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

‘Through Clouded Time’
(January 2016)

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.



ALBUM REVIEW: HellLight ‘Journey Through Endless Storms’

‘Journey Through Endless Storms’
Solitude Productions, September 2015

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.

ALBUM REVIEW: Carma ‘Carma’

Labyrinth / Altare Productions, October 2015

Carma – hailing from Coimbra in Portugal – create a combination of prickly funeral doom and dark ambient atmospherics. Listening to this self-titled album is like crawling through cold mud and barbed wire towards a hidden destiny – suffering is all around and there’s unlikely to be a happy ending. Then again, if Carma believe in karma, then it’s probably all their own fault anyway.

Lyrically, the band focus on death, loss and other burdensome miseries, and while they are sung in native Portuguese, you do not need a dictionary to translate the crippling cries of pain.

Carma’s music is a mass of sweeping guitars, jangling echoes and slow agony, and the songs are sometimes graceful and fluent but elsewhere a little indecisive. One of the highlights is ‘Feto’, a song that treads patiently with regal poise and features some rewarding vocal creativity and a magnificent finale.

Perhaps best of all, however, is ‘Lamento’, which is based upon movements from Edvard Grieg’s ‘Peer Gynt’, principally the mournful ‘Ase’s Death’. While Carma’s doom metal version does not come close to mirroring the vast emotional drama of the original composition, it is quite an accomplishment to turn the classical dirge into something potent and fascinating. The band have not breathed new life into Grieg’s masterpiece – maybe they have breathed new death into it. The major down side to the song is the oddly playful plucking interlude, reflecting ‘Solveig’s Song’, which interrupts the flow.

If you remove the atmospheric, synth-driven opening and closing tracks, as well as the intriguing Grieg ‘cover’, you are left with just three tracks. And while this trio of songs are great hymns of calamity, this paucity has the consequence of somehow making the band’s debut album feel more like an EP. The balance between dark ambience and raw doom metal is not quite right, but there is more than enough to admire and enjoy on this new release from Portugal’s Carma.

Album review: AHAB ‘The Boats Of The Glen Carrig’

AHAB cover

‘The Boats Of The Glen Carrig’
Napalm Records, August 2015

Before Ahab, people thought of the sea as just an enormous puddle that got in the way of global commerce. But now, thanks to Germany’s masters of nautical funeral doom, it has become a big, soggy source of fascination and inspiration.

Less calculated than the band’s previous album (the slightly brilliant ‘The Giant’) and less suffocatingly heavy than past opuses such as ‘The Call Of The Wretched Sea’, the latest adventure from this endlessly seafaring band is a gently compelling collection of Siren’s songs.

‘TBOTGC’ is inspired by William Hope Hodgson’s novel of the same name, and revolves around fear, survival and strange monsters. It is a rich and rewarding album, a showcase for Ahab’s abilities to create funeral doom with a twist… and then another twist. In fact, it’s twistier than a giant squid in a dancing competition, veering between serenity and terror like a drunken sailor on the open water.

The songs grow and come alive – there is an energy and tenderness behind these slow, salty anthems, and a depth to the sounds, the feelings and the stories. Ebbing and flowing between monstrous riffs and frothy acoustic bits, and with growled vocals unleashed intermittently to great effect, Ahab create a believably scary atmosphere. From the almost-frantic power of ‘Red Foam’ (and its delightfully baffling video) to the crawling sorrow of ‘The Weedmen’, there is mystery and magic all around.

Like some kind of underwater Opeth, the German band have been making this kind of music for more than a decade, so in truth there aren’t many genuine surprises to be found on their latest album. But in spite of their longevity, Ahab remain unique in terms of their scope, ambition and quality.

REVIEW: Lanthanein ‘Nocturnálgica’ (EP)

Self-released 2015

As a sumptuous taster before the Argentine doom metal maestros unveil their debut album, this four-track EP is more than enough to whet your appetite for all things Gothic.

Lanthanein’s wildly dark and dramatic music can be as bewildering as it is beautiful. From the very first moments of opening song ‘Lágrimas De Luna’ – featuring dream-like pianos, church bells, choral backing and thundering guitars – you know that this is going to be as understated as a nuclear war.

The band have a tendency to over-complicate their songs, squeezing a scandalous number of ideas, riffs and changes into every available space. And while this demonstration of relentless creativity is admirable, it does mean that the music is rarely able to settle and flow. When the songs do calm down a little, they can be stunningly effective: for example, the last minute of the title track shows the sheer power of a beautiful voice in combination with straightforward guitars.

Marili Portorrico’s bold, emotional soprano vocals are prominent in the mix and central to the band’s extravagant sound. It could be said that the growled male vocals are underused, but when they do appear they add a gruesome undercurrent and heavy edge.

