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: 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: 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.

ALBUM REVIEW: Womb ‘Deception Through Your Lies’


WOMB
‘Deception Through Your Lies’
Hypnotic Dirge Records / Solitude Productions (Nov 2015)
7/10

Spanish death-doom band Womb (not to be confused with the US stoners of the same name) have gritted their teeth and given birth to an album of emotional intensity and interweaving melody.

Part of a triumphant new partnership between doom labels Hypnotic Dirge (Canada) and Solitude Productions (Russia), the debut album from this Seville-based outfit is a mixed bag of complex, sour doom metal. It is sometimes vast and spectacular, other times tangled and uncertain.

The media promo info promises “catchy riffs, dense guitars and a sensual side” – and at least two of these are questionable. Generally, the slowly twisting riffs are about as catchy as a mountain (although the epic standout track ‘March’ does have a certain memorable quality).

The guitar tones are frequently airy and crisp rather than suffocatingly dense or heavy. In fact, the album might be even more forceful and effective if some fuzz and/or low-end was added to the mix.

There is, however, a concerted effort to explore a wide range of emotions, which results in an album of scope, texture and imagination.

There are moments of sheer, ululating brilliance, such as halfway through ‘Equidistant’ where the gates of Hell open up and eternal woe is unleashed upon your ear holes. But there are also periods of drifting banality, such as the shapeless ‘Forgotten By Her Bliss’.

Getting this album released in physical format has taken an impressive global effort, and the world should be thankful to all those concerned. Not least of all the gifted group of misery-mongers who have given life to this finely-crafted and tasteful slab of Spanish sorrow.

ALBUM REVIEW: Mammoth Salmon ‘Last Vestige Of Humanity’


MAMMOTH SALMON
‘Last Vestige Of Humanity’
Self-released, 2015
6/10

Calling it sludge would be to ignore the music’s rich, creative groove, calling it doom would dismiss the band’s ebullient nature, calling it stoner might suggest faster tempos than you actually get… So what shall we call it? Let’s just call it massive.

As the Oregon-based band’s ludicrous name suggests, this music is both redoubtable and elusive. Listening to Mammoth Salmon is like stripping naked and wrestling a rabid bear. It’s big, powerful, furry and has a deadly arsenal… but once you’ve done it, you feel an enormous sense of warm satisfaction.

Opening track ‘Ad Nauseam’ kicks things off with a deliriously groovy and pulverizing riff that grabs your throat and refuses to let go. Then ‘Acid Casualty’ continues in a very similar vein, but with a darker, Saint Vitus-inspired vibe.

The title track starts inauspiciously and, although it wakes up towards its stirring finale, the song fails to achieve any great momentum. From then onwards, the album starts to get more sparse and disjointed, requiring patience and perseverance from the listener.

‘Memoriam’ is the sound of a bloodthirsty ogre trampling a village but the beast runs out of puff before it can sink its teeth into any meat. Elsewhere, the middle section of ‘Shattered Existence’ sees the band in full swing, desperate and heavy, while ‘Believe Nothing’, as its name suggests, simply provides 10 minutes of futility and emptiness.

There is a stirring humanity and honesty to the songs, although that personality is sometimes drowned by fuzz, carefulness and duplication and as a result the songs can stagnate.

Paul Dudziak’s earthy vocals and fleshy guitar tones create an energetically anguished combination, but a lack of consistency in terms of songwriting means that ‘Last Vestige Of Humanity’ only intermittently drags itself out of the mire to make its voice heard.

ALBUM REVIEW: Tombstones ‘Vargariis’

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TOMBSTONES
‘Vargariis’
Soulseller Records (Nov 2015)
7/10

Having largely abandoned the monstrous stoner grooves that made their previous album, ‘Red Skies And Dead Eyes’, such a potent release, Norwegian trio Tombstones have developed into an altogether more hostile and foreboding proposition over the last couple of years.

And while the artwork for the band’s fourth album is about as scary as an episode of Scooby-Doo, the ferocious, aching sludge behind it is enough to give anyone nightmares. The guitars are so heavy they will distort your day out of shape, and the riffs so slow and tortured that you will beg for mercy. Think Conan with a pinch of Kyuss.

Vocal duties are shared between two-thirds of this fuzzy Oslo trio – namely Bjørn-Viggo Godtland and Ole Christian Helstad – and their finely balanced delivery results in an impactful range of agonised rawness and emotional dexterity.

The difficulty that bands face when trying to capture a relentlessly bleak atmosphere on record is trying to avoid it getting stale or repetitive. Tombstones try to leap this potential pitfall in a number of ways; from creative songwriting to entering new stylistic territories.

Their flirtations with black metal, for example, are fleeting, but they at least help make sure that the listener is still paying attention. As for the songwriting, the results are mixed. Some of the songs (all of which lumber along for around nine minutes apiece) batter at the same locked door for too long, waiting for answers that do not come. Others are fascinating adventures into the darkness that ebb and flow like a great tide of tears.

