REVIEW: Hearserider ‘Demo Tape 2015’

‘Demo Tape 2015’
(June 2015)

These Belgian fuzz pedlars emit some heavyweight, up-tempo stoner doom with frenzied eagerness. The two tracks on this enjoyable demo (‘Green Nebula’ and ‘Thora’) flow like unstoppable orange lava, destroying villages, towns and anyone fool enough to stand in their path.

Hearserider’s sludgy, raging stoner racket sounds like High On Fire in a food mixer. The gravel-chewing vocals are slightly monotone and would serve the songs much better if a touch of melody was added to create more light and shadow – but the raw energy and spirit is devastating.

It’s always great to come across a band with a name that makes you smile. And when they can follow the name up with music that has the power to blast your beard off, you’ve got a surefire recipe for success. So get on board this out-of-control corpse-wagon and take a wild ride into a new world of bustling Belgian doom.


ALBUM REVIEW: Witchhelm ‘Conjuring’

Wyrmwood Records, May 2015

Take Pagan Altar, Cough, Pylon, Count Raven and Bathory and send them to Ohio, USA and this might be what you’d get. Another solo project from Sean Deth, the man behind Lucian The Wolfbearer and others, Witchhelm play solid, sinister riff-based doom metal that is unhurried, implacable and – sometimes – a little too straightforward.

With a name inspired by the video game Skyrim, and based around occult and horror themes, Witchhelm concoct some potent droning hymns of misery. The weird vocals will haunt your dreams for a while, the rumbling bass seems made of molten concrete and the guitars reach for the sewers as well as the skies, with acoustic interludes helping to create a broader atmosphere.

Powerful tracks such as ‘Spellbinder’ and ‘Phooka’ provide plenty of magical moments, but across the whole of the album there is perhaps not enough variety or versatility to make a consistently engaging impression. Perhaps that is because the echoing vocal effect becomes slightly predictable as the album progresses, or maybe it is because it is sometimes difficult to feel much passion shine through the neatly-managed guitar playing.

Whatever the reason, the debut album from Witchhelm only manages to conjure its dark spell intermittently – capturing your imagination in fits and starts even if it might not wholly win your heart.

ALBUM REVIEW: O.D.R.A. ‘Sexnarkoman’

BSFD Records, 2015

“Maybe this is not pure original music, but it’s true and full of rage.”

And in that moment of honesty and clarity, this Polish sludge crew elegantly summarise a wonderfully noisy and highly-energised album that’ll make you feel good about feeling like shit.

No, O.D.R.A’s music is not always unique, but nevertheless, ‘Sexnarkoman’ is a thorough convincing and enjoyable romp of bluesy punk-doom that rips the room to shreds.

The Slavic language makes the lyrical content accessible to none but a lucky few, but regardless of that barrier, the passion shine through like a police searchlight into your retina. Don’t expect sophisticated, drawn-out compositions or epic, catchy choruses – this band is in a hurry to drown you in pain.

O.D.R.A. stomp ferociously through a swamp of pain, telling ancient stories of the old Silesia region of Europe / Poland in a raw and wild-eyed style. The Polish band’s take on sludge metal is succinct and angry – the kind of barely-controlled rage that is a beautiful blast from the past. And it’s not just about honouring the past – ‘Sexnarkoman’ really gets into your face in the hear and now.

Underlying the sweat and fury is a warm, bluesy groove that binds the album together like glue. There is heart and soul behind the slow, crunching riffs and thrash power. Get drunk, get angry and listen to ‘Sexnarkoman’ – it will enrich your life.

ALBUM REVIEW: Saturnine ‘Mors Vocat’

‘Mors Vocat’
Terror From Hell Records, 2015

This all-female power-sludge band from Italy don’t have a very high opinion of humans. Their debut album ‘Mors Vocat’ (Death Calls) focuses on humankind’s innately self-destructive nature and the shadow of imminent death that we all face with varying degrees of terror.

