ALBUM REVIEW: Goatess ‘Purgatory Under New Management’

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GOATESS
‘Purgatory Under New Management’
(Svart Records, April 2016)
7/10

The voice of Chritus Linderson (ex-Count Raven, Saint Vitus) is blissfully familiar. Listening to his melodic, Osbournian drone is like sitting in your favourite armchair, watching your favourite movie while sipping your favourite mulled cider, wearing your favourite underpants and having your stressed areas massaged by your favourite adult entertainment star.

Not that it’s all about the frontman. Following on from their self-titled 2013 debut and a period of uncertainty, Goatess have regrouped, bringing their considerable knowledge and skill to bear in a slightly new direction. ‘Purgatory Under New Management’ is more psychedelic than the band’s previous release, expanding beyond stoner doom without shedding the essence of Sabbath or the migraine-inducing tones.

The sheer charisma and quality of the voice and musicianship can mask the frustrations of the songwriting on this album. It seems that some of the songs deliberately refuse to fulfill their own potential, preferring to wander the haze of space at a leisurely 7mph.

The warning signs are there from the start. The first two minutes of the opening track ‘Moth To Flame’ suggest a work of drifting melancholy. Then the riff kicks in and Goatess are suddenly in full swing. But the early fears soon return when the song slides away into further ambiguity. The title track, similarly, features a strong central idea but simply repeats ad infinitum, presumably seeking to hypnotise rather than convince.

At more than an hour in length, the album could / should have been trimmed by some 25%, with tracks such as ‘Murphy Was An Optimist’ and ‘Wrath Of God’ failing to hold the attention or truly capture the imagination. This purgatory is the state of waiting for the songs to explode into life.

‘Shadowland’, however, is much more focused and urgent, although a rare inconsistent vocal performance undermines its impact. Best of all is ‘Silent War’, a barnstorming doom metal beast that’s reminiscent of classic Lord Vicar with a sprinkle of modern magic stoner dust. Here we see Goatess at their classy best, understated and powerful.

With its glorious Göran Nilsson artwork, ‘Purgatory Under New Management’ is certainly an album with a strong personality, while musically it’s a mix of colourful stoner doom and low-key psychedelic meandering.

https://goatess.bandcamp.com

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ALBUM REVIEW: Mantar ‘Ode To The Flame’

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MANTAR
‘Ode To The Flame’
(Nuclear Blast, April 2016)
8/10

The second album from the German/Turkish sludge duo (and first for the monster that is Nuclear Blast) is a gleefully furious and furiously inventive continuation of the band’s curious story.

Opening track ‘Carnal Rising’ is a cheap and cheerful eruption of power that represents their unfeasible power (how can two people create mayhem that sounds like the day the dinosaurs were wiped out?) but not necessarily their quality.

Then, after another song of pummelling rage, Mantar drop the pace and embark on some Cerebral Fix-style thrash-doom merriment, with a hint of the Dead Kennedys for extra flavour. ‘The Hint’ continues the slowed-down savagery – it’s a kind of blood-curdling sludge ballad of immense proportions, even introducing an epic church organ into the lo-fi mix.

Throughout it all, the pair take huge delight in their ability to devastate. Their thundering sound and stark intensity is the bare stage upon which their inventiveness can shine – ‘Born Reversed’ is a seemingly simple song of pounding mid-paced punk/stoner/black/doom that is laced with quirks and surprises. And by the time ‘Cross The Cross’ comes around, with its cheery rock-sludge sensibilities, it is clear that nothing is off-limits.

Even more than the band’s debut album, ‘Ode To The Flame’ takes the tropes and traditions of various genres and fucks with them like a cruel child. This experimentation, coupled with their ability to concoct crowd-pleasing arrangements, gives them a wide appeal. On the other hand, the disorientating fury spilling from this duo’s battered instruments guarantees a certain underground charm. Mantar’s latest release is a healthy mix of violence and elegance, power and adventure – and all using just a guitar and drums.

ALBUM REVIEW: The Temple ‘Forvermourn’


THE TEMPLE
‘Forevermourn’
(I Hate Records, March 2016)
9/10

“Made by doom fans, for doom fans.” So says the I Hate Records promo pack for this excellent debut album from The Temple. And while it’s clear that this Greek band is thoroughly immersed in the finest traditions of doom metal (drawing inspiration from Solstice and Warning, amongst others) there is plenty of originality, drive and sparkle coursing through their music.

