ALBUM REVIEW: Orange Goblin ‘Back From The Abyss’

orange goblin

ORANGE GOBLIN
‘Back From The Abyss’
Candlelight Records
(Released: 6 Oct 2014)
7/10

On this their eight album (and second since famously being able to quit their jobs and do this full-time) the fuzzed-up Londoners go about their business with typical bluesy gusto. Catchy stoner/metal riffs are delivered with a muscular energy and a juggernaut-load of power. ‘Back From The Abyss’ delivers crowd-pleaser after crowd-pleaser – it’s often a bit formulaic, but undeniably infectious.

Fair play to Orange Goblin for working incredibly hard and establishing themselves as a rare commercial success. The band’s popularity continues to grow as they endlessly tour the universe, bringing their brand of power to anyone who’ll listen. There’s enough variety on offer to draw in fans of doom, punk, hard rock… It’s fantastic to see heavy music and gigantic riffs getting mainstream respect. Perhaps they are a modern band for a modern age, living proof that the middle of the road is the path to success.

Orange Goblin’s combustible mix of Motorhead and Black Sabbath is not exactly radio-friendly puff though: it’s heavyweight enough to get the blood pumping, and this album is impressively consistent. The band has called it “the definitive Orange Goblin album” and it’s easy to agree, because it sums up the band’s attributes as well as its limitations. The guitar tones may hit you like the blast from a space shuttle’s engines, but if you’re looking for Mind-Food you will not be overwhelmed.

Charismatic vocalist Ben Ward applies his familiar gurgling roar to a series of well-constructed, four-minute-long ditties of doom and blood. But some of his blithely self-aggrandising lyrics are a big turn-off. Ward takes a populist route and is defiantly unafraid of a cliché. “I’m a vampire with a loaded shot-gun!” he claims. “I am the voices in your head!” he adds. At which point the voices in your head might suggest that you listen to something with a little more gravitas.

Later: “If I fall and die, I pray the valkyrie will carry me home… to Valhalla!” And, not satisfied with the preposterous Viking waffle, Ward rides the piratical zeitgeist on ‘Mythical Knives’ and goes sleepwalking into “the arms of Morpheus…” (Yawn.) Of course, certain types of metal are all about the vibe and sometimes the words don’t matter. But if the wider world is taking an interest in this kind of music, wouldn’t it be great if they heard the very best of it?

Power and melody explode from Orange Goblin, a professional metal band on a mission of world domination. It’s good ol’ hard-rockin’, amp-shakin’ stuff, and there are fleeting moments of sexiness and brilliance on ‘Back From The Abyss’ – but there’s not much you haven’t heard before.

[A quick complaint: Orange Goblin are co-headlining on European dates with Saint Vitus. Co-headlining with Saint Vitus??? Few bands in the history of doom/heavy metal are worthy of such status, and Orange Goblin are surely not one of them!]

https://www.facebook.com/orangegoblinofficial

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REVIEW: Sundecay ‘Bodies At The Frontier’ (EP)

sundecay1

SUNDECAY
Bodies At The Frontier
Released August 2014
8/10

Canadians Sundecay play a kind of enlightened stoner doom that does not subscribe to norms. To call it progressive would be misleading, suggesting complexity and indulgence, but ‘Bodies At The Frontier’ certainly manages to be subtly different compared to what’s gone before.

You can see from clash between warped, almost black metal-ish band logo, bleak/spacey cover art and uber-cool Bandcamp pic that this is a band exploring its identity and scope. ‘Bodies At The Frontier’ is a book you cannot judge by its cover, even if you wanted to.

sundecay

Musically, too, it is the clash of interests that makes this EP so interesting. There is a beautifully chaotic vibe, which is the sound of a bunch of guys jamming the hell out, and this is tempered with a dignified and smartly judged melancholy. It’s perhaps best exemplified by the third track, ‘Oxidized Urn’, which sounds like a mix of Welsh band Prosperina and vintage Sabbath.

Sundecay offer the tiniest hints of sludge and post-rock here and there, while there are also faint undercurrents of Smashing Pumpkins or Pearl Jam, particularly in some of the vocal delivery. The vocals, in fact, are sometimes sublime in their understated rocky majesty. There is a deep-rooted passion for 70s rock underpinning the sound, but it has been modernized and built upon to create something new.

The vibe feels slightly too loose on occasion, and the final song, ‘They Worship The Sun’ is a disappointingly aimless and blunt Deep Purple-inspired jangle.

