ALBUM REVIEW: Doomraiser ‘Reverse’


‘Reverse (Passaggio Inverso)’
BloodRock Records
(Released: January 2015)

Doomraiser have brought all of their considerable experience and craftsmanship to bear on their fantastic fourth full-length release. This is melody and muscle from Italy’s Eternal City and the band, who have been in existence for more than a decade, successfully combine excellent epic doom with good old metal chugging and more aggressive elements.

It’s an updated and sinister version of Solitude Aeturnus or early Paradise Lost – modern, mean and free of nostalgia. With its bombastic synths and thundering crescendos, ‘Reverse (Passaggio Inverso)’ is unapologetically epic and powerful, but yet the music remains grounded and honest, a fistful of worldly suffering. Doomraiser create a sometimes brilliant balance of oh-my-god-we’re-all-gonna-die, and what-the-hell-we’re-all-gonna-die – bold magnificence in the face of desolation.

One or two of the songs are slightly longer than they probably need to be, and perhaps wear a little thin as they plod on. But generally this is an impressively consistent album that’s packed with top-quality doom riffs and stunning vocal melodies. Singer Nicola ‘Cynar’ Rossi (male) expertly balances rough-edged verses with soaring, cathartic choruses. On a couple of occasions, in their grizzliest moments, Doomraiser begin to veer towards rumbling death-doom, but they always pull back before becoming genuinely ferocious, preferring the more thoughtful, melancholic atmospheres afforded by the epic style.

‘Mirror Of Pain’ is one of the standout tracks, with its chugging riffs, colossal chorus and irresistible, miserable groove. ‘Dio Inverso’ blossoms into a towering giant of a song, while ‘In Winter’ is a slow, simple and spectacular doom opus. Mixed and mastered by Billy Anderson, ‘Reverse’ is an album of quality, power and charm from a band that is the master of its art. Anyone who thought epic doom was a matter of history should pay heed to these Italian maestros, who have one foot firmly planted in the glorious past and the other raised to kick you in the face. Enjoy the suffering.


ALBUM REVIEW: The Slow Death ‘Ark’


Chaos Records (March 2015)

This is the third album from the Sydney-based sorrow-sellers, and it follows last year’s well-received split with Majestic Downfall. The Slow Death have been producing elegantly streamlined funeral doom since 2007, and their latest release sees them in excellent form. There are crawling riffs, gently mournful passages of picking and also liberally-indulged synthesisers, of the swooshing sci-fi variety and also the piano-forte sort. Repeat plays reveal the subtle differences that these keyboards make here and there throughout the album.

Pallbearer main-man Brett Campbell has once again signed up for guitar duties, and while he helps to deliver the kind of six-stringed heaviness that was maybe lacking from the latest Pallbearer album, the real focal point of the album is the constant duel between vocal styles.

‘Ark’ is the final recording from singer Gregg Williamson, who died of heart failure at the end of 2014. His slithering, festering growl is a diseased swamp above which rises the celestial lamentations of Mandy Andresen (Crone, Murkrat). This marked vocal split is a constant feature, and their voices – as well as those of guest singers -duel, harmonise, wail, spit and mourn.

‘Ark’ features six songs; five of them achingly long and processional, and the other a brief, atmospheric instrumental mercifully positioned at the halfway stage. Opening song ‘The Chosen Ones’ is a cataclysmic barrage of utter woe, and the mood goes downhill from there!

Some songs are more impactful than others: the mighty ‘Declamation’, for example, begins with a riff so appallingly miserable that your brain might temporarily shut down, and it then proceeds to crawl through a beautiful mist, offering glimmers of hope in the form of an alluring solo from Campbell, some angelic high-register work from Andresen, and even an chugging uptempo death-doom section. ‘Adrift’ is funeral doom heaven, ‘Perpetuate’ is big and epic, ‘Severance’ is awkward, ugly and less focused, while a handful of the riffs can feel slightly vague, as if designed to recede into the background.

The album is released as a limited edition (1,000 copies) by Mexico’s Chaos Records. Mournful Congregation fans will lap it up, while fans of doom metal in general will also find loads to enjoy lurking within this ‘Ark’, from the killer artwork to the superb interweaving vocal and guitar melodies. The Slow Death go gentle into that good night, and leave a low burning flame in the darkness.

REVIEW: Lavamouth ‘Smile Room’ EP


‘Smile Room’ EP
Self-released: February 2015

This North Carolina quartet play an understated brand of stoner rock that relies on solid, high-quality riffs rather than psychedelic meanderings or earth-shattering guitar tones.

‘Smile Room’ is their debut release, and it showcases a young band that clearly knows its craft – the four songs on offer here are all well-constructed and thoroughly convincing creative portrayals. Lavamouth bring a tight but unhurried COC-style groove and a Cerebral Fix-style vocal snarl, together with a seething punk undercurrent that never bubbles into overt aggression.

