ROUND-UP: Cold Colours, Greg(o)rian, Servants Of The Mist (all EPs)

cold colours

COLD COLOURS
‘MMXIV’ EP
19 May 2014
6/10
Playing death-doom with gothic touches, Cold Colours churn out dark, sinister riffs that interweave with raw, slightly blackened vocals. This EP gets better as it progresses. The opening song, ‘Heathen’ is a little hesitant and flat, but is followed by ‘From This Pain’ which reveals the band’s more epic-sounding, catchy side, a little like a disappointed version of In Flames. Best of all, though, is the third and final track, ‘Terminal Winter’ – here, the band turn to one of doom metal’s fail-proof ‘secret’ weapons, the colossal church bell, and they show a great appreciation of what makes a great, Paradise Lost-style song. ‘MMXIV’ is not inspirational, but it’s far from dull.

Greg(o)rian

GREG(O)RIAN
‘Utter Condemnation’ EP
18 April 2014
6/10
This supremely grim doom-sludge trio from London was formed in 2009 and, after a three-year absence, will soon be releasing a new album. As a teaser, this 24-minute single-track EP provides a journey into a world of creeping nightmares. The miserable shrieks and groans of joint singers Iain Stannet and Tom Mullen echo over slow, insistent, understated guitars, while by comparison, new drummer Chris Drew seems almost too cheerful in the way he plays. Those sickly, hypnotising guitars drag you into the maelstrom, following paths previously walked by the likes of Sunn O))), Moss and Sleep. It’s not overwhelmingly heavy, but it will certainly drag you down into a deep, dark hole. Relentless.

servants of the mist

SERVANTS OF THE MIST
‘Gross Knowledge Of Genital Mutilation’ EP
24 June 2014
7/10
This band from Tampa, Florida has created a four-track EP of unpleasant, challenging, bitter, stop-start sludge that seems determined to shock and appall, with its focus on sexual fantasy and suicide. The wild, screaming vocals make you want to run away and cuddle a puppy, while the filthy guitar tones and shuddering bass work well together to create a blistering, and blustering, wall of sickening cacophony. In the middle of it all, ‘Commit Suicide’ is an uptempo Type O Negative-style romp designed to counterbalance the bleakness. Servants Of The Mist’s gloriously nihilistic anger and fierce riffs will stop you in your tracks, for a few minutes at least. Once the shock wears off, you might find yourself going back for more.

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REVIEW: Rippikoulu (EP)

Rippikoulu

RIPPIKOULU
‘Ulvaja’
Svart Records (13 June 2014)
9/10

‘Ulvaja’ is a beautiful onslaught of emptiness and woe; 18 minutes of sensual suffering that will terrify and then embrace your soul. Cult act Rippikoulu, known for their 1993 release ‘Musta Seremonia’, had disappeared for 21 years. Then, in early 2014, they delivered a brand new master tape to Svart Records.

This 18-minute EP of slow death-doom is at its finest when the choral backing comes to the fore, such as halfway through the first track, revealing an elated, majestic side to Rippikoulu’s misery. The following song is a soaring black metal fest, still epic, but preferring the path of savagery over sophistication.

Happily, the band know when they’re onto a good thing and return to indulging the epic, dramatic side of their nature on the third and final song. Throughout this, the EP’s title track, it sounds like Enya has been possessed by Lucifer and joined the band in the studio, with otherwordly female backing providing glimmers of beauty behind the growling, bloody vocals and pained, sorrowful guitars.

‘Ulvaja’ is perfect in places. The vocals are sometimes too raw to work in harmony against the delicate backdrop, and the middle track is a little too blackened for some tastes, but, after 21 years away, this is a spectacular return for these Finnish doom masters.

https://www.facebook.com/svartrecords

ALBUM REVIEW: Serpentine Path

Serpentine Path

SERPENTINE PATH
‘Emanations’
Relapse Records (27 May 2014)
8/10

Rarely is such nastiness so pleasurable. New York’s Serpentine Path create high-energy, low-wastage death-doom. There is a sludgy element but this is purposeful, driven and controlled. The songs may be desperately slow, unbearably bleak and rumbling but they are also compact, muscular and hard-hitting. This is a celebration of misery pared down to its essential core, and indulgence is not tolerated.