The orchestration used throughout this EP is ambitious, ornate and textured, although sometimes it jumps from one section to the next as if desperate to get to the end of the song and start the next one. The choral arrangements that the band have created are often stunning, such as on the final track ‘Lacrimosa Et Gementum’. This is a glorious, instantly-loveable song that sounds like Carl Orff on steroids.

‘Nocturnálgica’ showcases Lanthanein’s ability to create numerous spectacular, magic moments of Gothic drama. If they can squeeze this many ideas into an EP, just imagine how action-packed their album is going to be.

ALBUM REVIEW: Vaee Solis ‘Adversarial Light’

‘Adversarial Light’
Signal Rex, August 2015

Vaee Solis warn: “We bow before no-one”. And nor should they, with a killer debut album like this to their name. ‘Adversarial Light’ is elegantly colossal, effortlessly unique, utterly distressing and yet utterly addictive. In short, Vaee Solis are incredible.

The Portuguese band have created six exquisite tracks of raw passion and raging sludge. The snarling guitars possess talons so sharp that they dig into your soul, grabbing your attention with their cruel, grinding riffs, and keeping you hooked for the entire 40-minute adventure. Not burdened with vast amounts of reverberating low-end, Vaee Solis’s music is still seriously heavy.

The violent, black metal-style vocals of Sophia Loureiro surge like poison in your bloodstream. The doe-eyed frontwoman, who also performs with hardcore band Lodge, may look delicate but her bleakly feral shrieking could stop a herd of rampaging buffalo in its tracks. Scary stuff. Sophia’s voice is blissful pain – she spits her blood and wisdom into a blistering sludge-doom hurricane.

And it’s not just the vocals that make this such a memorably malevolent release: the song arrangements are faultless. Tracks lumber along at a slow-ish pace but they never become repetitive or predictable. In fact, they usually grow – patiently, intuitively, naturally – until ultimately they expand into monstrosities of melody and madness. Only the song ‘Feral Isolation’ feels anything less than inspired – it’s a little raw and simplistic, lacking the brilliant energy found elsewhere on the album.

The album was released on cassette in very limited quantities in March, and is now being unleashed on CD format in August before a vinyl version hopefully arrives in a few months. ‘Adversarial Light’ is a fantastic album of ferociously beautiful sludge-doom that deserves to be heard.

ALBUM REVIEW: Angakok (Self-titled)

Satanath Records (June 2015)

This Belgian trio have developed their brand of drone-sludge in two directions simultaneously, evolving a curious, experimental side while also achieving intense levels of ferocity. It is a balancing act that they pull off brilliantly in places, with the ensuing chaos sounding like the gates of hell about to burst open. But elsewhere this self-titled debut album feels a little uncertain.

After a droning intro track, ‘Sacrifice’ hits like a fist of misery: at first, it is simple and extremely effective, but later on the song explodes into life with some spectacular drumming (a noteworthy aspect of the album) and a searing stylistic shift. It sounds like a deranged artist tearing apart his beloved masterpiece in a fit of emotional meltdown.

Next up is ‘Collapsing’, which begins at a similarly slow, plodding pace. But we know from the previous track that we should expect the unexpected, and so we wait for an emotional twist… which sadly does not appear. This track does not quite deliver the same impact, and it’s difficult not to feel a little let down.

‘Samsara’ gets the energy levels back up before descending into more drifting drone, and then a couple of strange, short songs flash by like ugly swallows promising summer. Keeping things more focused is the mighty ‘Trust My Scorn’, a wonderful slab of seething anguish that showcases the band at their best.

Angakok’s straightforward, minimalistic riffs are a plain canvas onto which these lords of Liege band adds broad brushstrokes of blood-red pain and suffering. Their debut album is a mix of formulaic, droning sludge, extended samples that sometimes make you feel like you’re listening to the music with the TV on at the same time, and raucous, stentorian distortion. The moments of wonder are scattered.

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

‘Invoked With Passion And Pain’
April 2015

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

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

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

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

REVIEW: Conclave ‘Breaking Ground’ (EP)

‘Breaking Ground’
Self-released (April 2015)

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

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

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

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

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

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

ALBUM REVIEW: Wooden Stake ‘A Feast Of Virgin Souls’

‘A Feast Of Virgin Souls’
Razorback Records (March 2015)

The Kentucky duo of Vanessa Nocera (vocals, bass and label owner) and Willie Wardlaw (guitars, drums) have concocted a spectacular vampire-doom epic that brings together elements of King Diamond (musically and in terms of storytelling) and Candlemass – before pouring a huge vat of blood over everything.