Bleak and yet bold, ‘Mors Vocat’ is an impressive volley of lumbering misery, featuring seven solid slabs of Italian doom metal. You know you’re in safe hands as you listen to the songs surge and progress through natural transitions and intuitive journeys, with barely a note out of place.

Saturnine’s gigantic guitars immediately create an atmosphere of apocalyptic devastation and fear, while an ever-present undercurrent of Celtic Frost-style groove (such as on ‘Empire Of Guilt’) adds another level of dark energy to the music. Beneath it all, the lively and intriguing bass-playing adds yet more interest and depth to the songs.

The riffs sound like the planet being torn apart, and the sinister growled vocals erupt like the burning magma spewing from the Earth’s shattered crust. Those rasping vocals are genuinely scary, although a touch more variety in the delivery might help to convey a broader spectrum of emotion.

‘Crimson Sand’ is one of the tracks that doesn’t really ever get started, while one or two other sections seem to get a little bogged down and lost. But, generally, the quality remains high throughout ‘Mors Vocat’. Saturnine’s compositions rarely rely on repetition or sheer heaviness – these songs are unrelenting, but in a way that draws upon intelligence and invention as well as muscle.

ALBUM REVIEW: Plagueprayer ‘Forgotten Witchery’

‘Forgotten Witchery’
GSP Music, May 2015

Creepier than a zombie centipede and slower than an arthritic sloth, Plagueprayer is a “horror funeral doom” solo project by Aimeric, whose work as Abysmal Growls Of Despair is equally horrifying.

As a bleak, haunting and deeply personal examination of suffering, listening to this album is like reading the diary of a suicidal vampire – you know you shouldn’t do it, but the ghoulish temptation is way too strong to resist.

So welcome to 50+ minutes of glacial emptiness and desolation. The music – when it appears amidst the plaintive, sorrowful synths – is agonisingly slow and patient. And yet there is invention to be found, occasional diamonds in the darkness, where melody and beauty appear tantalisingly close before disappearing into gloom once more.

This soundtrack to depression is hardly rewarding. The delightfully dark keyboards offer hope, but time and again the misery overwhelms them, and life’s daily terror and torment engulfs us. At times, Plagueprayer’s guitar tones sound like they are crawling into your skull and might lie there eternally.

So check this out, but tread carefully.

ALBUM REVIEW: My Life’s Despair ‘Invoked With Passion And Pain’

‘Invoked With Passion And Pain’
April 2015

‘Invoked With Passion And Pain’ is My Life’s Despair’s debut album, coming 21 years after the Gothic doom band from South California was conceived – initially as a solo project – by drummer Larshus. Three demos followed between 1995 and 2001, before an EP was released in 2009. After abandoning work on a troubled concept album, Larshus joined forces with friend N. Sanity (geddit???) to create something new.

Most of the songs on this long-awaited debut full-length are well balanced and expertly crafted, building momentum and drama with great patience and control. The album has a distinctive early 90s feel – an innocent and genuinely cathartic approach – while the influence of embryonic Tiamat is very apparent.

The album’s biggest issue, however, is that the DIY production leaves it sounding a little thin and flat, seriously reducing the atmospheric impact of the music. Songs such as ‘Patterns In The Chaos’ and ‘Apparitions Of The Sky’ would be truly spectacular with a bigger, richer sound. The cover of Tiamat’s brilliant ‘A Caress Of Stars’ is not only placed a little too early in the track list to sit comfortably, but also reminds us of the flawed sound quality – it is all too apparent what we’re missing.

My Life’s Despair incorporate synths, pianos and operatic female vocals to great effect and while they could be integrated more delicately in some places, they augment rather than dominate. One or two songs are of lesser quality, with the Paradise Lost-esque ‘She Said Forever’ feeling rather pedestrian in comparison to other tracks, and ‘Dream Dimension’ adding little but frustration, but elsewhere it is clear to see considerable potential.