But for much of this release’s 27-minute running time, Sundecay create an intriguing, pulsating doomy dreamworld, proving yet again doom metal’s ability to turn something simple into something ethereal and kind of wonderful.

http://sundecay.bandcamp.com/album/bodies-at-the-frontier

ALBUM REVIEW: Aeonsgate ‘Pentalpha’

aeonsgate-pentalpha

AEONSGATE
‘Pentalpha’
The Church Within Records
(Released: 24 October 2014)
6/10

Are you listening, funeral doom and sludge bands? You thought 20 minutes was a long song? That’s child’s play! Aeonsgate’s ‘Pentalpha’ is a solitary track clocking in at seven minutes shy of the hour mark. This trance-inducing “doom opera” tells the tale of the first minutes of someone’s death. Written in 2012 by guitarist (and tattoo king) Jondix, it is an incredibly personal exploration, to the extent that you feel you are eavesdropping on a private prayer.

After an impressively self-indulgent eight-minute intro, the guitars and drums finally appear on the horizon like a doom tsunami. For the next 50 minutes or so, thumping, epic riffs rise and fall relentlessly, hypnotising, destroying, mourning. They create a slightly psychedelic, dark melancholia, drifting and meandering. It’s like walking through an ancient citadel in the still of night, filled at once with fear and awe. Each step into the unknown reveals a new shadow.

‘Pentalpha’ feels like an extended doom jam that keeps wandering but never arrives at a destination. A few of the riffs are pretty tame, and despite some interesting musical links between the giant song’s different sections, it is the familiar voice of Mats Leven (Candlemass, Therion, etc) that really helps the music to breathe. He is the star attraction here, and, when he lets rip rather than indulging in romanticised melodrama, his Rob Halford/Johan Langqvist tones can be very powerful.

There are hints of Tony Martin-era Sabbath, as well as Krux and Candlemass – inevitably – and while Aeonsgate do not have the same impact as those bands, there are a few goose-pimple moments, such as at 38:08 when the songs reaches new heights for a while. At various points throughout ‘Pentalpha’ theatrical keyboards are introduced to add a new emotional layer to the pounding doomy atmosphere. In fact, these synths are probably under-used because they really help to define the different parts of the sprawling song.

Aeonsgate unleash an immense doom metal sound and pack this hour-long song with grandeur and grunt. Produced by Billy Anderson, ‘Pentalpha’ certainly sounds great – heavy, rich and expressive. Featuring just one song and one theme, it can feel a bit one-dimensional, but the enormous riffs make it worthwhile and reward your patience. Take a journey beyond the grave with this intriguing collection of musicians and you will discover that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

REVIEW: Orphans Of Dusk ‘Revenant’ (EP)

Orphans of Dusk - Revenant cover

ORPHANS OF DUSK
‘Revenant’ (EP)
Released August 2014
8/10

The great Pete Steele would definitely approve. Orphans Of Dusk, a band hailing from New Zealand and Australia, deliver enormous, powerful goth-doom riffs that are infused with both delight and derision. This is Type O Negative revisited, with a bit of rampaging death metal thrown in to add an energetic edginess to the gothic drama. It’s an interesting twist that raises this four-track EP from mere homage to something altogether more appealing. It’s reminiscent of Rise Of Avernus’s stunning ‘L’appel Du Vide’ but without the female delicacy.

Growled vocals are used sparingly so as not to distract from the gloom. And while the clean vocals may lack the floor-splitting resonance of Steele, or the lyrical clarity of Woods Of Ypres’s David Gold, singer Chris G dexterously interweaves the clean and filthy styles, giving these Orphans a solid, distinctive sound. As he roars in the ecstasy of misery, church organs wail and somber, echoing drums resound. The songs envelop you like a black curtain.

Beautiful synths hide behind ugly riffs. Choruses reach incredible epic heights. Yes, there are the string-sliding, pitch-shifting tributes to Type O Negative here and there, but even where the inspiration feels a little blatant, it is delivered in such a thoughtful and warm-hearted manner that the listener is pleased to be reminded of ‘Bloody Kisses’ and TON’s other classic releases.

This is doom metal on a grand scale. The slow, avalanche-heavy riffs rumble with a punchy gothic groove and an invigorating sense of melody. There are some interesting mood and tempo switches and creative rhythms, although on occasion songs do not feel fully realised due to their slightly impatient arrangement. ‘Nibelheim’, for example, starts off as a curiously wonderful combination of Bolt Thrower and My Dying Bride, and goes through a number of costume changes, leaving you impressed but a little shell-shocked.