There are reflections of Cathedral’s early exasperation, such as on the track ‘Treacherous Waters’ – an instant favourite – while songs such as ‘Disfigured Colossus’ bear some of the hallmarks of Celtic Frost or Cerebral Fix in their memorable snarl, and ‘Claws’ could come direct from Paradise Lost’s classic debut album.

Serpentine Path have improved since their exciting self-titled debut album, and have added a new guitarist in Stephen Flam. This time out, the guitars are still as heavy as hell, but they retain a melodic delicacy when called upon – this is a dark and brutal album with a faint glimmer of beauty buried deep down. A few more guitar solos might add to this sense of tantalisingly hidden hope, because when they come they are inventive and enlightening, adding a kind of terrible happiness amid the horror. The vocals are a kind of depressed roar, slightly breathless, laced with poison. As with the guitars, a little more variety in the delivery would add even more texture.

Serpentine Path demonstrate those timeless staples of heavy metal – immense riffs and overflowing energy, bordering on uncontrolled rage. And behind the simple surface, there is a great depth to the band’s sound, and to the structures of the songs that they create. Occasionally, the band rely a little too heavily on repetition, rather than building the songs to their maximum potential.

‘Emanations’ consists of seven meaty tracks and weighs in at around 45 minutes, and the album flies by – which has got to be a good sign. There are subtle changes of mood and tempo throughout, which serve to keep things interesting and help the listener avoid falling into a bottomless pit of woe. Misery experts Serpentine Path have delivered another powerful and intense death-doom opus that fans of the genre should definitely check out.

https://www.facebook.com/serpentinepath

ALBUM REVIEW: Cardinals Folly

Cardinals Folly

Cardinals Folly
‘Our Cult Continues!’
Shadow Kingdom Records (19 Aug 2014)
8/10

A band ploughing its own furrow and creating a sound and atmosphere of its own is a reason to celebrate. After all, the doom metal underground sometimes seems packed with toothless sheep, so it is great to spend some time with wolves. Laughing off the shackles of the latest trends or retro gimmicks, Helsinki trio Cardinals Folly (formerly known as The Coven) bring an energy and inventiveness to the genre that is authentic and unique.

This follow-up to the band’s impressive debut ‘Such Power Is Dangerous!’ is an ecstatic, intriguing slice of lunacy. Each song explodes like a firework in a rain-soaked sky. It’s sometimes slightly wild, thrashing like a doom-octopus that has found itself stranded upon a shale beach, but is never less than entertaining.

Cardinals Folly have something in common with fellow Finns Reverend Bizarre, in that they create diverting, beguiling and powerful – if not especially heavy – compositions that ooze quality. The rasping, buzzing guitars are far from crushing in their tone, but the overall effect is sharp and metallic enough to fell a giant fir in 30 seconds.

The voice of singer/bassist Mikko Kääriäinen is stronger in the higher octaves, on which occasions things can get almost epic, stirring the emotions. His clean, honest vocals can seem a little uncertain in lower octaves, creating a barrier to the listener’s immersion in this baptism of doomed insanity.

‘Our Cult Continues!’ benefits from a slight DIY edginess, the sound of fingers sliding along strings effectively inviting listeners into the studio to share the performance in a more ‘live’ and personal environment.

After the occult weirdness of opener ’Chant Of Shadows’, ‘Morbid Glory’ (Great song titles!) rumbles into view with an unusual vocal-guitar partnership before unleashing a monumental metal riff. It’s a pattern that continues throughout – quirky bit followed by kick-ass bit, and it works really well. The album’s second half is perhaps a little safer than the first, but not much weaker.

Like Cirith Ungol and others before them, Cardinals Folly are essentially a good old metal band playing great new metal songs, all of which are heavily weighted towards darkness and doom. The vocals might be a little off-putting here and there, but overall this is a high-quality and original offering.

https://www.facebook.com/cardinalsfolly

ALBUM REVIEW: Purple Hill Witch

Purple Hill Witch

PURPLE HILL WITCH
‘Purple Hill Witch’
The Church Within Records (27 June 2014)
6/10

“Have a drink and watch the universe end.” So say Purple Hill Witch on their song ‘Final Procession’ – and it’s a line that sums up the band in a nutshell: gloomy, whimsical and quite possibly very drunk! On this their debut full-length album, the Norwegian trio channel the likes of Lord Vicar and Witchfinder General to create an enjoyable trad doom vibe that flirts with dirty NWOBHM and gets groovy while staying on the decidedly miserable side of stoner.