This gloriously forthright concept album is inspired by the story of Countess Bathory (who famously bathed in the red stuff while she was busy inventing black metal, or something) and tells the tale of two female vampires battling against a possessed butcher. The tale picks up where the last song from Wooden Stake’s debut album left off, which is a pleasing bit of continuity, especially considering that Wardlaw has joined up since that 2012 release and has written most of the material on offer here.

Talking of black metal, Nocera adopts a demonic, blackened style in addition to her bombastic clean singing, adding a depth and more than a degree of horror to the album. Her fantastic vocal range is one of the band’s defining features, and helps to flip the story between sections and moods.

If there is a complaint (and there’s always a complaint) it’s that the songs have a tendency to rush past the best bits! This means that while all of the ten tracks have plenty of hard-hitting riffs and musical dexterity, it can be difficult to pinpoint each song’s distinct personality within the overall body of the narrative.

With highlights including ‘Cross-Scalded Flesh’ – a masterful demonstration of the band’s talent and artistic ambition – and the instantly loveable title track, this album provides 40-plus minutes of silk-lined, dark doom with plenty of grim charisma, NWOBHM power-play and snarling, blood-soaked fury throughout.

REVIEW: Hundred Headless Horsemen (Self-titled) (EP)

‘Hundred Headless Horsemen’
Self-released, April 2015

Written in a dark room during a 2014 Helsinki heatwave, Hundred Headless Horsemen (HHH)’s debut release is a sludgy, psychedelic and ragged exploration of Scandinavian gloom and despair. Packed with thundering death metal elements, including plenty of up-tempo sections, these four tracks capture a band in the heat of the moment – not only did they record everything together live, but HHH also insisted on no edits or overdubs, preferring to keep the original energy of the recording intact.

This EP represents the raw, unfiltered flow of the Finnish quartet’s combined subconscious. As a result, perhaps, there are a few occasions where the music departs on odd, unnecessary tangents, thereby losing its impetus, or switches between styles with little warning, one moment trudging a steaming swamp, the next launching into melodious hooks. But the sheer energy of the recording makes up for any such confusion, and you are left with HHH’s raging bedlam echoing in your ears.

ALBUM REVIEW: Dopethrone ‘Hochelaga’

Totem Cat Records (April 2015)

Montreal’s finest sludge machine has churned up another blast of swampy menace, creating a top-notch album packed with the kind of mind-chewing, heavyweight crust-blues that have become their trademark.

Gargantuan riffs, filled with stoner glee and booze-fuelled rage, are blasted out by guitars so distorted that they are barely guitars anymore. Singer Vincent roars and gurgles about drugs and demons like a man possessed / caught in possession.

Hailing from Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, one of Montreal’s poorest areas, Dopethrone pour raw grit and heart into their music. Their dirty, NOLA-esque doom groove and lumbering stoner riffs are immensely powerful.

Not merely Electric Wizard wannabes, they have proven repeatedly to be outstanding composers in their own right and this album is another consistent and convincing showcase for their great talents. ‘Hochelaga’ is the band’s fourth album in just six years – time flies when you’re having fun, and Dopethrone are clearly enjoying themselves.

There aren’t too many surprises along the way, but every song hits hard, elbowing its way past the previous one to force its pounding misery into your face. And they just keep coming. Listening to ‘Hochelaga’ is like drowning in maple syrup – delicious, inevitable, deadly.

ALBUM REVIEW: Saturndust (Self-titled)

Helmet Lady Records (Summer 2015)

Every day, we puny humans face the empty quandary of existence. Saturndust reflect this daily toil through their brand of blazing space-doom. The Brazilian band’s debut album hits like an asteroid to the forehead – a slowly swirling mix of bone-snapping guitar tones, explosive drumming, spacey swooshes and sludgy, sorrow-infused riffs and solos. Jangling melodies sparkle briefly and die like fading stars in the darkness.

The album consists of six atmospheric explorations of distant celestial bodies, each representing humanity’s insignificance in the face of endless emptiness. This Sao Paulo crew find a great balance between bleak melancholy (echoing the peaceful vacuum of space / life) and cruel, carcass-pummeling riffage that slams you back to Earth with a thud.

This intergalactic mission has a tendency to drift off-course occasionally, such as on the track ‘Hyperion’ which opens with all the fury of a Cape Canaveral launch but then fades away into a kind of psychedelic oblivion. Other passages feel slightly disordered and uncertain. Meanwhile, the intonation of the rough-hewn and agonised vocals can be slightly distracting in places.

‘Saturndust’ is a heavy and compelling album of raw, space-themed misery that sets out to take you on a journey to somewhere spectacular…. but this is no fun family holiday. Strap yourself in and enjoy the intergalactic flight.