ALBUM REVIEW: My Silent Wake ‘Damnatio Memoriae’


‘Damnatio Memoriae’
House Of Ashes, 2015

This is death-doom out of the top drawer – fantastic riffs and great melodies put together by people who know exactly how to get the best results out of a strong composition. You can’t beat experience, and My Silent Wake have been doing this for a decade.

Well, they’ve been doing something a bit like this, at least. Their last couple of releases have been acoustic / ambient affairs, but perhaps all of that instrumental tomfoolery reinvigorated the band’s passion for heaviness. This album is similar to 2013’s enjoyable ‘Silver Under Moonlight’ in that it is good old-fashioned death-doom metal, but ‘Damnatio Memoriae’ is bigger, bolder, brighter and more hefty. It’s packed with instant favourites, such as ‘Of Fury’, “And So It Comes To An End’ and ‘The Innocent’, which dig their formidable claws into the mush of your addled brain and consume you.

The album was recorded at Priory Studios, UK, with Esoteric’s Greg Chandler, who adds some guest vocals into the mix, while Martin Bowes’ charming synths add depth and atmosphere. Each song is packed with goodness, making each one a rich and rewarding experience in its own right. Together, the eight tracks combine to form a consistently impressive and cohesive offering.

Ian Arkley’s vocals are pretty feral, a perfect match for the lean and cruel riffs. At times he sounds like an undead version of Nick Holmes, and there is undoubtedly a classic, early 90s death-doom feel to the album, without ever sounding dated. In fact, Paradise Lost would probably be proud to call ‘Damnatio Memoriae’ their own – it’s considerably stronger then most of their own output in recent times.

‘Damnatio Memoriae’ is a masterful album that My Silent Wake should feel extremely proud of – it’s full to bursting with deathly, Gothic-hued brilliance and the quality never lets up. Far from silent, and more of a rebirth than a wake, this is My Silent Wake sounding better than ever.

My Silent Wake are running a Pledge Music crowdfunder to get the album out on vinyl:

ALBUM REVIEW: Apothecary ‘Drifting Towards The Ancients’

‘Drifting Towards The Ancients’
Self-released, 2015

This uneven five-song album sees sickly death-doom go head-to-head against Sabbathy traditional doom. The band’s wonderfully evocative name might suggest stoner or occult tendencies, but that would be misleading.

There is plenty of action lurking within ‘Drifting Towards The Ancients’ – the band string together lots of great ideas but there is little sense of cohesion or direction. While this may be deliberate (if the album’s vague-sounding title is any kind of clue), the lack of a clear purpose or vision leaves the listener bereft and bewildered.

Amidst the soupy mix, malformed riffs lurk within awkward, disparate arrangements. Ugly, raw vocals give way to disharmonious clean singing. Rusty guitars tones fight with clanking drums. Sometimes it works well, but more often the songs struggle for air, each element battling against its neighbour.

The eleven-minute epic ‘Gamma Soul’, featuring a glorious opening, is the standout track on the album – its simplicity and grandeur demonstrate that Apothecary can build momentum within a song, even though it later wanders off into a slightly indulgent solo before altering course during its second half.

Apothecary were formed in 2012 in Little Rock, Arkansas, USA and, following a 2014 EP, this is their debut full-length release. There are numerous moments of hope and glory to be found on ‘Drifting Towards The Ancients’, such as the disturbing death-doom of ‘Into The Cauldron’, but overall too little consistency for the album to work as a whole.

ALBUM REVIEW: Nightslug ‘Loathe’

Broken Limbs / Dry Cough / Lost Pilgrim Records (June 2015)

Does life have to be so horrible? Can’t we all just smile and laugh and listen to David Guetta songs while pretending that the sun always shines??? No, we can’t. And Nightslug are here to remind us, in no uncertain terms, that everything in the universe is shit.