‘Revenant’ is a great-sounding and great-looking release that is presented with great care and attention to detail. It skilfully balances ferocity and melancholy, varying between complexity and simplicity, first caressing and then pummeling. Perhaps most tellingly of all, when it’s over, you’re left wanting more.

http://orphansofdusk.bandcamp.com/album/revenant

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Apostle Of Solitude ‘Of Woe And Wounds’

ApostleOfSolitude-Cover

APOSTLE OF SOLITUDE
‘Of Woe And Wounds’
Cruz Del Sur Music
(Released 31 October 2014)
9/10

Any doom metal band can claim to reach the blackest depths of sorrow and ruin. But for the average listener it’s less about the destination and more about how they get there. Some bands walk, some crawl, and some even piggy-back their forebears. When you travel with Apostle Of Solitude, however, you travel by chariot!

This is a band with the skill and poise to temper their passion for all-out misery and forge it into something more dangerous. These American doomsters have harnessed their suffering and breathed new life into it, creating music that is both dark and vivid. In many ways, Apostle Of Solitude are a traditional doom metal band, but they have taken the early 1990s model and then modernised and adapted it to their own will. They are reminiscent of the tragically under-rated German band Doomshine in terms of their sheer quality, consistency and subtle creativity. With maybe a hint of US compatriots Beelzefuzz.

Slow, rapturous riffs fill the air like thick incense, intoxicating. Chunky twin guitars are enhanced by the rumbling bass and immense drums. Chuck Brown’s vocals are clean and measured. As the album develops, its processional lumber becomes increasingly limber as greater complexity and variety is added, resulting in a textured and rewarding whole. This is a flag in the sand for American doom metal.

It’s not epic as such; nor is it especially heavy or funereal. It’s simply excellent metal, jam-packed with interesting stuff and boasting a broad musical and thematic scope. We may be thundering towards the shadowed gates of Hell, but we might as well enjoy ourselves along the way, right?

The first few songs showcase Apostle Of Solitude’s ability to write a killer doom metal riff, while tracks such as ‘Die Vicar Die’ see the band plant a seed and patiently water it until it blossoms into something beautiful. The crunching guitars come to the fore on the mid-tempo NWOBHM/Sabbathian giant ‘Push Mortal Coil’, which sees them dip a tentative toenail into rocky waters. The following song, ‘This Mania’, finds the band in even faster, angrier mode, producing an anthemic mixture of Solitude Aeturnus, Pantera and Entombed.

On the whole, ‘Of Woe And Wounds’ is dynamic, diverse and inventive, although it does pander to the occasional genre cliche. The song ‘Lamentations Of A Broken Man’ is slightly simplistic, the gloomy grunge of ‘Luna’ a bit uncertain, like YOB flirting with Alice In Chains, and many of the vocal harmonies are wholly unnecessary – though admittedly more restrained than many bands in this field.

‘Of Woe And Wounds’ is a powerful and original album, packed with sophisticated and hugely enjoyable doom metal anthems. Indianapolis’s Apostle Of Solitude recently celebrated their tenth anniversary and with their third full-length album have staked a claim to be the American masters of doom.

https://www.facebook.com/apostleofsolitude/info?ref=page_internal

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Abysmal Growls Of Despair ‘Abyss’

Abysmal Growls Of Despair

ABYSMAL GROWLS OF DESPAIR
‘Abyss’
Released August 2014
6/10

Be afraid. Be very, very afraid. ‘Abyss’ is a truly terrifying, mesmerising slab of funeral drone and atmospheric noise. This relentlessly sinister album is enough to give Satan nightmares! Even the artwork will give you the creeps.

The name of this band may be slightly off-putting for its simplistic literalism, but the music itself is pretty devastating. From the desperate, wolf-like howling of the enigmatic opening track, to the album’s sorrowful finale, AGOD deploy expertly-judged and well-paced sound effects that fall across your mind like a black curtain blocking out the light.

Using extensive extracts from classical masterworks ‘Pie Jesu’ and ‘Moonlight Sonata’, it is difficult to make a judgement about the musicianship on display. Undoubtedly, the finest music contained within this ‘Abyss’ is the creation of other composers, which is sometimes embellished and sometimes undermined by synthetic sounds of pain, sorrow and horror.