Lavamouth’s primary focus seems to be on the music rather than its potential impact, and they clearly write from the heart rather than in any kind of effort to stand out from the crowd. ‘Smile Room’ is not especially heavy or ground-breaking, but it’s hugely enjoyable. There is something of the timeless qualities of Kyuss, Cathedral or Lord Vicar in their delivery; it’s as much dark European basement as barbecue-hot North American desert.

Opening track ‘Fire In The Hole’ is elegant and easy-going. Ugliness and ecstasy co-operate on the song ‘Solaria’, while ‘Hide My Face’ is a charming but slightly simple composition. The fourth and final song opens with a dollop of NWOBHM, a doomified version of Saxon, before descending into sludgy irritation.

‘Smile Room’ EP is a cogent and credible introduction to a new stoner rock/doom band that can brighten up any room with its relaxed style, classic sound and solid hooks. Hopefully this is just an appetiser before a future full-length release that will see the band push their musical boundaries further still.

ALBUM REVIEW: Endlesshade ‘Wolf Will Swallow The Sun’


‘Wolf Will Swallow The Sun’
Rain Without End Productions
(Released: February 2015)

The debut album from this Kiev-based six-piece blends aspects of conventional funeral doom and death-doom and sets off on a journey into desolation without ever really settling upon its own identity.

Endlesshade successfully create an atmosphere of blissful damnation, and amidst the torturous misery there are various moments of glacial groove, synthetic revelry, blackened fury and musical progressiveness. The individual parts are always interesting and work well in isolation, but do not always bind together as a cohesive whole.

The title track is a good example of this, featuring numerous different sections that are stitched together to produce a Frankenstein’s monster of a track. Dark and scary, yes, but also slightly heavy-handed in certain places. Moments later, though, the song ‘Noctambulism’ counters this trend by gradually building towards a stunning emotional crescendo that leaves a listener gasping for respite.

One notable element of Endlesshade’s sound is the battering-ram vocal performance of Nataliia Androsova who is (though you might not have guessed until you hear the opening moments of ‘Edge’, halfway through the album’s near-hour-long duration) a woman. The agonised roar unleashed from Androsova’s throat sounds like an explosion in a Gillette factory, and yet it remains controlled and almost elegant throughout, a bit like Tom Warrior.

The guitars massage your ears like a rusty chainsaw and the drums add a gentle undercurrent of thunder. And while the keyboards occasionally feel a little undercooked, they generally add to the overall sense of exploration and emotional purging. At the end of the final song, ‘Truth Untold’, for example, the swirling synthesisers are expertly balanced against shuddering guitars.

Slow, grandiose and ferocious, Endlesshade’s ‘Wolf Will Swallow The Sun’ is an album overflowing with epic ideas and gut-churning pain. Some songs are more refined than others, some sound more bold and focused than others. But these Ukrainian soldiers of doom certainly know how to get your attention.

REVIEW: The Munsens ‘Weight Of Night’ EP


‘Weight Of Night’
Self-released: December 2014

The first thing you notice about The Munsens is that they are called The Munsens. The band’s name derives from a term used in the movie ‘Kingpin’ to describe natural-born losers. Inspired by some friends who had appropriated the daftness for their own daily usage, this US three-piece decided that the term fitted their own lives of skating and jamming.

The second thing you notice about The Munsens is that they create a sound akin to Electric Wizard or Sleep – ie. a sound so heavy, dense and filthy that your entire skeleton turns to pulp the instant they plug in. Listening to this three-track EP is like being trapped at the bottom of a mighty waterfall as a deafening torrent crashes around you, pinning you within the grip of its undercurrent.

The three songs on offer are slow and murky, trundling patiently, and their incessant pummelling is adorned with occasional melody and a fleeting stoner vibe. ‘The Hunt’, for example, is a bestial and modern version of early Sabbath that relies on sledgehammer repetition rather than sublime skill, but towards the end a compelling groove breaks out. Similarly, the song ‘Slave’ begins in a relatively buoyant mood before descending into a lachrymose plod.

The mournful, raw vocals may not be especially distinctive, but they are laced with passion. And that desire is also seen in the band’s willingness to tour and build their audience, happy to share their delightfully unpleasant sound with anyone fool enough to risk their own wellbeing.

But while the higher-tempo sections add energy, ultimately this EP is a bit too simplistic to stamp much authority on your brain. B-movie samples aside, there is little in the way of depth or versatility on display; but for sheer, magnificent, blistering power, few can match The Munsens’ shuddering tones.