This German sludge trio might bear a name that’ll put a grin on your lips, but thereafter everything becomes serious. Intensely serious. ‘Loathe’ is heavier than an anvil sandwich; it’s heavier than Angela Merkel’s briefcase. This ferocious album is so abrasive that it’ll turn your ear holes into a raw, bloody mess and then urinate into your brain.

Amongst the seven, snarling tracks on offer are some lumbering, plague-ridden monstrosities (including the immense ‘Disease’), some faster-paced blasts of repulsive noise (for example, ‘Under A Bane’) and a few sparse phlegm-balls of weirdness (‘Pure’).

And then, abruptly, it’s all over, and you might find yourself staring at the wall, shaking, or vomiting into a bucket, disgusted with life, disgusted with yourself, and most of all disgusted with Nightslug for injecting their bile into your mind.

But remember, these German sludge bastards are doing you a favour. Thanks Nightslug!

ALBUM REVIEW: Sea Witch ‘The Blackened Sea’

‘The Blackened Sea’
Self-released (April 2015)

Sea Witch, a two-piece from Nova Scotia, Canada, create slow, atmospheric blackened doom of a decidedly wet persuasion. ‘The Blackened Sea’ is a droning, instrumental funeral procession, a dark and terrifying voyage across an unfeeling ocean. This is the kind of music that blue whales listen when they are feeling particularly blue.

Sea Witch’s shuddering bass might reduce your house to rubble. It’s so heavy it makes the oceans quiver and jellyfish explode. Cymbals crash like mighty waves against immovable rocks, while tremolo picking adds a sinister sparkle and tension to the sheer weight of the riffs. And the lack of words serves to emphasise the vast loneliness of the ocean and keep safe its dark secrets. Only the occasional glimpse of an accordion offers any hint of humanity amid the soggy wilderness.

Suffice to say that Sea Witch’s songs are not overly complicated. But they are more subtle than simple, and almost always fascinating, which is quite an accomplishment given the pace at which they crawl. This Nova Scotia duo create a stunning soundscape, with tracks such as ‘Down With The Ship’ and ‘Call Of The Leviathan’ breathtaking in their calm desolation.

This is the third release from these master of the waves, and it’s a belter. There’s not a huge amount of nautical doom out there, with Ahab being perhaps the genre’s defining name, but these able seamen have certainly raised their flag, upped anchor and set sail for great doom metal dead ahead.

Abandon ship all ye who enter here!

ALBUM REVIEW: Demon Lung ‘A Dracula’


‘A Dracula’
Candlelight Records (June 2015)

You know how it is. You’re the Daughter of Satan, you fall in love, your lover dies, you kill some nuns, and then you destroy the world.

All in a day’s work for Demon Lung, whose new album ‘A Dracula’ is the gleeful retelling of a gruesome story inspired by the 1977 horror film Alucarda.

‘A Dracula’ is bigger, faster and more spectacular than its predecessor, the band’s excellent debut ‘The Hundredth Name’, and while it may not be a huge creative gamble for the Las Vegas quintet, it’s a step up in every department.

Clad in white gown and sorrowful expression, singer Shanda Frederick in undoubtedly the band’s focal point. She particularly enjoyed writing the lyrics for this album, and that relish oozes through in her performance.

Frederick’s voice sways and lilts with a delicately-controlled strength. It is at once tragic and snarling, dreamy and yet decisive. For all her gloomy power and vampiric passion, it would be great to hear even more variety from Frederick’s distinctive voice. She persists with a trademark slide at the end of almost every line, which becomes distracting.

On the song ‘Raped By The Serpent’, she demonstrates that when her vocals are more positive and invigorated, then the song can really come to life. Other standout tracks include ‘I Am Haunted’, which is a slow and patient triumph, and the gloriously understated epic ‘Gypsy Curse’.

Big, metallic riffs pummel and crash as the narrative proceeds to its striking conclusion, the guitars working in perfect partnership with Frederick’s Medusa-like charms.