Album opener ‘The Blessing’ kicks off in style – a refined and well-crafted melodic doom romp. And the quality continues on ‘Qualms In Regret’ – in fact, the quality continues throughout the whole album. The Temple have a very well-defined notion of what makes a “true doom” composition, treading a fine line between beauty and dismay while never falling into the twin traps of melancholy or indulgence. The magnificent ‘Mirror Of Souls’ and ‘Beyond The Stars’ find the band – who formed back in 2005 but attracted attention with a 2015 self-released EP of old material – in imperious form.

Vocally, lyrically and musically, The Temple position themselves within a familiar framework – and in these elegant shackles they excel. ‘Forevermourn’ may not be as profound as Warning’s masterpiece ‘Watching From A Distance’, but it’s not far off. Each song brings a unique quality and adds something new and delightful to the overall experience of the album. The Temple have an ability to switch between time signatures or add in new elements without losing momentum. All of which adds up to a consistently enjoyable series of exquisitely-judged, heartfelt songs.

The clean vocals of Father Alex come across as a little over-earnest at times, lacking both the subtlety to evoke wider emotions and also the range to make some of the grander section truly come alive. You’ll find no growling here, only epic, melodic, heavy, tradition-hugging doom metal of the awesome kind. The band could perhaps introduce some layers to their music and sound (particularly with regards the disparity between shuddering bass and piercing guitar tones) in order to give their music greater depth and warmth. At times, it seems like everybody’s simply doing the same thing at the same time, and while this might help to keep the songs focused and intense it can also feel a little ponderous.

‘Forevermourn’ is a massively impressive debut album of classic, melodic doom metal that should win The Temple many fans with its integrity, vitality and timeless misery!

ALBUM REVIEW: Immensity ‘The Isolation Splendour’


IMMENSITY
‘The Isolation Splendour’
(Hypnotic Dirge/Solitude Productions, March 2016)
7.5/10

The debut album from this six-piece death-doom band from Greece offers a vast ocean of suffering for the listener to dive into. Over the course of an hour or so, Immensity squeeze in a spectacular number of elements on this release.

The slow, regal riffs remind the listener of Daylight Dies, with echoes of My Dying Bride; the clean vocals provide an elegant foil to the growled misery; the keyboards and delicate picking create a subtly epic atmosphere. And while some of these interweaving elements sometimes interfere with the music’s heaviness, there is never a moment of boredom on ‘The Isolation Splendour’.

These Greek sorrow-sellers, who formed in 2009, have something in common with Opeth in their gently progressive momentum switches. In this sense, each track is a 10-minute saga, unfolding chapter-by-chapter and piece-by-piece. The down-side of this truth is that the album is exhausting to listen to – each individual part is well-executed and the songs are smartly constructed but they tumble over you like a gradual avalanche of emotion and musical drama.

When this style of composition works, it can be wonderful. Take the album’s title track, for example, which demonstrates the band’s confidence and sophistication by patiently building a monstrous song that’s packed with originality and personality. ‘The Sullen’, though, is slightly less impressive, feeling more like a series of concepts strung together to create a song.

This release features two remastered tracks from the band’s 2012 ‘The Lonely Aquarelle’ demo, and these are a little more in-your-face metal, which could be said to be more impactful and ferocious than their more recent material, but perhaps not as assured.

This album sets out to overwhelm you with epic misery. Aside from one or two moments of cheesiness (please stop whispering!), ‘The Isolation Splendour’ is a glorious debut from an ambitious and at times magnificent death-doom outfit.

ALBUM REVIEW: Universe 217 ‘Change’

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UNIVERSE 217
‘Change’
(Ván Records, March 2016)
7/10

This effortlessly smart and original doom-rock from Greece has more ups and downs than a game of snakes and ladders. On their fourth album, Universe 217 sound more vibrant than ever, as if Monster Magnet, 4 Non Blondes, Acid King, Mastodon and Foo Fighters all jumped into a jacuzzi together. The band have been busy since 2007 and all that activity has seen them reach a very healthy place musically and conceptually.

If heaviness is all you crave, then look elsewhere. Generally, Universe 217 are about as heavy as a hamster’s hiccup. But for thoughtful and interesting songwriting, as well as some serious doom-rock chops, this is the place to be.

The female vocals are big and brash. Tanya’s reverberating holler is not always beautiful but its power rips the air apart. The band’s adventurous spirit sees them unafraid to flit across boundaries, and their time signature switches and creative freedom always feel organic rather than deliberate or forced.

You can forgive the moments of post-blah vagueness – it seems to be par for the course to include some boring bits these days (maybe record labels actually insist on it…) because elsewhere there are moments of magic.