The sweet notes of the classical music are mere glimpses of light and beauty, but always shadow and dread overwhelm them. At times, the combination is breathtaking and beautiful, at others, genuinely frightening.

However, it is a fairly one-dimensional approach that works better in some places than others. For example, the mountainous rumble that overwhelms Pie Jesu on the track ‘Hang This Fucking Black Frockman’ is grimly enthralling, but the desolate moaning that disrupts Beethoven’s tender sonata is rather less convincing.

The closing song, ‘Calm Despair Hollow Life’ shows AGOD’s ability to create its own delicate composition, a gently mournful ditty that completes the album on a comparatively melancholic, peaceful note. ‘Abyss’ is a dark, destructive and disturbing experience that takes familiar sounds and sends them to Hell.

http://abysmalgrowlsofdespair.bandcamp.com/album/abyss

REVIEW: Norilsk ‘Japetus’ (EP)

Norilsk

NORILSK
‘Japetus’
Released August 2014
7/10

This three-song EP from Quebec’s Norilsk is inspired by vintage doom/death such as Thergothon, with added elements of sludge and post metal. Named after Siberia’s northernmost city, this release covers themes of isolation and lost identity.

It moves at a slow, patient pace, with solid production allowing a good balance of searing, heavy-ish guitars that alternately fester and explode, dynamic bass that weaves a spell, and drums that both attack and complement.

There are two original compositions on offer, either side of a cover of Voivod’s ‘Negatron’. The opening title track is a fairly elegant example of doom/death with dark, black vocals, and an industrial undercurrent. There is a hint or two of Isis or Neurosis amid the expansive, chilly atmosphere.

Norilsk’s other creation, the strangely titled ‘Potsdam Glo’, is a stark, bleak and confident track that showcases more vocal dexterity from the multi-talented Nicolas Miquelon, as well as a greater degree of musical adventure. With cleaner vocals and elements of My Dying Bride, the song is more sophisticated than complex, and there is a clear sense of a band (Nick Richaer handles drum duties, while Miquelon does the rest) that is looking to explore boundaries. And they are very capable of going to interesting places.

The duo’s penchant for the unusual shows in the choice of their fellow Canadians’  ‘Negatron’, which is a great song but hardly a Voivod classic. Norilsk give it a doomy treatment, and their personality glows through the gloom. This EP is 20 minutes of energetic apocalypse – keep your ears open the the forthcoming full-length release.

http://norilskdoom.bandcamp.com/releases

ALBUM REVIEW: Pallbearer ‘Foundations Of Burden’

Pallbearer

PALLBEARER
‘Foundations Of Burden’
Profound Lore (Released 19 August 2014)
8/10

Money, money, money. It’s clear from the opening moments of Pallbearer’s follow-up to their magnificent 2012 debut ‘Sorrow And Extinction’ that the band has been given a bigger budget and more studio this time round. This is a slicker, shinier version of the album that saw the Oregon trad doom outfit win unexpected but richly deserved mainstream acclaim.

Produced by Billy ‘Who Else?’ Anderson, ‘Foundations Of Burden’ is much brighter and cleaner sounding than their last effort, and is packed with multitudinous guitar layers, synthesizers and multiplied vocal harmonies. In 2014, their sound is more rounded; it’s not half as heavy as two years ago, but what it misses in terms of raw, unadulterated power it makes up for in complexity and technical enterprise.

Pallbearer have pushed themselves musically and creatively, concocting a series of unusual, hooky riffs and long, twisting compositions that are rarely anything but fascinating. The stirring vocals of Brett Campbell have become more controlled and sophisticated, and are supplemented with dreamlike backing from his band mates. Behind the immense doom metal is the gentle influence of Rainbow and classic rock, as Pallbearer subtly move away from the overarching misery of their previous album towards a more personal, explorative approach.

The brighter production adds to an undercurrent of hopefulness amid the gloom, and there are even upbeat, uptempo sections. There is also a song, ‘Ashes’, that sounds like a dreamy doom version of Agnes Obel, and this is where things can start to feel a little contrived. ‘Ashes’ is so cute and polite that it seems Pallbearer are in danger of straying too far from the path of doom.

Burdened with hype and hope, the band has been given a platform and at times their effort to impress is evident. They have afforded great consideration to what will work well live, but it is likely that the songs fans will look forward to hearing will still come from the band’s 2012 breakthrough release. For all their multi-layered delicacy and inventiveness, the songs on ‘Foundations Of Burden’ are not as impactful or memorable as those original recordings.

