ALBUM REVIEW: Blue Snaggletooth ‘Beyond Thule’


‘Beyond Thule’
(Released: November 2014)

Play it loud and revel in the madness of Blue Snaggletooth’s joyous, cathartic stoner escapism. Considerable line-up changes since 2011’s debut album ‘Dimension Thule’ do not seem to have affected the Michigan, USA band’s core energy, and sole surviving member and songwriter Chris Taylor has concocted a relentless barrage of excellent riffs that his new colleagues help him to deliver with power and precision.

Taylor’s lyrics centre around classic fantasy and sci-fi themes, adding to the album’s unapologetically vintage vibe. This is definitely natural rather than nostalgic, though – Blue Snaggletooth may be fuelled by the forefathers of 1970s rock and metal, but their skill and vigour ensures that they sound modern and original. You might find traces of Grand Magus, Kyuss, Fu Manchu, Priestess, Hawkwind, QOTSA, Pearl Jam or Monster Magnet, but essentially Blue Snaggletooth are their own masters.

‘Beyond Thule’ kicks off with ‘Reptiles’ and it’s immediately clear what’s in store: a wall of crunching guitars that churn out tight, lively riffs. The album’s second song ‘Sleeping Mountain’ is perhaps the standout composition, combining groovy, melancholic and doomy rock with a delicious chorus, and showcasing a penchant for epicness that befits the spectacular lyrical scope.

The second half of the album hints at elements of “proto-doom”, although leaning more towards Budgie and Pentagram than the bleakness of Black Sabbath. There are a few slowed-down moments, such as on the song ‘Gawkers’ (one of the few tracks than drifts off-course slightly), but generally Blue Snaggletooth succumb to the intoxicating lure of high-octane stoner celebration.

A number of the songs are over almost before they begin, resulting in an occasional failure to capitalise on great ideas. But the flip-side of that complaint is that you’re left with an album that is almost entirely trimmed of fat – ‘Beyond Thule’ is a lean and muscular stoner rock beast.


ALBUM REVIEW: Caskets Open ‘To Serve The Collapse’


‘To Serve The Collapse’
Ranka Kustannus
(Released: 21 November 2014)

Not only is this casket open, but the corpse has jumped out and is currently chewing the feet off the shocked and terrified congregation.

Caskets Open are blessed with a knack for making even the simplest riff sound ground-breaking, adding their fierce Finnish fire to the icy chill of traditional doom to create something amazing.

Caskets Open describe themselves as “slow rock”, but that scarcely does justice to the depth and intrigue of their sound. From slow, evil, pulsating riffs to thunderous hardcore energy, they are certainly doing things their own way. This is not a band trying to please anyone but themselves by following occult trends or feigning misery – they simply follow their hearts and their passion floods out through the music they compose.

The quality never lets up – ‘To Serve The Collapse’ is remarkably consistent release, packed with excellent new material plus a couple of re-recordings of the best stuff from their recent demos.

In particular, the album closes with ‘I Don’t Mind’, a spectacular track originally to be found on the band’s exciting 2008 demo ‘Buried Upside Down’. It sounds better than ever – effortlessly mixing epic and aggressive with a level of success that few bands manage. Timo Ketola’s clean, impassioned vocals are more sour than sweet as he leads us into his world of pain.

Slice into Caskets Open and you might find veins of Paradise Lost, Cerebral Fix, Saint Vitus, Reverend Bizarre, Candlemass, Witchsorrow… There are reflections of Type O Negative in the sudden bursts of punk violence, and these faster sections only serve to highlight the regal grandeur of the slower songs. Often, the band manages to cleverly combine opposing elements into one whole, such as on ‘Humanist’ where choral backing meets hardcore ferocity.

The songs grow and blossom like lung cancer, taking you ever closer to pain and death. From the brilliant elegance of ‘Phantom Wood’ to the unstoppable force of ‘Mayhem’, this album is at once angry and epic, deeply personal and yet highly accessible. An amazing release that keeps giving – go and buy it immediately.

REVIEW: Avatarium ‘All I Want’ (EP)

Avatarium - All I Want - Artwork

‘All I Want’ (EP)
Nuclear Blast Records
(Released: 14 November 2014)

Avatarium’s self-titled 2013 debut album was an enjoyable mix of Candlemass-style riffery and gloomy rock – it was the sound of a band settling into its sound. And a taste of things to come.

One year on, the band – the latest incarnation of doom king Leif Edling – has blossomed into something spectacular. The final track of that debut (‘Lady In The Lamp’) resounded with echoes of 70s rock, and here Edling has followed that path to a vibrant conclusion.