Amidst the oppression and volume, there is scattered evidence of the melody and energy that characterised the band’s previous release. But ‘Vargariis’ is primarily about sonic violence and sour desperation. It’s not pretty, but it’s full of heart.

REVIEW: High Inquisitor Woe ‘Liquid Times’ (EP)

 

HIGH INQUISITOR WOE
‘Liquid Times’
Self-released (Nov 2015)
6/10

Inspired by the likes of Reverend Bizarre and a passion for epic, heavy music with clean vocals, this Belgian trio has created three tracks of solid, often compelling traditional doom metal.

Formed in early 2015, this is clearly a new band looking for its sound and personality – and as a result much of the music on display here is slightly muddled. Rarely do the various parts of the songs flow elegantly into each other, and between the sinister, gloomy riffs there are often awkward transitions or unnecessary tangents.

‘Liquid Times’ is let down by some shaky vocals, particularly towards the end of the opening song ‘Drink Her Blood, Black Serpent’ when singer Smalle van Suuz bursts into Experimental Mode – his falsetto is particularly, er, surprising.

However, when they do get it right, such as during the second half of ‘Neptune’s Trident’, this Belgian band sounds quite magnificent. Likewise, when the flamboyantly lengthy ‘Lady Saliva’ finally gets going, the listener is treated to some timeless doom metal merriment. Then things get a bit confused again, and the vocal stylings continue to digress.

At their most decisive, High Inquisitor Woe deliver some meaty, pounding misery – and when they fully spread their wings they should be an impressive sight to behold.

ALBUM REVIEW: Funeral Marmoori ‘The Deer Woman’

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FUNERAL MARMOORI
‘The Deer Woman’
Minotauro Records (Nov 2015)
8/10

Florence is perhaps Italy’s most beautiful city, a traditional epicentre of European art and culture. And now, it is home to some of the year’s finest doom metal, thanks to Funeral Marmoori and their fantastic second album ‘The Deer Woman’.

Threaded with warm synths and organic organs, ‘The Deer Woman’ is a multi-layered and effortlessly intricate doom metal offering, binding elements of big-riffing traditional doom with swirling, psychedelic keys that are ever-present without overpowering the guitar-based heaviness.

Three years after the band’s ‘Vol. 1’ debut, things have become even more dramatic and bold, and the band’s hard-hitting hymns of woe are delivered with impressive control, maturity and confidence. Imagine a gloomily grooving combination of Lord Vicar, Paul Chain and Black Sabbath’s ‘Who Are You?’ and you’re getting close to Funeral Marmoori’s strange sound.

Funeral Marmoori’s songwriting abilities are truly impressive. Tracks such as ‘The Hunter’ and ‘Onions’ (?!) come pretty close to being progressive doom metal classics – they twist and turn without ever abandoning the path of true doom.

In both his vocal delivery and guitar playing, Giulio Siena seems slightly restrained at times, as if unwilling to really ‘let rip’. There are a few moments where the album wanders off-track, but these are rare and brief, suggesting that there is even more to come from Florence’s latest great artists.

‘The Deer Woman’ is a real work of art; it’s the kind of album you can listen to repeatedly and never get bored. Italian doom metal at its most solid and inspiring.

ALBUM REVIEW: Wizard Eye ‘Wizard Eye’

 

WIZARD EYE
‘Wizard Eye’
Black Monk Records (Oct 2015)
7/10

If you love eyeball-quivering, psychedelic heaviness, it doesn’t get much better than Wizard Eye. Primitive, sharp and absorbing, the Philadelphia trio’s third album is a triumph of fuzzy fury.

Harking back to the lumbering rock behemoths of the 1970s and the stoner metal kings of the 1990s, there is a monstrous groove underpinning every moment of this self-titled release.

Opening track ‘Eye Of The Deep’ is a swirling, volcanic eruption of a song, fuzzy as a were-peach, heavy as a brain haemorrhage. It merges into ‘Flying/Falling’ which continues the ecstatic riff-driven slo-mo mayhem as well as introducing the exhausted, beautifully ragged vocals of Erik Caplan.

Then ‘Phase Return’ steamrollers your day like Ian Kilmister treading through tar. Oddly, the next track, ‘Graybeard’ is really similar – but it’s such a soul-numbing riff that you can understand why the band wanted to go again.

Other tracks tend to lose their early momentum, and in fact the album – recorded back in early 2014 – fades a little towards the end. The vocals are powerful but lack the degree of melody and versatility which might help to create a more textured emotional experience.

‘My Riposte Is Like Lightning’ changes the mood a little, adding a bit of pace and attitude, while ‘Nullarbor’ is a jangly, spiritual drifter. That aside, you shouldn’t expect anything experimental; songs such as ‘Thunderbird Divine’ add little to the pantheon of East Coast doom, but they are likely give you a considerable headache, and sometimes that’s plenty.

Pummeling your ear-holes like a mix of Black Sabbath, Blue Cheer and an angry space hippo, Wizard Eye are masters of tripping the fuzz fantastic.

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.

ALBUM REVIEW: Mammoth Storm ‘Fornjot’

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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.