Demonstrating the band’s ability to keep the listener guessing – but never feeling too uncomfortable – is the track ‘Rest Here’, which sounds uncannily like Solitude Aeturnus, channeling Robert Lowe to create a doom-laden feast. Ironically, the song ‘Burn’ is slightly under-cooked, taking an age to wake up, then vanishing without trace. ‘Call’ is an effective tension-builder (before another sudden ending), while the 12-minute title track features a stop-start arrangement to keep everyone guessing.

‘Change’ is an appropriately-titled album that is consistently unpredictable. Some parts work better than others, but on this release Universe 217 have built up a fascinating alternative reality where anything goes.

https://www.youtube.com/user/Universe217band

ALBUM REVIEW: Haast’s Eagled ‘II: For Mankind’

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HAAST’S EAGLED
‘II: For Mankind’
(Holy Roar Records, May 2016)
9/10

The unique music of this wonderful Welsh trio has been described by Holy Roar Records as “kaleidoscopic doom” and “doomloungejazz”. While the latter description refers primarily to one particular part of one song (more on that later), the former is an appropriate summary of the band’s dazzling approach to doom.

Even more so than on their debut album, Haast’s Eagled bring together an intriguing array of sounds, elements and influences into a miraculous maelstrom. Thundering, heavy-as-hell sludge doom, featuring growled (gurgled) vocals, goes hand in hand with extended moments of mellow reflection, epic choruses, echoes of stoner doom, pianos and… jazz.

It’s the soundtrack to a very weird dream, and the excellent production somehow allows it all to breathe naturally. Imagine Alice In Chains, YOB and Dead Can Dance engaged in a honey-drenched death-match on the Moon, and you’re halfway there.

When the band manages to bring these conflicting personalities together into a cohesive entity (which happens about 75% of the time, with the rest being a joyfully bleak muddle) then Haast’s Eagled become a colossal force to be reckoned with – and a doom metal proposition like no other.

Opening track ‘Pyaaz Bhonghi’ is a masterly lesson in aural bewilderment. Later, the 20-minute ‘Zoltar’ features stunning monastic-style singing, embellished with some clean vocals. Then comes the eagerly-awaited, and rather brief, lounge jazz section (it kind-of-works), before the song retreats into searing doom metal. ‘Zoltar’ is a beautiful study in solitude and sorrow.

And finally, the closing track ‘White Dwarf’ (not the one with the Sabbat flex-disc), seems comparatively conventional, almost disappointingly ‘normal’ in its elegant structure and notable lack of saxophones.

The band’s 2013 debut album promised greatness and now, three years later, Haast’s Eagled have reached their huge potential with ‘II: For Mankind’. Yes, there are times when you wish they’d just get on with it. Yes, there are moments when things seem to go a bit wrong. But this is a band with an ambitious vision and the creative intellect to pull it off. Love it.

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Messa ‘Belfry’

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MESSA
‘Belfry’
(Aural Music, May 2016)
7/10

Unencumbered by commercial considerations, Messa welcome you into their own strange world on their own terms. Mixing ambient drones and occult doom, they possess a bleak determination, coupled with the grainy charm of vintage Pentagram and a modern femininity in the style of Windhand.

In between the album’s rumbling, crackling atmospherics, occasionally a song breaks out. And when it does it tends to be pretty excellent. ‘Belfry’ is blessed with a scattering of spectacular, effervescent moments. Moments when powerful, focused, direct doom metal takes over the world.

Seven minutes of sweet woe, the song ‘Babalon’ sounds like it has always existed in the deepest crevices of your psyche, while the pulsating ‘Blood’ is almost a work of genius but for the excessive hanging-around and clarinet abuse. Later on, the magnificent standout track, ‘New Horns’, has a gentle Viking vibe, like an Italian version of Falkenbach.

The long, sullen passages of grey droning might be off-putting to some, but patience is rewarded when the good stuff explodes into life.

ALBUM REVIEW: Curse The Son ‘Isolator’

 

CURSE THE SON
‘Isolator’
(Snake Charmer Coalition, March 2016)
8.5/10

A timely reminder not to judge in haste. The brawny but slightly awkward opening title track on this album suggests that the listener is about to enjoy some pummelling stoner doom that pays homage to the greats of the 1990s. Which in itself would be an excellent way to spend an hour or so.

However, as the third full-length release from this US trio – who formed back in 2008 – continues, the creativity blossoms, resulting in a gorgeously rich, energetic and often thoughtful collection of life-affirming stoner misery and magic.

Sludgy heaviness adds muscle to the band’s superior rock sensibilities – think COC on steroids. The bass guitar sounds like a blue whale’s bowels. And the vocals of Ron Vanacore are at times reminiscent of grunge god Chris Cornell (i.e. like a hot knife beneath your fingernails, but packed with personality). Likewise, you can hear echoes of Layne Staley or Dave Wyndorf.