REVIEW: Viajando ‘Counting Days’ EP


‘Counting Days’ EP
Self-released, 31 March 2015

Viajando’s ‘Counting Days’ EP is an enjoyable blast of stoner merriment. Each of the six songs on offer is a four-minute dose of guitar-led heavy stoner rock, featuring traces of Mastodon, Alice In Chains, Voivod, Metal Church and Kyuss.

The US trio concoct big riffs and play them loud. The tones are fuzzy enough to tickle your toes, the bass thick as a brick. And even when the music begins to wander off or feel less than inspired, the high-quality vocals of Taylor A mask any potential drop-off and keep energy levels high.

The same band member is also responsible for the drumming, however, which in places can sound a little safe and pedestrian, while the chattering bass drum interferes with the overall experience of head-nodding happiness. Nothing that can’t be fixed on the next recording.

Occasionally, Viajando enter darker and more emotive musical territory, such as on the thunderously gloomy standout track ‘Rogue’. Meanwhile, the song ‘Dead Mask’ shows early promise and passion with its twisting and idiosyncratic uptempo stoner riff, but then rushes into an undeservedly cathartic chorus before drifting off into uncertainty.

Viajando fit a lot of different elements into their brief songs, all within a solid stoner framework. In fact, they sometimes rush onto the next thing before the previous thing has become fully formed. The positive side of this bumble-bee approach is that songs never pause long enough to even think about becoming dull, which makes ‘Counting Days’ a pretty invigorating experience.

ALBUM REVIEW: Acid King ‘Middle Of Nowhere, Center Of Everywhere’

Acid King art

‘Middle Of Nowhere, Center Of Everywhere’
Svart Records
(Out on: 17 April 2015)

Ten long years after the release of ‘Acid King III’ this influential doom behemoth is finally back and better than ever. They may not have found time to get back in the studio over the last decade, but, led as ever by singer/guitarist Lori S, the San Francisco-based band remain fiercely committed to doing things their own way.

Inspired by the book ‘Say You Love Satan’ (about the acidic Ricky Kasso), Acid King formed way back in 1993, and immediately began emitting breathtaking heaviness. In 2015, they have added a few more layers to their bone-crushing sound; still heavy as a planet, but elegantly textured. “I wanted to add more depth,” says Lori. “It was important that we didn’t write the same record over and over again. This is a little moodier.”

“A little moodier” is something of an understatement. Written in 2013, these songs are expansive and emotional. They weave and flow like a mighty river, with smaller tributaries bringing new colours and debris into the swirling dark current. One of the doom scene’s true originals, Acid King are still dong the business, and their ability to remain fresh and original with the framework of slow ‘n’ heavy music is extraordinary.

Not many bands could pull off ‘Silent Pictures’, for example. With its droning monotony, this song could drown lesser talents, but such is Acid King’s charisma that it is utterly absorbing throughout its nine-minute lifespan. The same is true of ‘Red River’, a heavenly trudge… and in fact of pretty much every minute on this fantastic album.

The band’s charisma, which has remained constant throughout various changes of bass player down the years, is based on a potent musical chemistry. It’s inspired by Lori’s ridiculously awesome music and tones, bolstered by Joey Osbourne’s enthralling drum work and underpinned by Mark Lamb’s explosive bass. All of the instruments bustle and hum with energy, and they’re clear and alive in the mix (which should always be the case on any album, but frequently isn’t).

Acid King’s riffs are beautiful, a class apart. And they are brought to life by Lori’s bold, hypnotic vocal melodies. At times, it’s a perfect mix. It’s been ten years since the last album, but ‘Middle Of Nowhere, Center Of Everywhere’ is so good that it’s made the long wait worthwhile.

ALBUM REVIEW: Opium Lord ‘Eye Of Earth’


‘Eye of Earth’
Candlelight Records
(Released: 9 March 2015)

From the dreary region of England called the Black Country come Opium Lord – six red-eyed and haggard men lumbering under the weight of their woe. The avant-sludge that they carry wearily between them is bitter, raw and grim.

Following a highly-praised EP in 2013, their debut album offers a mere seven songs – one for each member of the band and an extra for luck – and each of these tracks is a short, sharp sonic assault. Opium Lord’s slow, angular riffs are crusted with dry blood, the rasping vocals drench you with misery, while creeping sound effects and experimental work bounce off the walls with rabid insanity.

The band’s molten aggression is poured into original moulds – each new song is a new experience that has evidently been finely crafted and carved, all while sitting within a distinctive and hard-hitting mix of math and fierce sludge. If anything, Opium Lord could let rip a bit more; free themselves of their ‘math’ leash and explode into unfettered fury. That said, the British band puts together some cleverly controlled and unique arrangements.

Listening to ‘Eye Of Earth’ is like having a cheese grater rubbed slowly over your face – agonising and delightfully cruel. This album is a solid and intriguing debut from a miserably debauched band with a lot to say – and the skill to say it with a fresh voice.