ALBUM REVIEW: Avatarium ‘The Girl With The Raven Mask’

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AVATARIUM
‘The Girl With The Raven Mask’
Nuclear Blast, October 2015
8/10

The second album from Avatarium blends Candlemass-style doom metal with Rainbow-inspired hard rock and emotive female vocals to great effect. More rounded and elegant than its self-titled predecessor, ‘The Girl With The Dragon – sorry – Raven Mask’ is a bold, confident and sumptuous offering, with enough depth and texture to absorb the listener throughout its eight tracks.

‘The Girl With The Pearl – sorry – Raven Mask’ touches greatness in parts. ‘Pearls And Coffins’, for example, is a thundering, menacing monster, while the final track, ’The Master Thief’ and the enormous ‘The January Sea’ are pretty spectacular too. ‘Run Killer Run’ is an effective and effervescent slab of early Cathedral doom-groove, with maybe a hint of Trouble. It feels kind of wrong to describe doom pioneer Leif Edling as anything other than an innovator, but even when he and his crew are drawing inspiration from others who have gone before, they do it with natural style and power.

Elsewhere, the album settles into a more pedestrian pattern. ‘Ghostlight’ is a feminised, rockier version of good old Candlemass, but then it stops and stumbles off to become something less impressive, sucking upon the teat of classic Rainbow but not quite moulding the track it into the massive epic whole it had threatened to become. Fans who relished the jaunty, stop-start quirks of ‘Moonhorse’ from the debut release will undoubtedly love Avatarium’s new album, while those who appreciated the more graceful ‘Deep Well’ or ‘Bird Of Prey’ will find plenty to enjoy too.

Each band member’s technical skills are on display to be admired. Guitarist Marcus Jidell dons his Ritchie Blackmore hat and struts his stuff, while keyboard player Carl Westholm is given license to twiddle as many knobs as he can get his hands on, like some kind of gleeful 70s synth wizard. Jennie-Ann Smith’s fragile, ghostly vocals combine with pulsating organs and steel-edged guitar tones to create a rich, compelling soundscape.

This site makes no apology for its rose-tinted love affair with Candlemass founder Edling, such has been the enduring impact of the Swedish bass basher’s contribution to metal. ‘The Girl With The Raven Mask’ is a worthy addition to his mighty canon of work. In truth, there are few genuine surprises as this glorious prog-tinged doom opus unfolds, but, typically, you get lots of dark, searing riffs, regal choruses and thoroughbred quality.

ALBUM REVIEW: Chariot Throne ‘The Unholy Design’


CHARIOT THRONE
‘The Unholy Design’
Self-released, September 2015
7/10

Chariot Throne sound like they are about to burst from your speakers – the spectacular power of their imagination is plain for all to witness. They concoct a highly unique kind of doom rock; a curious mix of the gloomy and the avant grade.

Aside from the seemingly obligatory “creepy” audio samples from terrible B-movies that nobody has ever bothered to watch unless they’re showing off to their friends, this German quartet has a raw and natural ability to come up with really original and enjoyable stuff. This is their debut release, but the band sounds like it’s been in the doom-game for more that the mere four years they have clocked up.

From the classic doom riffage of the impressive ‘Descent’ to the blissful groove of ‘Far From The Sun’ to the heavenly expansiveness of ‘The Spirits’ Sanctuary’, Chariot Throne have put out an imperfect but very impressive album.

But at times the band’s performance on ‘The Unholy Design’ seems to be slightly restrained, somehow lacking in confidence or energy. The album’s impact is undermined by low-key production which stubbornly stops them from spreading their wings. If Manowar play on 10, Chariot Throne sound like they’re playing on 6.

While the guitars too often fade into the background, the rocky vocals are front and centre, sometimes a little exposed and lonely in the mix. Also, at just 37 minutes, the album flies by in flash, and perhaps Chariot Throne could settle into their songs with a little more patience and gravitas.

But none of these complaints can disguise the quality of the music – there is excellence aplenty to enjoy here.

ALBUM REVIEW: Il Vuoto ‘Weakness’


IL VUOTO
‘Weakness’
Satanarsa Records, August 2015
6/10

Matteo Gruppi’s one-man doom metal project from Piacenza in Northern Italy creates a mixed, malevolent noise that veers between beautiful and ugly, invigorating and repugnant. The subject matter of self-harm and depression may be desperate, but Il Vuoto injects it with a kind of abhorrent passion and inventiveness.

This is music designed to make you feel edgy and uncomfortable. The restless arrangements, piercing noises, gothic undercurrents, pianos and orchestral elements create a bitter cocktail of twisted funeral doom. Acidic psalms of suffering such as ‘The Harvest’ are nightmares become real, and often they are a challenge for the listener to endure.

At times, the music ascends to reach peaks of glorious distress and sorrowful melancholy, but elsewhere there is a sense of frustrating hesitancy or indulgence, as with the song ‘Sea Of Emptiness’. Gruppi’s croaking vocals can be slightly off-putting and add little to the album – rather, they can undermine the flow and effectiveness of the music and disrupt the atmosphere.