Demon Lung draw upon a sludgy heaviness and apocalyptic drumming to create a thunderous, stirring sound. And yet some songs stubbornly refuse to burst into life, as was the case on the band’s previous album. These Nevada wizards prefer to downplay their own epicness in order to maintain a relentless state of tension.

‘A Dracula’ is consistently engaging and mesmerising work of creative misery from these stylish Las Vegas doomsayers.

REVIEW: My Lament ‘Sorrow’ (EP)


Solitude Productions (2015)

This five-track EP from Belgium’s My Lament contains some blissfully beautiful and bold moments. The follow-up to 2009’s debut album ‘Broken Leaf’, it sees the band – which has been in and out of existence since 2002 – in potent creative form.

My Lament create atmospheric and overtly emotional death-doom that has the power to turn your heart to ice. Generally slow, mournful and thoughtful, these Belgians also throw in some flashes of black metal fury. Clean vocals also make an occasional appearance, although with this style competing against the blackened rasp and the regular death growls, things can gets more bewildering than intoxicating.

The band seem determined to pour as much of themselves into each track as possible. The end result is that within each song there are elements that work really well, and also some that feel embryonic or unnecessary. Too often, songs seem unwilling to settle or unfold – and the EP can feel more like a series of creative moments rather than a complete and fulfilling whole.

The song ‘Night’, for example, starts off like it might develop into a mighty doom metal epic, but then takes a few sideways steps rather than building momentum towards a soul-flattening climax.

My Lament’s intimate poems of suffering and sadness are fascinating and surprising in many ways – you certainly never know what is coming next. Should they choose to smooth out their arrangements a little, then their heartfelt and engrossing death-doom might become considerably more accessible.

Listen here:

REVIEW: Conclave ‘Breaking Ground’ (EP)

‘Breaking Ground’
Self-released (April 2015)

This three-strong American sludge crew deliver a bristling clash of punk attitude and stoner groove that does not always dovetail perfectly.

‘Breaking Ground’ is a three-song EP recorded on 8-track analog equipment, meaning it gets up close and personal enough to be able to smell its rotten breath.

And talking of lung power, the vocals on this EP are what lets it down. While the guitar tones will make you gasp and the riffs will make your internal organs quake, the vocals might leave you cold. Raw and spit-flecked, they lack the melody required to work in tandem with the stoner hooks.

There is not enough quality in the raging timbre – it is not sufficient to simply shout over the top of a decent riff and hope for the best. And there are plenty of great riffs on offers here, such as the one on ‘Footprints In Blood’, which sounds like a cross between Black Sabbath and a grumpy rottweiler that’s just had its favourite toy taken away.

Then, on ‘Lifetime’, the guitars swing and groove with élan, while the vocals holler – creating an uncomfortable dichotomy. Finally, the third track, ‘Walk The Earth (No Longer)’ rarely gets out of second gear.

Conclave manage to create music that is pulling itself apart. The green shoots of promise are certainly present in the form of killer riffs, but the band fails to capitalise on these, opting instead for raging self-destruction. It is possible to merge funky riffs and raging vocals, of course, but it hasn’t worked particularly well on ‘Breaking Ground’.

ALBUM REVIEW: Ambivalence ‘A Land Of Myth & Magic’


‘A Land Of Myth & Magic’
Endless Desperation Productions (2015)

There is a wonderful innocence and even naivety to the death-doom stylings of long-defunct Australians Ambivalence. Imagine an earnest and enthusiastic combination of early Amorphis, Candlemass and Skyclad, with unexpected bits of Bolt Thrower and Opeth thrown in. Sounds too good to be true? Well, almost. Unsurprisingly, things get a little jumbled and distracting, but more importantly, this album – released for the first time since it was recorded back in 1998 – is a huge amount of fun.

