ALBUM REVIEW: Black Oath ‘To Below And Beyond’


BLACK OATH
’To Below And Beyond’
Doomentia/Elektroplasma, November 2015
7/10

Black Oath’s memorable 2011 debut album ‘The Third Aeon’ established a template of solid, Solitude Aeturnus-style epic doom metal that was massively enjoyable but perhaps lacked variety.

Since then, the Italian band has developed significantly, creating a peculiar blend of misery, versatility and originality. Less heavy and dense than their earlier work, the Milanese band’s third full-length release nevertheless finds them in a rich vein of creativity. Imagine a bristling combination of Hour Of 13, Ghost, Solitude Aeturnus and Trouble.

Black Oath have not moved away from their epic doom roots entirely, but today they approach their songwriting with a new, expansive approach that was beginning to appear on their 2013 album ‘Ov Qliphoth And Darkness’, and again the results are generally pleasing.

There are a few unwelcome gothic indulgences and cheesy moments – too much whispering for some listeners’ tastes – and some of the big choruses reveal a fleeting, unnerving pop sensibility.

The guitar tones are pretty lightweight, too, veering into rock territory – and the album would benefit greatly from turning up to 11 and getting some low-end rumble rather than focusing the mix so heavily on the (admittedly impressive) vocals.

But then, Black Oath prefer to refer themselves as playing “cursed rock musick” rather than doom metal or even doom rock, a conscious effort to disassociate their output from the powerful forces of sorrow that inspired their origins.

Mighty tracks such as ‘Healing Hands Of Time’, ‘Flesh To Gold’ and ‘To Below And Beyond (Ars Diaboli)’ – a song that does not in fact refer to a nasty medical condition – contain some outstanding melodious doom metal moments. Stylish, emotive, spectacular, but simply too lightweight… ‘To Below And Beyond’ is a curious, cursed album from a band that deserves respect for its undoubted creative enterprise.

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ALBUM REVIEW: Pale Horseman ‘Bless The Destroyer’

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PALE HORSEMAN
‘Bless The Destroyer’
Bullet City Records, November 2015
5/10

The third album from this Chicago industrial sludge outfit has transient moments of excitement. Inspired by industrial heroes Godflesh and old-school death metal crushers such as Obituary, this is grim and gruesome end-of-the-world fare with occasional glimpses of inventiveness and personality.

‘Caverns Of The Templar’ is reminiscent of Nothingface-period Voivod, while the opening track ‘Clear The Throne’ features some killer key changes that send doomy shivers down your backbone and into the ground beneath your feet.

Elsewhere, some of the riffs feel perfunctory and colourless ‘Pineal Awakening’, for example, spends the best part of eight minutes going exactly nowhere. Even the meandering guitar solo only serves to add to the frustration of chewing on a song that seems half-cooked.

‘Bastard Child’ kicks off like it’s about to fill the void with fuzzy doom, but then simply creeps towards an inevitable, unfulfilling post-metal denouement, a quarter of an hour later (albeit with a few graceful harmonies along the way).

The band’s multiple-vocal style is always intriguing, even if the growled vocals are not always convincing. Despite the vocal creativity, ‘Bless The Destroyer’ generally feels quite one-dimensional – the band’s energy does not often come across in the recording and the moments of magic are too few and far between.

REVIEW: Year Of The Cobra ‘The Black Sun’ (EP)


YEAR OF THE COBRA
‘The Black Sun’
DHU Records/Devil’s Child Records
6/10

Bass, drums, angelic voice… Seattle doom duo Year Of The Cobra are like a noisily buzzing, lo-fi version of UK traditionalists Alunah. The two bands share a passion for big, bubbly riffs, drifting choruses and the mighty Sabbath. Singer Amy Tung Barrysmith has a delicate, intoxicating voice, akin to Alunah’s Sophie Day, and she controls it admirably in order to possess your mind.

‘White Wizard’, the opening track on this snappy debut EP, instantly grabs your attention with its rippling bass lines and imaginative but simple vocals. Following that, the EP’s title track is a pretty straightforward stoner rock dust-up, before ‘Wasteland’ treads quietly and patiently through a sparse musical landscape.

Smart songwriting keeps you on your toes, although the levels of energy and originality drop off as the EP progresses. Judged on the opening track alone, Year Of The Cobra offer an unconventional and exciting new version of doom rock that simultaneously dreams and snarls as it takes you on a ride into fantastical darkness. However, the two other songs are fairly low-key and less likely to linger in the memory. All together, ‘The Black Sun’ is the sound of hope and dejection combined.

Full-length coming Summer 2016 – can’t wait to see what this US duo will do next.

ALBUM REVIEW: Mammoth Storm ‘Fornjot’

MammothStormFornjot

MAMMOTH STORM
‘Fornjot’
Napalm Records, November 2015
8/10

Ivory traders have been braving inhospitable weather conditions lately. Climate change is causing the Arctic ice to melt, revealing the remains of woolly mammoths frozen since the Ice Age. Mammoth ivory is legal and sells for enormous prices, apparently, so the hardiest souls head into the blizzards of Northern Siberia to dig for their grim treasure.