‘Weakness’ is a curious and memorable debut album that has a number of strengths, but this fledgling one-man project does not always succeed in capitalising on them fully or consistently.

ALBUM REVIEW: HellLight ‘Journey Through Endless Storms’


HELL-LIGHT
‘Journey Through Endless Storms’
Solitude Productions, September 2015
9/10

Brazil’s masters of misery have created a stunning album of slow, delicate funeral doom that reeks of quality and personality. The latest release from the Sao Paulo band, who started out back in 1996, drips with heartfelt emotion and majestic musicality.

This is 80 minutes of melody and sorrow, and the eight tracks on offer are consistently excellent. The songs are carefully constructed so ensure that they flow gracefully and build momentum. From the choral backing to the sharp-edged riffs that cut through the gloom, ‘Journey Through Endless Storms’ is effortlessly epic. Gentle keyboards are a constant and comforting companion amid the shadows.

With tracks such as ‘Distant Light That Fades’, HellLight can be reminiscent of Hamferd in their ability to combine light and dark, decorating their bleak, pummelling heaviness with sparkling flourishes of imagination.

There are a few brief occasions when it seems a song might plateau or drift away, but, at those moments, guitarist, singer and founding member Fabio de Paula always pulls it back from the precipice and, before you know it, you are transported by yet another glorious solo or soul-crushing riff. De Paula also intersperses his rumbling growl with soaring clean vocals, which are used sparingly and to maximum effect as they get your pulse racing.

Every song offers something new and intriguing, all tightly bound within the band’s signature sound. HellLight are able to pack a lot of ideas into their music while treading a careful path to ensure that the songs do not become jumbled or unfocused. This is a band that has been perfecting its art for 20 years, and all of that experience shows.

If the band’s 2013 album ‘No God Above, No Devil Below’ was impressive, then this is even better. Mature and sophisticated – and often quietly adventurous – ‘Journey Through Endless Storms’ is an album of rare depth and an understated masterwork of melodic doom.

REVIEW: Ex People ‘Loss’ (EP)


EX PEOPLE
‘Loss’
Released: May 2015
8/10

Throw the Melvins, L7 and Alunah into a food mixer and then gulp down the delicious results. Ex People’s elegant mix of electronic noise and waspish, sludgy riffs is brilliantly purposeful and thoughtful.

If listening to fellow Brits Alunah is like hugging a mushroom while wearing a velvet cape, then the Ex People experience is akin to gnawing the rust from a long-abandoned office chair while drinking rum. The three-track debut EP from these lo-fi Londoners is simple, nasty and bleak – and yet clearly lovingly assembled. It is understated and accessible without ever relinquishing its stark originality.

A slow, relentless groove underpins the band’s fresh and modern take on doom metal. Gorgeous female vocals, replete with engaging lyrics and loveable choruses, drift over the top of fuzzy guitars that corkscrew into your brain, never more so than on the opening track ‘The Erlenmeyer Flask’ (everyone’s favourite flask, right?).

Middle child of the trio ‘Jersey Devil’ sounds like early Sinead O’Connor doing the nasty with The Obsessed, with a dandruff-like sprinkling of Nirvana at their heaviest and most dejected. The song drifts off a bit towards the end, while the vocals lose some of their earlier authority, but this remains some cool and fascinating stuff. Finally, ‘Pilot’ sounds the most “occult” of the three songs, initially pretty repetitive but hypnotising and developing into a curiously satisfying dirge.

This EP is a gut-busting kangaroo kick of lucid, expressive and effortlessly effective new doom. Hopefully, Ex People retain their blissfully unsullied candour during a long and miserable career.

REVIEW: Grey Skies Fallen ‘Earthwalker’ (promo)


GREY SKIES FALLEN
‘Earthwalker’
July 2015
7/10

The long-established New York doom outfit have provided this free, two-track download as a teaser before the release of a new album later in the year. Recording was started in September 2014, but a fire at NY’s Audio Playground halted production for a while. It’s definitely been worth the wait.

The title track is a marvellous example of twisted prog-doom, providing a gloomily intriguing platform for the keyboard-tickling skills of Craig Rossi. Thanks to his fancy swooshing, as well as an epic vocal performance, this bold and intense song becomes a potent mix of Amorphis, Candlemass and slithering Asphyx-style death.

The second track is a little more hit-and-miss, lacking the focus and power of its partner in slime. But this little teaser features some intoxicating stuff, suggesting that the next album from these grizzled US misery veterans should be a blast.

ALBUM REVIEW: Witchsorrow ‘No Light, Only Fire’

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WITCHSORROW
‘No Light, Only Fire’
Candlelight Records, September 2015
9/10

“I’m not a very nice person. I don’t like people. I pretty much hate everything.” These are the inspiring words of Witchsorrow’s universe-despising frontman Necroskull, and his ever-so-slightly negative perspective oozes from the band’s magnificent new album like vomit from a sandwich.

