I, Voidhanger Records (July 2014)
Dexterous and demented multi-instrumentalist John Gallo (Orodruin, Blizaro) has added a doomy ‘w’ to his name and created a kaleidoscopic and idiosyncratic hour-long opus. Inspired by the mystery of Paul Chain and the majesty of Epicus-era Candlemass, ‘Violet Dreams’ delivers classic doom with a twist – no, make that a few twists. Actually, there’s probably about a million twists.
The entire album is genuinely fascinating, following one man’s sojourn into a universe of endless possibilities, exploring life, death, and beyond. Gallo’s songs are angular and peculiar, like a scatter-brained professor creating a lumbering monster, and while not all of them work perfectly – in fact, few of them are anything like perfection but that only adds to the album’s charm – their strangeness is compelling.
From the opening ‘Entrance To The Unknown’ to the final track ‘Beam Of Light’, songs flutter like schizophrenic butterflies from one idea to the next. There are 14 of them in total, featuring some satisfyingly demonic doom riffs, and everyone will have a different favourite – such is the songs’ complexity and variety that ‘Violet Dreams’ requires multiple listens to get anything like the full picture.
Not that this is prog-doom as such. There’s more Sabbath than Yes, and you might catch moments of early Trouble or Pagan Altar. From start to finish there are numerous Iommi-inspired guitar solos, mainly improvised, and these vary between a kind of bluesy catharsis and a meek meandering that distracts from the vibrancy of the music. Generally, the album feels more powerful when resisting the urge to over-indulge, such as on the more straightforward – and very impressive – slabs of doom ‘Turn Sides’ and ‘Passer-by’.
This also raises an incidental question of whether there’s any point in recording improvised music at all: it could be argued that such an act is self-defeating as it immediately undermines the transitory nature of the original exercise and results in a permanent record of something that is inevitably imperfect that can never again be experienced in its intended context. But to Hell with all that: Gallo is playing some great doom metal from the heart, and that’s what really matters.
Throughout this debut release, there are proudly old-fashioned synthesizer overlays and interludes, including the rather lovely Vangelis-like ‘Ancient Tears’. Unlike the extended guitar virtuosity, these add a kind of deep, sorrowful calmness to the atmosphere. Vocally, Gallo pushes his experimentation even further: one moment his voice is high-pitched, even reaching falsetto, and then it changes to ghostly, 70s rock, feeble, quivering, Arabesque, choral, and – on ‘Rain Messenger’ – almost theatrically over-cooked.
On occasion, it feels like the wheels are about to fall off, but Gallo keeps his vehicle moving, even if he’s not quite sure what direction it’ll turn next. ‘Violet Dreams’ is emotionally and creatively chaotic; a unique version of doom metal that, while clearly drawing on some of the genre’s finest, is deeply personal and thoroughly enjoyable. Guaranteed: once you start listening, you’ll be hooked.