Angelic soprano vocals burst like sunlight from between the grey clouds, fiddles jump out from behind trees, synths creep in from hidden places… creating an intriguing and often very rewarding doom metal sound. An uneven mix makes it sound like some bits are made from Lego, but more often than not, the band’s energy and power is able to break through and the musical mash-up works well.

Songs tend to be fairly short and sometimes feel slightly rushed, as if arranged in a food blender. But while the album may be riddled with mistakes and misjudgements, to err is human – and Ambivalence’s unrefined humanity is a very welcome addition into the modern, sanitised metal industry.

Ambivalence had discarded their early black metal tendencies by the time they recorded this album (and the 1997 four-track demo that is also included in this stylish package from Endless Desperation Productions). Unable to get a distribution deal, the Aussie band split up in 1998, but there is certainly enough evidence on ‘A Land Of Myth & Magic’ to suggest that if they had carried on they could’ve created something special.

In this uncovered little treasure, we get a fascinating glimpse into the 1990s death-doom vibe and a great reminder of a band that lived only briefly but squeezed a lot in while they had a chance.

ALBUM REVIEW: Galvano ‘Trail Of The Serpent’

‘Trail Of The Serpent’
Candlelight Records (May 2015)

Swedish sludge duo Galvano create a rumbling tumult on this four-track, 40-minute-long album, the follow-up to their 2012 debut ‘Two Titans’.

The Gothenburg-based partnership has been unleashing mayhem for a decade and their experience shines through in the controlled, fluid arrangements on offer. ‘Trail Of The Serpent’ wraps you in a warm, thick woollen blanket and then tries to squeeze the breath from your lungs with unremitting cruelty.

The dense, fuzzy embrace that this duo create purely with guitar and drums is airless and suffocating. They create a strangely withdrawn and muffled sound, their passion and ferocious distortion buried beneath layers of pain and filth. Like High On Fire in a steaming bog, slowly sinking and drowning.

There is excellence in their music – particularly in the opening song ‘The Gathering’, with its distant, plodding groove – but perhaps too little differentiation or diversity to really stand out. The remainder of the album continues in a very similar pattern, skirting a line between hypnotising mastery and crippling drudgery. Most importantly, the gurgling vocals become slightly one-dimensional as the album proceeds, and do not consistently draw you into their emotional grip.

Galvano’s ‘Trail Of The Serpent’ is an album of slick and savvy sludge that sometimes gets stuck in a rut, where it writhes and slithers unpleasantly.

ALBUM REVIEW: Black Forest ‘Sadness’


Endless Desperation Productions (2015)

With a sound and style that harks back to the formative days of death-doom metal, Black Forest were once known as the Russian version of My Dying Bride. Callow youths when this album was first recorded back in 2000, there is plenty of muscle, menace and misery to be found within their dramatic and melodic music.

‘Sadness’ is a marriage of melancholic pianos, weeping violins, wailing guitars and low growls in the grand tradition of British masters such as Anathema and MDB. Poor production quality on the original recording led to delays, until a reworked version that the band was happier with was finally released. Though numerous imperfections remained, the album was very well received in the local Russian market.

Black Forest then split up, with some members preferring to switch to the more popular death metal style, and the band’s huge potential was never fully realised. A decade and a half later, Endless Desperation Productions have brought Black Forest back from the dead with a nicely remastered version of the album.

‘Sadness’ is in places a flawed masterpiece, not only tapping into the black vein that began in the UK in the late 1980s but also adding their own sour and shuddering woe to the mix. A few clumsy moments aside, this is an elegant, fluent, well-paced procession of gloom, truly classic death-doom with plenty of unique touches. There area few awkward trip-ups, but nothing as cheesy as some of the stuff that My Dying Bride themselves have served up over the years.

Powerful tracks such as ‘Disappearing Pain’ have a timeless strength and energy rippling through their doomed verses. The production remains far from ideal, but it’s probably nothing you can’t live with. ‘Sadness’ may not have come out exactly as the band had originally intended, but Black Forest can look back on a mighty doom metal achievement with pride.