This follow-up to 2012’s excellent ‘God Curse Us’ bursts into life like a flame-hoofed stallion bolting from the devil’s own stables, with a relatively uptempo Doom Metal romp – ‘There Is No Light, There Is Only Fire’ – that puts the focus firmly on the Metal. Thereafter, this gloomy UK trio gets back to more familiar territory, with elegantly plodding riffs and graceful, majestic choruses.

‘The Martyr’ is a fine example of gold standard doom – slow, simple and sublime. It sounds like a mouldy, British version of classic Saint Vitus, not only because of its intoxicating subtlety, melody and quality but also in the snarl and bite that is reminiscent of the LA doom legends. The gleeful guitar solos on ‘Made Of The Void’ and ‘Negative Utopia’ evoke none other than Dave Chandler himself in their impassioned misery. This is good stuff.

Witchsorrow have upped their game since their highly-acclaimed 2012 debut, incorporating greater energy and variety into their music while maintaining the shuddering heaviness that has reduced countless British venues to rubble in recent years.

The band’s increasing army of supporters will soon be earning a new kind of headache thanks to the instant hits to be found here. Another standout track, ‘To The Gallows’, even received some airplay on BBC Radio recently, suggesting that this understated, traditional doom metal outfit are getting some well-deserved attention.

Even as the songs effortlessly ebb and flow, there’s a raw, stark hopelessness pervading the album. It’s the kind of inspired, whole-hearted hopelessness that ensures Necroskull and his black-clad cohorts do not descend into stupefied apathy or depression. After all, it is in the deepest, darkest mines that the brightest diamonds are found. Witchsorrow’s ‘No Light, Only Fire’ is a gem of an album, and a monument to the finest traditions of doom metal.

https://www.facebook.com/witchsorrowdoom

REVIEW: Hearserider ‘Demo Tape 2015’


HEARSERIDER
‘Demo Tape 2015’
(June 2015)
7/10

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’


WITCHHELM
‘Conjuring’
Wyrmwood Records, May 2015
6/10

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: My Silent Wake ‘Damnatio Memoriae’

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MY SILENT WAKE
‘Damnatio Memoriae’
House Of Ashes, 2015
9/10

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:
http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/msw-damnatiomemoriae/pledgers

ALBUM REVIEW: Apothecary ‘Drifting Towards The Ancients’


APOTHECARY
‘Drifting Towards The Ancients’
Self-released, 2015
5/10

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: Demon Lung ‘A Dracula’

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DEMON LUNG
‘A Dracula’
Candlelight Records (June 2015)
8/10

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)

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MY LAMENT
‘Sorrow’
Solitude Productions (2015)
6/10

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:

http://www.my-lament.com

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

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AMBIVALENCE
‘A Land Of Myth & Magic’
Endless Desperation Productions (2015)
7/10

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: Black Forest ‘Sadness’

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BLACK FOREST
‘Sadness’
Endless Desperation Productions (2015)
8/10

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.

http://endless-desperation.ru/1-endless-desperation-prod-cds?sid=01121aa42543c5463b2b470d60a9c12b

REVIEW: Shrine Of The Serpent (Self-titled) (EP)


SHRINE OF THE SERPENT
‘Shrine Of The Serpent’
Materia Prima Records / Parasitic Records (April 2015)
8/10

Can you imagine Entombed playing Solitude Aeturnus songs? Well, imagine no longer, because Shrine Of The Serpent have made the theory a beautiful reality. Hailing from Oregon, USA, this misery-loving trio have unveiled a high-quality debut that will appeal to fans of the guttural as well as the epic.

This three-track, 30-minute EP will carve you up while it caresses you. Its atmospheric death-doom marries glowering menace and rasping growls with heartfelt eloquence and grace. Trudging along at a respectable pace, Shrine Of The Serpent choose emotional maturity over the pursuit of extremity – this music is heavy without trying to destroy your skull, it is evil without resorting to cliche, and it’s lachrymose without melodrama.

Featuring members of Aldebaran, Tenspeed Warlock and Roanoake, Shrine Of The Serpent are undoubtedly well-versed in the ways of doom, from the filthy to the grandiose. There is a bit of a tug-of-war between these two opposing elements throughout the EP, as if the band is yet to settle on its preferred direction. That said, they pull it off with impressive ease, wrapping you in their world of hurt and holding tight.

https://www.facebook.com/ShrineoftheSerpent/timeline?ref=page_internal

ALBUM REVIEW: Hogslayer ‘Defacer’

hogslayercover

HOGSLAYER
‘Defacer’
Undergroove Records, May 2015
8/10

‘Defacer’ is a mighty battering ram of an album – it’ll smash your day to pieces. Delightfully downtrodden and unrelentingly heavy, sludge maestros Hogslayer revel and writhe in their own personal hell (aka Cardiff) and their pain is our gain.

The songs on the band’s second full-length release are punchy, original, purposeful and scalpel-sharp. We’re not talking about Katy Perry-style catchiness here, but there is a degree of accessibility that allows ‘Defacer’ to burrow into the warm folds of your brain and make itself at home there. The tracks do not outstay their welcome and are crafted into neat, five-minute fireworks – without losing any of their ferocity.