The song ‘The Landing’ has a particularly strong feel of Lord Vicar (with whom the band has toured), being both epic and awesome. With stirring riffs and rich guitar tones, it floods over you like lava, even launching into a late key change and then a tempo switch to really get the blood pumping and keep you guessing. This is probably the most satisfying track on the album, although ‘Queen Of The Hill’ is also a bouncing monster of effects-drenched guitars, bubbling bass lines and clean, powerful vocals. And ‘Astral Booze’ is a stomping quest for existential answers (or possibly for another glass of ale).

Other parts of this self-titled debut, including the instrumental passages, come across as solid, if unspectacular, Sabbath homage. The inspired and adventurous work of bass player Andreas is a stand-out feature, reminiscent of Mr G Butler himself, while the riffs hark back to some of Iommi’s most miserable musings. The simplistic guitar solos, though, serve only to remind the listener just how impressive Iommi’s own are, and the drums usually add little other than keeping time without complication.

A number of songs on this album lack a distinctive personality and a few of the riffs are a little predictable. That said, while there may not be much variety on offer, the joyful musicianship and expert vocals generally keep things feeling fresh. The aforementioned track ‘Final Procession’ demonstrates quite a low-key and chilled attitude to humankind’s ultimate demise. Its fuzziness is gentle and relentless – like being mauled to death by a baby panda – and the song is enjoyable but not especially memorable. Purple Hill Witch themselves are relentlessly old-fashioned, following a blueprint that was set out 40-plus years ago and adding a few dashes of their own sense of fun and energy.

https://www.facebook.com/PurpleHillWitch

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Ocean Chief

ocean chief

OCEAN CHIEF
‘Universums Härd’
I Hate Records (13 June 2014)
8/10

Ocean Chief’s fifth album is an insane and sometimes brilliant ride through time and space to explore the origins of the universe. And, echoing the creative explosion of the Big Bang, the band have thrown a million elements into the production of their new full-length release; random molecules that create weird new life forms. Sweden’s Ocean Chief possess a natural and impressive ability to be difficult to categorise. They’re sometimes inaccessible too, not because their brand of sludge is too brutal, but because they create songs that are as bewildering as they are surprising.

It’s fascinating to hear a band experimenting with its sound and musical possibilities, and some of the tracks open up curious new possibilities. Epic sludge doom, anyone? Stoner death? Ocean Chief’s core sound is undoubtedly dark and distorted, but they do not limit themselves to laborious drone-fests. Each song is a new discovery.

The opening track, for example, is fairly complex and disorientating; a dense sludgy blend that changes direction like a springbok evading a lion – only in ultra-slow-motion. Where the epicness flourishes, such as on the sublime  ‘Oandlighet’, the band shows its spectacular side with stunning guitar harmonies and gut-wrenching vocals. Elsewhere on the album, Ocean Chief embark on a kind of angry stoner trip, muddying the water further with some death metal-style vocals. Moments later, psychedelic, Trouble-esque tones mix with YOB-ish power. There’s some hardcore riffage. A Quorthon-style guitar solo… what’s going on???

The penultimate ‘Morker’ returns to crushing, creeping sludge and this nine-minute track features some truly huge, glorious passages of woe and desolation – the black chasm of space perhaps – with hints of old-school Paradise Lost and Entombed. The album closes with ‘Vandringen’, an immense, synth-driven beast, ensuring that ‘Universums Härd’ goes out on a high.

Vocally, Tobias Larsson sounds like a young Tom G Warrior gargling a pint of hydrofluoric acid – he seems most comfortable when sticking to the caustic vocal violence, and is slightly strained when delivering the more melodic parts over the top of the searing, soaring guitars. His performance, though, is raw, intense and emotive.