This is a seriously impressive follow-up album that will surely win Pallbearer many more fans both in mainstream and underground circles. It may not be as dynamic as their debut, perhaps because it has been so professionally packaged, but it is very exciting to see a vintage doom metal band being allowed an opportunity to demonstrate the genre’s musical scope to a wide audience.

ALBUM REVIEW: A Day In Venice

adayinvenice

A DAY IN VENICE
‘A Day In Venice’
Self-released, June 2014
5/10

This gloomy, horror-filled, avant-garde doom rock from the historic port town of Trieste in Italy is certainly an acquired taste. While one listener might find it ostentatious and frustrating, another might consider it to be inspired and entertaining.

One thing’s for sure, ‘A Day In Venice’ is unique. Main man Andrej Kralj squeezes as much creativity and experimentation as he possibly can into this ten-track freakshow of an album. If you look at the raw ingredients of this release – bleak, mournful guitars, luxurious synthesizers, bespoke artwork, professional opera singer – then you might expect a wonderful epic doom extravaganza. But things quickly get far more complicated than that…

From accessible goth-rock ditties to scary horror-doom oddities, and from gentle string quartets to clattering metal riffs, ‘A Day In Venice’ covers a lot of ground. Some of it will make you smile, some of it will not. The closing track, ‘As The Ship Docks’, for example, is a slightly insane full-blown, nine-minute doom metal opera. It is performed by a bona fide opera singer whose rich, booming voice makes this easily the most memorable song on the album.

Ultimately, though, there are a number of issues with this release. The drums sound rather mechanical, diminishing much of the eloquence that the music possesses, while the fluttering bass lacks the power to provide much low-end substance. Some of the songs do not seem developed to their full potential, ending too soon or going off at unnecessary tangents at inopportune moments.

Though inventive and spectacular, the album is too inconsistent. It’s like three albums squeezed into one, fascinating but confusing, competing for attention.

Many voyages have set sail from Trieste’s famous seaport full of optimism and excitement. But ‘A Day In Venice’ flounders upon the rocks, perhaps losing sight of its intended destination.

http://adayinvenice.bandcamp.com/

ALBUM REVIEW: Dysphorian Breed ‘The Longing For The Tides Of Metamorphosis’

dysphorian breed

DYSPHORIAN BREED
‘The Longing For The Tides Of Metamorphosis’
Self-released, August 2014
7/10

The debut release from Sweden’s Dysphorian Breed – a one-man project from David Fredriksson – is a triumvirate of slow, regal and at times spectacular doom metal. Blending aspects of death, funeral, sludge and epic, ‘The Longing For The Tides Of Metamorphosis’ consists of three 11-minute songs that have many virtues and a few debutant flaws.

Fredriksson’s music is a platform from which glorious, gothic choirs send out their heavenly hymns, and his deep, sinister growls are an ugly counterpoint to these synthesized moments of beauty. There is an interweaving disharmony between the rich guitar tones and the extravagant keyboards that creates beauty and tension, although the pattern becomes slightly predictable at times.

Strangely, opening song ‘The Tides’ keeps stopping between sections as if taking a breath. If used just once or twice, these pauses might be considered an effective tool, but repeating them so often becomes a distraction. Thankfully, the inelegant arrangement that afflicts the first track does not tarnish the second and third.

On ‘The Longing’, Dysphorian Breed’s languid death-doom is embraced by warm, dense synthesizers that sound like they came straight from a 1980s movie set. The song’s spine is a straightforward ascending riff, which is interspersed with sludgy nastiness, including clattering bass drum and snarling groove, to create a cacophony that is straight out of the pits of Hades. It’s all meshed together into a cohesive and pleasing composition.

Opening with a great, memorable riff, the third and final track, ‘The Metamorphosis’, has a genuine, invigorating sense of emotional release and musical catharsis. As ever surrounded and embellished by the grandiose keys, the guitars weep and sway to begin with. Then, temporarily at least, the gothic drama subsides and anger and attitude come to the fore, making this the most varied, intriguing and unpredictable of the three.

Fans of keyboard-driven funereal doom will not find too many surprises here, but will be satisfied with the quality and patience of Dysphorian Breed’s debut. The songs do not quite reach the high pinnacles that they sometimes threaten to scale, but with a little more complexity and experience added to the mix, ‘The Longing For The Tides Of Metamorphosis’ could yet be the start of something great.

http://dysphorian.bandcamp.com/releases