Let’s face it, sludge can be a little tedious. In the wrong hands, this subtle art form can morph into a one-idea borefest of lifeless misery. In the hands of experts such as Hogslayer, though, sludge is an immensely powerful weapon. In fact, this Welsh quintet take the staples of this bone-crushing genre (long, drawn-out riffs that’d cripple a horny hippo and raw, raging vocals that take you to the darkest of dark places) and make it all seem kind of… fun.

Shuddering, reverb-bathed guitars obliterate everything in their path, while Lord Bastard’s vocals are sheer, manic despair and the production seems intent on destroying your speakers with bottom-end heaviness. Take Khanate and Eyehategod and sprinkle on some grey Welsh drizzle and this is the dire consequence. ‘Defacer’ should come with a health warning.

ALBUM REVIEW: Doomraiser ‘Reverse’

COVER

DOOMRAISER
‘Reverse (Passaggio Inverso)’
BloodRock Records
(Released: January 2015)
8/10

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.

https://www.facebook.com/doomraiser

ALBUM REVIEW: The Slow Death ‘Ark’

THESLOWDEATH

THE SLOW DEATH
‘Ark’
Chaos Records (March 2015)
8/10

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.

https://www.facebook.com/theslowdeath

REVIEW: Dö ‘Den’ (EP)

Dö


‘Den’
Self-released EP
(January 2015)
8/10

One year on from their memorable self-titled debut, Helsinki stoner mongrels Dö are back with another EP, and this time they are angry.

Gone is the youthful frivolity of 2014, and so too the rawness in the band’s sound – 2015 is all about pounding, driving doom metal. The listener may no longer be privy to that original sense of discovery and exploration, but is more than compensated with muscular finesse and high-quality, aggressive Dööm.

This four-song release shows that Dö – who started out in 2007 – have grown and matured, and with that broadening worldliness comes a greater power and darkness. Dö are a well-oiled riff machine and their pummelling stoner guitars are accompanied by seething, blackened death metal vocals to create a glorious contradiction.

At times, such as on the song ‘Frostbites’, their music is half Black Sabbath and half black metal. On ‘The Moon Follows Us’ you can hear the echoes of classic Saint Vitus in the near distance. And, in a few places, there are examples of Metallica-esque guitar work, from catchy hooks to solid chugs.

Not that this Finnish trio have really changed all that much – the band’s sense of spiky fun still glistens amid the bluesy sludge. Dö have their own way of doing things and this EP ripples with energy and personality. On the surface, it may seem like simple stuff, but ‘Den’ is laced with thoughtful, personal touches that set it apart from the usual sludge/stoner fare. A band that stands out for all the right reasons.

http://doofficial666.bandcamp.com

ALBUM REVIEW: Hooded Menace ‘Gloom Immemorial’

Gloom Immemorial

HOODED MENACE
‘Gloom Immemorial’
Doomentia Records
(Released December 2014)
9/10

‘Gloom Immemorial’ is a compilation of bits and pieces from the superior Finnish death-doom giant Hooded Menace’s seven-year history. It’s a very satisfying collectors’ item, featuring rare and filthy gems dating back to the band’s 2007 demo and including stuff from the 2012 EP ‘Effigies Of Evil’, as well as splits with Asphyx, Coffins, Loss and many more.

In total, you get your doom-hungry hands on 11 excellent tracks spanning around 76 minutes and four different band line-ups. The songs flit between a kind of trundling, leprous Cathedral style to soporific, rotten death in the vein of Autopsy.

Bruising tones, crawling anguish, melodic leads, mid-paced groove, volcanic vocals… Hooded Menace are like some horrendous hybrid of Dismember and Candlemass.

Some songs work better than others; the opening two songs, taken from the demo, seem a little raw compared to more recent compositions, while one or two other tracks wander off-course slightly. But the slow, twisted riffs keep coming like a relentless plague.

Hooded Menace are heavy and dark, but also inventive and fiercely determined songwriters, dancing on your skull like doom-jesters and grinding your soul into dust. Songs such as ‘Abode Of The Grotesque’ and ‘I, Devil Master’ showcase the band’s ability to combine originality with unfeasible power.

As well as new, typically cheery visuals courtesy of Misanthropic Art, the CD comes with original artwork from the previous releases too. All of which makes this the perfect gift for any doom metal fan, to ensure a truly miserable Christmas.

https://www.facebook.com/HoodedMenace/timeline?ref=page_internal

ALBUM REVIEW: Alunah ‘Awakening The Forest’

Alunah Awakening The Forest

ALUNAH
‘Awakening The Forest’
Napalm Records
(Released October 2014)
8/10

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.

https://www.facebook.com/alunah.doom/info?ref=page_internal

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Latitude Egress ‘To Take Up The Cross’

latitude egress

LATITUDE EGRESS
‘To Take Up The Cross’
Art Of Propaganda
(Released: 27 Oct 2014)
7/10

There are strong black undercurrents to the work of this German one-man project – and that’s despite the fact that mainman Niklas (AKA Nerrath) seems to have decided that suicide is not cool and has moved away from the kind of depressive black metal his previous outfit was associated with. While these songs were initially intended to be released under Niklas’s former Licht Erlischt monicker, ultimately this can be classified as a debut album. It’s as if he has deliberately cast aside any links with self-pity or self-loathing and taken life – and all the manifold pains that it brings – by the horns.