Ocean Chief are a band who are always full of ideas and do things their own way. ‘Universums Härd’ poses as many questions as it provides answers. Individually, the songs themselves are often great, but things go a little off-piste around the album’s middle section and that lack of cohesion can leave you feeling a little distanced and not quite sure what just happened. Overall, the album brings you some great slow, doom-laden, expansive sludge, with more than a few surprises along the way.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/OCEAN-CHIEF/31120371675

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Serpent Venom

Serpent-Venom-Of-Things-Seen-UnseenArtwork

SERPENT VENOM
‘Of Things Seen And Unseen’
The Church Within Records (27 June 2014)
8/10

Serpent Venom’s eagerly-awaited second album begins like a cross between ‘Gothic’-era Paradise Lost and misery-mongers Pallbearer, and while this album does not quite reach those lofty heights, it is clear that this UK band have brought a quality offering to the altar of doom. Following 2011’s enormously encouraging ‘Carnal Altar’ album, Serpent Venom had a burden of expectation to live up to, and they’ve delivered.

There are some fantastic songs on this follow-up. ‘Let Them Starve’, for example, is a breathless doom epic with a galloping uptempo finale. Demonstrating the band’s growing sophistication, this track is trimmed and edited down to the bare minimum and is more effective for its comparative brevity. The album closer, ‘Burning Free’, starts inauspiciously but then launches into a doom explosion, an original, compelling song that takes the band’s trad roots and weaves them into new forms – earthy, deep, tortured. Another song, ‘Death Throes At Dawn’, shows a band in fine fettle playing very simple but very effective heavy doom metal, a song in which things just click into place.

Even when one of Serpent Venom’s enormous riffs might seem ordinary at first, such as on ‘The Lords of Life’, the band manages to make it their own, infusing what might have been overly-familiar with a menacing heaviness and special kind of melodic misery. It doesn’t always work out that way, though, and ‘Pilgrims Of The Sun’ is a drawn-our dirge that does little to showcase the band’s creativity. There are traces of fellow Brits Witchsorrow, particularly on the song ‘Sorrow’s Bastard’, but Serpent Venom seem to have a stronger leaning towards angrier, stomping riffs. In the middle of it all, ‘I Awake’ is a flowery little interjection, an acoustic daydream that interrupts the flow of horror for a fleeting moment.

Garry Ricketts’s almost-clean voice lack a little depth and is sometimes stretched, although what his delivery misses in pure accuracy, he more than makes up for in his phrasing, rhythm and interesting patterns. He certainly works hard, and his pleasingly-crafted melodies balance perfectly against the backdrop of seething guitars, provided by Roland Scriver (who replaced Pete Fox) and bass player Nick Davies.

Recorded at Skyhammer Studio last October with Chris Fielding (Electric Wizard, Conan), this is a solid and intriguing follow-up to ‘Carnal Altar’. ‘Of Things Seen And Unseen’ sees Serpent Venom enter a new stage in their musical progression, creating deeply personal, immense and traditional doom metal with a deadly bite.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Serpent-Venom/109942092371705

 

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Zaum

zaum

ZAUM
‘Oracles’
I Hate Records (13 June 2014)
7/10

Zaum create a unique, otherworldy sound that takes us on a journey through time to the blood-soaked sands of an ancient Middle East. The land in which we arrive is a far cry from the modern, gleaming towers of today’s Dubai or Abu Dhabi – this is a grim and dusty place where death shadows every footstep.

Reminiscent of Om or Queen Elephantine, ‘Oracles’ forms a swirling, clanking mantra, a Canadian interpretation of Middle Eastern music that manages to steer clear of cliché. This duo from New Brunswick have enough experience to avoid that particular pitfall – drummer Christopher Lewis has fronted Iron Giant, while vocalist/guitarist/synthesizerist Kyle Alexander McDonald is also the frontman with Shevil.

Throughout the album, relentless sitar textures tie the tracks together and add to the sense of exploration, sending your mind to a distant, long-dead world. Not for Zaum the bombastic posturing of Orphaned Land – this is slow, contemplative and spiritual. The songs undulate, moving as imperceptibly as the sands of a desert and this constant movement is vital, maintaining a sense of impetus behind the mantra.