Songs such as ‘Callous Unemotional Traits’ show the musical influence of Soundgarden and Alice In Chains, while elsewhere traces of Black Sabbath and Electric Wizard spill out like ale from a keg.

The deeply enjoyable and refreshingly simple ‘Hull Crush Depth’ features a funky Primus-style finale, while ‘Sleepwalker Wakes’ is just a fantastic, stately stoner anthem to chill to.

The album loses a percentage point of energy towards the end, but there’s still some consistently great stuff on offer. ‘Isolator’ is the sound of a mature band willing and able to explore itself, while not sounding like it’s trying too hard. Seriously impressive.

 

REVIEW: Morag Tong ‘Through Clouded Time’ (EP)


MORAG TONG
‘Through Clouded Time’
(January 2016)
6.5/10

These morose Londoners kick of their careers in misery with a throughly wholesome EP of sludgy stoner mayhem. They are not re-inventing the wheel with this earth-shaking racket, but they do what they do with confidence and style.

This is solid, straightforward music – heavy guitars, big, slow riffs, vocals flecked with suffering and a wee hint of artistry. Groove and melody surge through Morag Tong’s music like lactic acid through a pumping muscle.

The first two songs (‘Monolithian’ and ‘Godhead’) stomp along with a snarl firmly upon their lips, but while Morag Tong do the basics very well it’d be great to hear little more imagination or risk-taking amidst the carefully managed subtly and control. The title track, for example, is overly simplistic in places, building tension deliberately but failing to capitalise on that hard work. In the end, the track fizzles away rather humbly.

Closer ‘The Eyes Of Men’ gets proceedings back to a higher level, though, unleashing a monstrous riff and agonised vocals to create a stentorian call-to-arms for all the world’s woes.

 

REVIEW: Nest ‘Nest’ (EP)


NEST
‘Nest’
(Tribunal Of The Axe Records, January 2016)
6.5/10

Nest vomit out some primitive, economical sludge doom that will eat through your flesh and bones and turn you into a puddle of happy jelly on the cold, concrete floor.

Not to be confused with the crusty US doom duo of the same name, the band was founded by Swedish brothers Frederik and Jonas Husborn in 2011 (with Dave Terror on drums). Their shared punk and death metal influences help to maintain a high level of raw energy, ensuing that the songs always sound vivid and fully-charged.

Thunderous opening track ‘Born Against’ is a hard-hitting sludgy wonder, although it drags its feet a little towards the end, losing some of the initial impact. ‘Under The Sword’, with its memorable chorus, is perhaps the most striking of the five songs on offer. And, after 30-plus minutes of soul-sapping anguish, the EP’s closing song ‘Shrinewizard’ offers a meagre slice of comfort through the gentle groove of its central riff.

Apparently, the Tribunal Of The Axe record label was created in order to release a vinyl version of the CD the band had produced, by a friend who had been impressed by the seething bedlam that Nest emit.

Overall, Nest rely too heavily on the ferocity coursing through their strings, and one or two of the songs on this sturdy self-titled debut would benefit from an injection of musical variety and creative enterprise.

REVIEW: Valtiel ‘The Druid’ (EP)


VALTIEL
‘The Druid’
(January 2016)
7/10

The rotten sludge unleashed by this Alaskan trio is strangely uplifting. From the opening moments of the opening title track, Valtiel’s sweet disease blossoms in your flesh, the perfume of misery fragrant in the icy Anchorage air. And, for a while at least, everything makes sense as you are carried for nine minutes in the arms of The Riff.

The EP’s middle track, ‘Ignis Fatuus’, is comparatively unobtrusive, gently raging enough to merely ripple the waters of the soul. Entertaining and inventive, if not quite captivating.

Finally, ‘The Cult Of Valtiel’ is a snarling and bombastic (and possibly self-aggrandising) sludgy foray that threatens to get a little monotonous before veering off at its halfway point down a dark path of doom and gloom.

As a debut release, ‘The Druid’ is impressive. It begins magnificently, leading the listener confidently on a path through life’s bleak wilderness. But it ends rather innocuously, seeming to run out of fuel before reaching its ultimate destination.

ALBUM REVIEW: Lightsucker ‘Zammal’

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LIGHTSUCKER
‘Zammal’
(Argonauta Records, March 2016)
5.5/10

Lightsucker’s misguided stoner sludge rock flits between brief spurts of lightweight grooviness and tortured deathly trudge. ‘Zammal’ is a bit of bewildering jumble at times, never settling into a routine or pattern. And while that might be a good thing if the music was original and fascinating, sadly it is rarely either.