The result is a deeply personal and oddly life-affirming collection of slow, unhurried, plaintive tracks. The guitar tones are ugly, acidic and distorted, the sound of a lingering fury twisting into dissonant melancholy. They crash upon the rocks like huge dark waves, but do not flounder against the swirling currents, remaining buoyant enough to gasp for air. Big riffs are avoided in favour of atmosphere and emotion.

Niklas’s vocals vary between a kind of rough-edged hollering that wildly express sensations from elation to abject despair, and a more predominant melodic, clean style that is controlled and understated. The voice is imbued with too much energy to be called mournful, but it’s certainly not cheerful! Lyrically, this seems to be an exploration of pain, displacement, confusion, faith and redemption. In unison, it becomes an expansive, airy sound, raw and stripped bare, but glorious, as if emanating from a cathedral of its own making.

‘To Take Up The Cross’ is packed with numerous curious ideas and unusual angles, packaged together as a well-paced collection of musings. There are hints of Cross Vault, Pylon or Warning, but Latitude Egress perhaps currently lack the finesse of those bands. On occasion, the songs can drift along without fully capturing the imagination. A lack of differentiation between tracks reduces the adventure, although the seventh and final song, ‘To March Along The Desolate Peripheries Of Mind’ increases the tempo and launches into a Bathory/Hammerheart-style stomp, epic keyboards and all. It’s a stirring finale to an album that follows one man’s struggle to find meaning.

https://www.facebook.com/LatitudeEgress

REVIEW: Sundecay ‘Bodies At The Frontier’ (EP)

sundecay1

SUNDECAY
Bodies At The Frontier
Released August 2014
8/10

Canadians Sundecay play a kind of enlightened stoner doom that does not subscribe to norms. To call it progressive would be misleading, suggesting complexity and indulgence, but ‘Bodies At The Frontier’ certainly manages to be subtly different compared to what’s gone before.

You can see from clash between warped, almost black metal-ish band logo, bleak/spacey cover art and uber-cool Bandcamp pic that this is a band exploring its identity and scope. ‘Bodies At The Frontier’ is a book you cannot judge by its cover, even if you wanted to.

sundecay

Musically, too, it is the clash of interests that makes this EP so interesting. There is a beautifully chaotic vibe, which is the sound of a bunch of guys jamming the hell out, and this is tempered with a dignified and smartly judged melancholy. It’s perhaps best exemplified by the third track, ‘Oxidized Urn’, which sounds like a mix of Welsh band Prosperina and vintage Sabbath.

Sundecay offer the tiniest hints of sludge and post-rock here and there, while there are also faint undercurrents of Smashing Pumpkins or Pearl Jam, particularly in some of the vocal delivery. The vocals, in fact, are sometimes sublime in their understated rocky majesty. There is a deep-rooted passion for 70s rock underpinning the sound, but it has been modernized and built upon to create something new.

The vibe feels slightly too loose on occasion, and the final song, ‘They Worship The Sun’ is a disappointingly aimless and blunt Deep Purple-inspired jangle.

But for much of this release’s 27-minute running time, Sundecay create an intriguing, pulsating doomy dreamworld, proving yet again doom metal’s ability to turn something simple into something ethereal and kind of wonderful.

http://sundecay.bandcamp.com/album/bodies-at-the-frontier

ALBUM REVIEW: Pallbearer ‘Foundations Of Burden’

Pallbearer

PALLBEARER
‘Foundations Of Burden’
Profound Lore (Released 19 August 2014)
8/10

Money, money, money. It’s clear from the opening moments of Pallbearer’s follow-up to their magnificent 2012 debut ‘Sorrow And Extinction’ that the band has been given a bigger budget and more studio this time round. This is a slicker, shinier version of the album that saw the Oregon trad doom outfit win unexpected but richly deserved mainstream acclaim.

Produced by Billy ‘Who Else?’ Anderson, ‘Foundations Of Burden’ is much brighter and cleaner sounding than their last effort, and is packed with multitudinous guitar layers, synthesizers and multiplied vocal harmonies. In 2014, their sound is more rounded; it’s not half as heavy as two years ago, but what it misses in terms of raw, unadulterated power it makes up for in complexity and technical enterprise.

Pallbearer have pushed themselves musically and creatively, concocting a series of unusual, hooky riffs and long, twisting compositions that are rarely anything but fascinating. The stirring vocals of Brett Campbell have become more controlled and sophisticated, and are supplemented with dreamlike backing from his band mates. Behind the immense doom metal is the gentle influence of Rainbow and classic rock, as Pallbearer subtly move away from the overarching misery of their previous album towards a more personal, explorative approach.