Drawing inspiration from his old vinyl collection, Edling, together with guitarist Marcus Jidell (ex-Evergrey), has created a vibe that merges the flamboyance of Rainbow with the precision of Judas Priest, the jauntiness of Jethro Tull, the accessibility of Scorpions, and – yes – the intrinsic heaviness of Edling’s crowning glory, Candlemass.

The results are fantastic: two new, simple, elegant songs that burst into existence like fresh water from a mountain spring. The lively opening title track is at once epic and ravenous, sounding free and spontaneous but still tightly controlled. And then comes ‘Deep Well’, a gently-growing monster that could have come direct from the 1970s and yet maintains a modern, doomed charisma.

Jennie-Ann Smith’s vocals are pained and delicate, but whereas previously they had seemed slightly hesitant, now they are bold, proud and entirely compelling. Not only does she deliver a mournfully melodic masterclass, but Smith also throws in some dashing, vintage rock’n’roll flourishes which add character. It seems like we are now getting to know the singer through her performance: Smith is not Messiah Marcolin (he’s far prettier, of course!) and now she is letting her own personality shine through.

This EP also showcases the fine skills of keyboard virtuoso Carl Westholm. A consistent collaborator with Edling, Westholm’s synths are rather more restrained here that they are with his extravagant sci-fi-inspired project Jupiter Society, but they add a subtle depth and colour to Avatarium’s rich sound. This is particularly evident on the live recordings (from 2013 Roadburn Festival, the band’s first ever show outside Sweden) that make up Side B.

Candlemass plus Rainbow equals awesome. Leif Edling’s Avatarium have hit upon a winning formula with this instantly loveable EP – it’s a timeless mini-classic of modern doom.

ALBUM REVIEW: Barabbas ‘Messe Pour Un Chien’

Messe pour un chien

‘Messe Pour Un Chien’
Released: November 2014

French. The language of love, of romance, of poetry. And now, thanks to Barabbas, of idiosyncratic, versatile doom metal that on occasion is so sexy it’ll get vous hot under le collar.

However, from the moment you realise that the album’s title translates as ‘Church Service For A Dog’, it is clear that nothing here is clear. Far from being poodle-pampering Parisians, this band from the suburbs of Combs-la-Ville deliver potent, passionate music from the heart. In places, ‘Messe Pour Un Chien’ transcends the confines of genre tagging. Yes it is undoubtedly doom metal at its core, but this is curious, elemental heavy music that crosses boundaries.

From gothic church organs to a brief Diamond Head homage, it is difficult to define the personality of this band. Most visibly, Barabbas play thundering, glowering stoner doom with raucous, rough-hewn vocals and vital, vicious guitars.

The French band had promised something “dynamic and overwhelming” and they have certainly delivered on that. The album is packed almost to the top with richly rewarding material that offers the listener a real adventure. From the stylishly rising chorus of ‘Priez’ to the strange and beautiful synths on the title track, you get a sense of creative juices flowing freely.

‘Messe Pour Un Chien’ is also produced with great care and attention, showcasing the band’s solid songwriting skills. There are a couple of uptempo rocky tracks – ‘Moi, Le Male Omega’ and ‘La Beaute Du Diable’ – which neglect the heaviness and do not quite sit comfortably amidst the doomy density of the rest of the album.

But things quickly get back on track with the gloriously over-the-top ‘Judas Est Un Femme’ – and you don’t have to be multi-lingual to comprehend the meaning behind that song title. On this composition, a sludgy, filthy, mud-sucking riff is counteracted with a gargantuan choral chorus. It’s spectacularly enjoyable.

This album is full of surprises, character and invigorating doom metal. It’s the kind of release that can divide opinion while also appealing to a diverse audience, and such versatility demonstrates a band unafraid to experiment and explore its identity.

REVIEW: The Howling Void ‘Runa’ (EP)


Avantgarde Music
(Released October 2014)

In the case of The Howling Void’s ‘Runa’, EP stands less for Extended Play and more for EP-ic! This three-track mini-album is like a soundtrack to some fantastical Warhammer movie in which shadow and plague cross the land and all the good guys die. The End. There is a great deal of philosophical and mystical inspiration poured into the compositions, but it all boils down to a staggering end-of-days vibe.

This one-man band from San Antonio, Texas, has released four full-length albums to date, including 2013’s ‘Nightfall’, and the triumphant triumvirate of songs on offer here (two of which were also recorded earlier in 2013) mark a shift away from previous funeral dirges towards a more accessible and melodic “Celtic” style of atmospheric doom. New track ‘The Wolf And The Eclipse’ joins older favourites ‘Irminsul’ and ‘Nine Nights’ and the songs complement each other well.

