend to blur together a little at first – but once you find the band’s rhythm, each track is rewarding in its own way. This is death-doom with real personality, crafted by two experienced guys who know how to make you feel good about feeling bad. Keep your eyes open for more from this Swedish duo, who seem determined to make 2014 their year.