The brighter production adds to an undercurrent of hopefulness amid the gloom, and there are even upbeat, uptempo sections. There is also a song, ‘Ashes’, that sounds like a dreamy doom version of Agnes Obel, and this is where things can start to feel a little contrived. ‘Ashes’ is so cute and polite that it seems Pallbearer are in danger of straying too far from the path of doom.

Burdened with hype and hope, the band has been given a platform and at times their effort to impress is evident. They have afforded great consideration to what will work well live, but it is likely that the songs fans will look forward to hearing will still come from the band’s 2012 breakthrough release. For all their multi-layered delicacy and inventiveness, the songs on ‘Foundations Of Burden’ are not as impactful or memorable as those original recordings.

This is a seriously impressive follow-up album that will surely win Pallbearer many more fans both in mainstream and underground circles. It may not be as dynamic as their debut, perhaps because it has been so professionally packaged, but it is very exciting to see a vintage doom metal band being allowed an opportunity to demonstrate the genre’s musical scope to a wide audience.

ALBUM REVIEW: 0

0 - Null & Void

0
‘Null & Void’
Vanagandr, August 2014
7/10

Black metal merges with doom metal on this sinister and bleak release from Iceland’s ‘0’, whose five band members are known only by their initials. Slow and depressive, the music is atmospheric and at times crushing. The further you go into this single 34-minute composition, the more you discover: it is packed with invention and musicality.

Speeding up occasionally towards pure, miserable black metal (which is ecstatically, fiercely energetic in a way that only black metal can be), ‘Null & Void’ always sinks back into its deep pit of doom metal despond, trawling the emotional depths and the wind-ravaged wildernesses of the band’s homeland.

It is evident from the outset that ‘0’ are not feeling thrilled with life. The vocals of S.S. begin as an almost-melodic moaning, then a deep, ghostly chant, over which appear desperate, throat-shredding screams. It’s a combination that works well and is developed throughout the album – the lonely despair of the screaming being anchored and appeased by the softer backing vocals.

S.S.’s voice is more varied and expressive than many in the black arts, but admittedly it can prove a minor distraction when set against some of the more thoughtful guitar work or gentler soundscapes. Whether or not you feel that the black metal ‘singing’ style allows for enough emotional depth and variety, one thing is certain: musically, ‘0’ explore various patterns with subtlety and guile. This is no angry scream-fest.

Throughout the album, there are scattered moments where the creative abilities of the band shines through, most memorably at around the half-way mark, when a kind of evil ritualistic chanting begins, as if the clan has gathered to prepare for war. This, and a number of other savvy touches, add texture, warmth and quality to the gruelling ‘Null & Void’ experience.

The name of this Icelandic band and the title of this album might suggest emptiness and absence, but there is never a dull moment for the listener. It is far from being the perfect finished product, but ‘Null & Void’ shows enough moments of sophistication to be a very enjoyable and interesting listen – if it’s really possible to “enjoy” such musical anguish. It has been released as a cassette by Vanagandr and is also available to download on Bandcamp.

http://0000000.bandcamp.com/album/null-void

ALBUM REVIEW: Lachrimatory

Lachrimatory

LACHRIMATORY
‘Transient’
Solitude Productions (OUT August 2014)
8/10

The melodic death-doom of Brazilian band Lachrimatory is slow and mournful and yet utterly exhilarating. Musically adventurous and instrumentally bold, listening to ‘Transient’ is similar to walking out through your front door blindfolded. At times, the music is sumptuously simple and elegant, before twisting off in an unexpected direction. The mixture of these two sides of the band make this a challenging and hugely rewarding experience.

‘Transient’ was self-released by the band back in 2011, but now has been made available as a professionally printed CD by the mighty Solitude Productions, celebrating the 15th anniversary of Lachrimatory. It is a beautiful and at times quite insane cacophony of superior doom metal, the sound of hope and love dying. Sinister yet tender keyboards and sorrowful cello strings are almost ever-present throughout the album, affording just a hint of Celtic Frost.

Once or twice these devices seem a little over-used, although the band’s confidence and bravery is to be enthusiastically applauded. From the inventive drum work to the sublime supporting keys, they create some fascinating and original sounds that bring the music to life in a myriad different ways. The occasional clean vocals also make a welcome change. Lachrimatory are unafraid to take risks and leave their comfort zone, often with startling, epic results. This seems like both a continuation and a reinvention of the early, raw and exciting days of Anathema.

 

On a few rare occasions, though, Lachrimatory’s boldness and willingness to explore their musical boundaries and stretch their own capabilities mean that the songs change direction too often, making it difficult for the listener to be fully immersed in the experience, no matter how willing and eager they are to be so. Elsewhere, though, such as amid the sublime beauty of ‘Void’ or ‘Deluge’, you can get lost in the delicacy of the band’s delivery – this is both heavy and heavenly. Only one song on the album – ‘Clarity’ – is anything less than excellent, and while it all merges into one hopelessly spectacular blur of doom, when it is over you’ll catch your breath and wonder where the time went.

‘Transient’ is a truly unique offering that at times transcends the genre and deserves to reach a wide audience.

http://lachrimatory1.bandcamp.com/album/transient