If you’re not an international ivory merchant, however, fear not. There is another type of Mammoth Storm to get your pulse racing – this beautiful, thundering new doom oeuvre from Napalm Records.

Named after a giant king from Norse mythology, ‘Fornjot’ is the debut album from Sweden’s Mammoth Storm, the brainchild of Draconian guitarist Daniel Arvidsson. It is a big step forward compared to the band’s encouraging 2014 EP ‘Rites Of Ascension’, being more ambitious and exciting than the earlier work.

The words “progressive” and “drone” have been used to describe Mammoth Storm, but neither is particularly appropriate. This is essentially good old-fashioned, bone-crushing doom metal, backed by a strong concept. The guitar tones could uproot trees, Arvidsson’s bass sounds like it wants to kill someone, and his vocals fall somewhere between a fearsome snarl and a thoroughly depressed groan. Gentle hints of black metal in some of the delicate guitar work add to the expansive, frosty atmosphere, as do the fleeting keyboards.

The album is unrelentingly slow, dense and bleak but it still courses with musical energy, especially on the glorious ‘Vultures Prey’. Elsewhere, ‘Horns Of Jura’ is reminiscent of Clouds-era Tiamat, while the patience and elegance of the title track is stirring in its unhurried simplicity, allowing emotional drama to build as you slowly drown in the low-end onslaught.

There are a small handful of moments (notably on the lengthy closing track ‘Hekla’) when the sludgy, doom-plod becomes mundane, but these aberrations pass and you are transported back to a snowy land of myth and misery.

This is a classy, thoughtful and intelligently-wrought album from a doom metal band on top of its game. The woolly name might suggest colossal riffs and shuddering tones – and you get those by the bucketload – but there are many other treasures to be found in this Mammoth Storm.

ALBUM REVIEW: Phased ‘Aeon’

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PHASED
‘Aeon’
Czar Of Bullets, November 2015
8/10

Creeping, Saint Vitus-style riffs, sludgy tones and drifting, spacey interludes prove to be a winning combination on Swiss band Phased’s latest album, ‘Aeon’.

These days the former stoner rock outfit prefer to keep it slow and downright miserable, rarely venturing beyond snail’s pace in their pursut of musical nirvana. Neither is there much evidence of founder Chris Sigdell’s noise-rock roots – this is more elegant, understated and heavy than the band’s previous recordings – although the commitment to psychedelic wizardry remains.

Phased have been referred to as the “Hawkwind of doom”, although for reasons unknown the band themselves call their music “motor doom”.

Sigdell’s confidently anguished vocals are as solid and steady as the shuddering chords of woe that his much-abused guitar strings emit. A second guitarist has been added since the album was recorded, so Phased will now pack an even meatier punch on the stages of Basel and beyond.

Phased are living proof that a good riff is pretty much all you need to create a compelling song. Bruising tracks such as the magnificent ‘Eternal Sleep’ and the oustanding ‘Seed Of Misery’ demonstrate the timeless power of a cool, simple doom metal riff when handled with maturity and a pinch of creativity.

Occasionally, and particularly on the track ‘Etched’, Phased head off on a long-distance space mission when perhaps a song might benefit more from staying focused and building atmosphere through smart writing rather than bleary-eyed repetition.

The album could handle a little more variety during its second half, but the pounding languor of Phased’s approach is, it must be said, delightful in its old-fashioned faithfulness. The Swiss band manages to stay true to the genre’s essential traits while adding its own flourishes to create a memorable album of fantastic spaced-out doom.

REVIEW: Return From The Grave ‘Three(p)’

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RETURN FROM THE GRAVE
‘Three(p)’
Argonauta Records. Nov 2015
7/10

A year on from their triumphant ‘Gates Of Nowhere’ album, this Italian stoner outfit returns with more otherworldly and highly-charged music. Their curiously-titled EP’s monstrous ten-minute opener ‘Timelessness’ touches the sky at times with its gigantic central riff and unique, huskily epic vocals. But the song abandons that initial momentum in favour of floating hypnosis during an extended mid-point break, and in truth the track feels less focused than some of the band’s previous output.

Second song ‘Soul’s Grime’ is the meat in the doom sandwich; a snarling, muscular stoner ride that is impossible not to love. Finally, ‘Sough’ demonstrates the band’s elegantly mature songwriting abilities and brings in an element of gloomy menace. When the song finally reaches its rumbling, grooving peak, after five minutes of building atmosphere, the echoes of Black Sabbath are plainly evident.

Overall, this EP is not as strong, tight and impactful as the 2014 full-length release. ‘Three(p)’ finds Return From The Grave seeking to explore new territories, but the process seems tentative in places, and the music can get momentarily lost amid endless possibilities. The band’s slightly changed line-up might take a little longer to fully settle before we see a return to the creative heights formerly achieved.