From the opening track, McDonald launches into some exciting vocal melodies that help to lift the songs from droning misery. And whenever the songs threaten to drag, the band’s creativity interjects just in time. The third song, for example, offers a change of perspective, centering on sinister synths in place of the shuddering guitars. That said, the song can feel less organic than some of the others, the focal riff and overall arrangement a little too awkward to flow naturally.

The fourth and final song, ‘Omen’, features a slightly obvious and drawn-out opening passage, but then continues with experimental ambience as Zaum seek out “a deeper state of thought”. With its unexpected vocal treatments, this track is often ugly/beautiful and spectacular, although not quite the special ending that we might have hoped for on this adventure into antiquity.

Zaum’s ‘Oracles’ is an ambitious and sometimes exhilarating journey of contemplation, mysticism and slow, sludgy, droning metal. It takes you to the Middle East and dumps you in the middle of a desert wearing only your underpants and clutching your copy of Om’s ‘Live At Jerusalem’. 

https://www.facebook.com/zaumn

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Corrosion Of Conformity

coc_digital_cover

CORROSION OF CONFORMITY
‘IX’
Candlelight Records, 23 June 2014
7/10

There are two strands to the DNA of COC’s ninth album. First, the ebulliently anarchic southern metal that won them so many fans in the mid-1990s, and, second, the uptempo, muscular punky stuff that harks back to the band’s even-more-distant past. Formed in 1982 as a hardcore band, COC transformed into a metal band and released the incredible ‘Deliverance’ album in 1994, featuring bona fide global hits such as ‘Albatross’ and ‘Clean My Wounds’. They were a band that built a bridge between metal and punk and showed what could be achieved by bringing the two styles together – although, inevitably, many fans decided not to cross it.

The album opens in an intense, caustic frame of mind: the first two songs, ‘Brand New Sleep’ and ‘Elphyn’, are like sludgy southern twins, flowing into each other and bringing to mind two bands surely influenced by COC’s catalogue, Magic Circle and Clutch. Throughout the album, the dense, sludgy passages are inevitably lightened by a stoner sense of fun, ensuring that the songs rumble and bounce along at a fair rate.

Then comes the two-minute bruiser ‘Denmark Vesey’, a curiously-titled track that thunders into existence like a young Motorhead and belies the band’s still-kicking hardcore passions. That’s followed by ‘The Nectar’, which charges out of your speakers like a genie from a lamp and crashes around the room, smashing stuff up. Despite being lengthier in the incisor-region than a sabertooth tiger, Corrosion Of Conformity are still able to create aural havoc that gets the blood pumping.

COC have always been a beast in the studio, whatever the line-up. Now comprised of the three original members who first set off on this crossover adventure in the 1980s, ‘IX’ captures the raw dynamism of their live performances, as suggested by the cover image, showing the trio playing together in front of some signature spiked skull artwork.

While rumours persist about the possible return of former singer Pepper Keenan, these days the vocal duties are handled by Mike Dean, who also wields the bass. Dean’s timbre, coupled with the band’s laid-back groove adds a touch of old-school Trouble to proceedings, albeit in a more raucous and heavy style. However, the marked domination of the guitars, or subordination of vocals, means that the album can get a little similar-sounding, relying on fat riffs and tempo changes rather than vocal hooks or memorable lyrics to differentiate between tracks. At times, the vocals are a little thin and acidic, and as they become swamped by the foundation-shaking guitars and bass, it’s also quite tricky to make out exactly what’s being sung.

The first half of the album is really strong, but the second half wanes a little. While the album’s lead single ‘On Your Way’ will be great fun live, it is not the most memorable of compositions. Similarly, ‘Trucker’ is a cymbal-smashing, riff-fest but feels a little safe, while ‘The Hanged Man’ is a pretty half-hearted song that starts as a kind of ‘War Pigs’ homage and loses its way. Thankfully, the face-slapping ‘Tarquinius Superbus’ (don’t know what it is, but I want one) gets things firing on all cylinders again.

When a band has previously hit great heights, as COC did 20 years ago, it’s difficult not to over-criticise their recent material for being of a slightly lesser standard. ‘IX’ is a good deal better than what most of today’s pretenders can manage – it’s intense, energetic and interesting. And there’s not many bands who can still achieve that after 30-plus years.

http://www.candlelightrecords.co.uk/index_home.htm

https://www.facebook.com/corrosionofconformity