There are a few highlights along the way, a handful of addictive riffs that get the air vibrating. ‘All Out Reset’ has a certain bristling quirkiness and power, while ‘Sulfur & Jimson Weed’ is a miniature blast of fun. But ultimately the net result from these Finnish rockers is pretty underwhelming.

The vocals fluctuate from clean and flimsy to raw and rancid, with neither style being especially convincing. It seems that, true to its name, the band has sucked the light and life out of various genres, resulting in a barrage of largely derivative and heartless material. Even the album’s vague and impersonal artwork reflects the uncertainty of the music.

The track ‘Aesthetics Of Emptiness’ sums up the story of ‘Zammal’, opening with doomy glory, introducing some intriguing touches (ie. creepy whistling) and then descending into generic stoner fare. If the idea was to follow Orange Goblin and draw upon numerous influences to create some metal mayhem, then it has not quite worked out that way. Many of Lightsucker’s ideas are great, but they have not been bound together or forged into a focused whole.

ALBUM REVIEW: The Human Condition ‘Pathways’


THE HUMAN CONDITION
‘Pathways’
(December 2015)
7.5/10

This UK doom horde, featuring ex-members of Unsilence, Misericorde and The River, creates the kind of melancholic, melodic doom metal that you might expect from a band with that potent musical DNA. Fans of those bands will find in ‘Pathways’ a familiar sound and mood; warm tones, gentle tempos and fluid, drifting arrangements. It is doom in the vein of Warning, but perhaps not as sharply tragic or insightful.

Six years on from the band’s debut album, The Human Condition seem to have changed very little. ‘Pathways’ is a placidly epic take on life’s hardships and woes. Some of the songs are more memorable than others. The title track, for example, with its graceful guitar solo, is a slow and patient masterclass in misery, while the second half of ‘The Things I Should Have Said’ stands out as a bright spell amid the sullen malaise.

The glowering heaviness of ‘The Gifts I Gave’ creates a genuinely moving and involving song, packed with confusion, confession and musical drama. And, best of all, ’22 Years’ is eight minutes of blissful agony, during which the band’s progressive nature does not interrupt the momentum.

Elsewhere, those more fidgety tendencies can undermine the musical foundations of a song. The track ‘Chrysalis’, for example, rather than experiencing a transformative process, shifts between ideas and begins to lose its sense of direction.

Vocally, the regal concepts often out-strip the earnest delivery, which lacks the emotional dexterity to give tracks a stamp of individuality. Here, The Human Condition hark back to 90s doomsters Stillborn – traditional, beautiful, flawed.

Often magical and epic, sometimes frustrating, The Human Condition’s ‘Pathways’ is an ambitious and layered album that you can explore and enjoy over and over.

ALBUM REVIEW: Centipede ‘Sarnath’


CENTIPEDE
‘Sarnath’
(Inverse Records, March 2016)
7/10

Inspired by the likes of High On Fire, Weedeater and Metallica, Centipede pummel your senses with their stomping stoner sludge. The debut album from this Finnish trio (following on from their ‘Tar Pit’ and ‘Brazen Bull’ EPs in 2012 and 2013 respectively) is a wholly enjoyable and convincing experience.

Deliriously pleasing guitar tones, muscular bass and cataclysmic drum work combine to create a rippling sound reminiscent of fellow stoner-thrash-doom acolytes Mage. And this particular arthropod is happy to slow right down and crawl into your soul, then speed up to trample it with a hundred heavy boots.

‘Sarnath’ is an impressively mature and potent debut; it sometimes lacks a degree of freedom or impulsiveness, but it’s always resolutely committed to its filthy cause. Take the track ‘Frostbite’, for example: there’s nothing wrong with this song as such, but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. Despite its great power and energy, it simply doesn’t quite take off. Unsurprising, really, that a centipede should remain earthbound.

Similarly, ‘Black Mead’ is a well-crafted beast of a song, a whirl of furious groove. But it lacks an element of the unexpected – a change of mood or new sonic dimension – that would elevate it closer to greatness. While Centipede create some serious stuff, it sometimes feels quite safe, maybe too neat.

Throughout the album’s eight tracks, the vocals of Markus Nurminen (who also plays guitar) sound like a cross between a mustard-gas-sucking WWII veteran and a rabid buffalo. His voice is dominant in the mix and can feel a bit repetitive, distracting from the monstrous riffs.

The album’s title track finds the band at their most adventurous, and here they create a triumphant six minutes of towering, sweeping doom metal that hints at what this young band might yet go on to achieve.

‘Sarnath’ is a bruising release that’s packed with enormous, churning riffs and sludgy, breathless vitriol.