‘Runa’ builds on the symphonic elements that can be found on ‘Nightfall’ to create an vast, misty landscape peopled by the dead and dying. The Howling Void draws in aspects of Moonsorrow, Hamferd and Falkenbach, including a blackened undertone, while weaving together tribal elements and tranquil keyboards that add warmth and depth to the multi-layered sound.

The vocals are occasional, clean, peaceful and passive as if unwilling to interrupt the grandeur of the music. The songs swell and build, surging ever-forward like an eternal war machine. Complexity and originality are not the focus here – ‘Runa’ is more a case of perfecting a certain sound; painting the background to a vision of the world. A precursor to greatness, perhaps, a taste of immense sorrows to come.

ALBUM REVIEW: Anguish ‘Mountain’

Dark Descent Records
(Released November 2014)

Anguish’s songs seem designed to confuse and disorientate the listener. If you have the patience to get into the required frame of mind, the fleeting, tangential nature of the eight tracks that make up this vertiginous ‘Mountain’ are kind of enthralling; a twisted masterclass of intriguing, unsettling doom metal.

The band hails from Uppsala in Sweden, and ‘Mountain’ is the follow-up to their debut ‘Through The Archdemon’s Head’ – a release that piqued the curiosity of the doom world in 2012. Two years on, Anguish might not have established themselves as a major influence within the genre with their latest album, but they certainly demonstrate a forceful personality.

‘Mountain’ has a schizophrenic split between traditional epic doom and raging restlessness. Singer J. Dee’s style is sometimes akin to that of Tom G Warrior, a mournful rasp of rebellion, and the guitars’ muscular discordant chug has echoes of old Celtic Frost. Agitated and awkward.

And yet Anguish blend all of that with the elegant, epic riffs of Candlemass, showing a slow and mighty mastery of traditional doom metal values – as well as a willingness to reach for the stars. Elsewhere there are elements of Griftegard and Pallbearer, but lacking the direct impact of those bands.

The golden-winged opening riff of the song ‘Master of Peak’s Fall’, for example, is spectacular, although the band seems unwilling or unable to fully exploit its potency, preferring to wander in search of the answer when the answer is staring them in the face. Therefore, despite the band’s vigour and creativity, some of the huge potential of these songs remains untapped by a refusal to focus on what works most simply and effectively.

There are many moments of overwhelming raw power and excitement scattered over this ‘Mountain’, and undoubted quality running throughout the album, particularly on tracks such as ‘The Woven Shield’. Among the cloudy peaks there are also some low, rock-strewn valleys, as ultimately ‘Mountain’ never quite settles into a satisfying rhythm – the relentless tempo changes and riff switches eventually become a little frustrating.

Is this ‘Mountain’ worth climbing? Yes, but remember to take a packed lunch.

ALBUM REVIEW: Alunah ‘Awakening The Forest’

Alunah Awakening The Forest

‘Awakening The Forest’
Napalm Records
(Released October 2014)

Alunah deliver a superior brand of tree-marrying, mushroom-juggling mystic misery from the midst of England’s darkest and most haunted forests. The becloaked Soph Day’s beautiful tones and liquid melodies have won these UK traditional doomers an army of devotees and an opportunity at a big label.

On this, Alunah’s debut with Napalm Records, Day’s unhurried and elegant vocal delivery is strong, inventive and completely captivating. The slow, dense guitars act as a stage for her eloquence, which can turn even a perfunctory Saint Vitus-style riff into a warm and soothing ray of sunshine.

‘Awakening The Forest’ is a natural step forward from 2012’s highly-acclaimed release ‘White Hoarhound’. Natural in that they continue their thematic adherence to the natural world as well as the spirit world, and natural too in the organic feel of the songs’ composition.

Tracks such as the immense, rumbling ‘Heavy Bough’ soar to great heights, their unabashed simplicity adorned with sweet vocal decoration and satisfyingly gigantic choruses. And while some songs do rely heavily on Day’s vocal input, there are also killer stoner riffs that stand up for themselves and build into a hugely consistent and satisfying album.

‘Awakening The Forest’ is more mature and more memorable than Alunah’s previous work. It is an album of accomplished, blossoming songwriting and meaty doom metal hooks.

The languid guitars intertwine like the roots of an ancient elm and the supremely tight rhythm section pounds and groans like the heartbeat of a forest. And while the band joyfully drive their steamroller through the woods and glades of their homeland, there is also a faint echo from an American desert as the gentle influence of Kyuss drifts through to underpin their hypnotising groove.

‘Awakening The Forest’ brings together psychedelic, stoner and traditional doom metal in an effortless and winning style. It’s a well-constructed and expertly produced album that places Alunah at the forefront of British doom.