REVIEW: Kroh ‘Precious Bones’ (EP)

‘Precious Bones’
Self-released, March 2015

Kroh are like a Brummie version of Avatarium – female-fronted doom rock with a taste for big, regal riffs and shifting dynamics. Add in a bit of Alunah-style British thunder and you have the makings of some deeply enjoyable stuff.

Kroh started out in 2011, but fell apart in 2012. That’s until original founder Paul Kenney got together with ex-Moghul drummer Tom Woods and ex-Mistress bass player Darren Donovan in late 2014 to resuscitate the old Kroh songs and write some new, doomier material.

So here we are: two tracks, one old and rumbling (‘Heaving Earth’) and one new and snarling (‘Precious Bones’). Both songs show that the band is back on track, with the line-up enhanced by the addition of 20-year-old Polish singer Oliwia Sobieszek, whose gloomy tones and melodies add a hint of witchery to the doomy brew.

ALBUM REVIEW: Zatokrev ‘Silk Spiders Underwater…’

Zatokrev cover art

‘Silk Spiders Underwater…’
Candlelight Records
(Released: April 2015)

The fourth album from these Swiss sludge sorcerers reflects the band’s increasingly experimental musical and thematic outlook. ‘Silk Spiders Underwater…’ is fiercely uncommercial, but there is plenty to savour amongst its sprawling arrangements, monstrous riffs and gargantuan sound.

On the whole, the songs seem designed to be awkward and angular rather than being sculpted into easily-digested packages of aural perfection. The drawn-out, powerful riffs are tossed around upon a wild ocean of voice samples, swirling guitar effects, clattering drums and raging vocals. Bits of black metal and doom are scattered amongst the psychedelic sludge.

One of the best things about ‘Silk Spiders Underwater…’ is that it is totally unpredictable. Zatokrev manage to capture an untamed and explorative essence on this album unlike anything they have released previously, nodding to Neurosis, Celtic Frost, Godflesh, Gojira, but remaining distinctive.

There’s the moaning drawl of ‘Loom’, a song that edges from hushed apology to blur of noise; the deep, thundering sludge ballad of ‘Brick In The Sky’; the space-sludge misery of ‘Discoloration’. And they save the best till last: the epic, chugging doom of ‘They Stay In Mirrors’ is majestically simple by Zatokrev’s own standards and is the highlight of this fascinating hour-plus of music.

The album is a spider’s web of interwoven concepts, not delicate or pretty, but instead seeking beauty in life’s complexity and chaos. Zatokrev harness their darkest thoughts and ideas with creative openness and no lack of heaviness. There are a handful of uneventful passages dotted throughout ‘Silk Spiders Underwater…’ and it’s an album requiring both open-mindedness and patience. But Zatokrev’s latest release is hugely rewarding for those curious enough to try something a little different.

REVIEW: Mist ‘Inan’ EP


‘Inan’ (EP)
Soulseller Records
(Released: May 2015)

There is something refreshing about Mist. There’s no overbearing agenda, or creative pretensions – this is just great, old-fashioned doom metal. It’s like the last 30 years never happened – maybe in Slovenia they didn’t.

Originally an all-female line-up, Mist now includes a solitary male in lead guitarist Blaz Tansek, who has the look of a guy who knows he’s onto a good thing!

Mist’s uncomplicated songs of lamentation are simple but very effective. Some would call this kind of music timeless, others might less kindly consider it to be tired. We’ll stick with traditional.

Think Coven, Mourn, Left Hand Solution, Trouble, Epicus Doomicus Metallicus… think of a dustier, gloomier, coffin-bound version of Jex Thoth. These four songs represent a gloriously unrefined and unconditional love of the ancient art of doom, unhampered by modern fashions or influences.

The title track is a pleasing chugger, stylish and groovy, with an entertainingly ghostly chorus. After that, ‘Frozen Velvet’ provides a more thoughtful twist, replete with Sabbathian riff and groaning church bell. ‘Under The Night Sky’ harks back to Sacrilege’s ‘Turn Back Trilobyte’ with its gently twisting riffs, although this arrangement does not flow as naturally as the first two offerings. The fourth track, ‘Phobia’, is a re-recording of a song from the band’s repeatedly re-issued and sold-out ‘Demo 2013’, and it’s the least mature sounding on the EP.

Melodic, witch-like vocals interweave with growling riffs and grandiose choruses, although singer Nina Spruk’s higher-register moments can get a little strained. Aside from a few striking guitar solos, Mist rely heavily on plodding intensity rather than variety and it would be great to hear more subtle harmonies or layers that might add depth and character.

There are some very fine moments of originality on Mist’s ‘Inan’, though, ensuring that despite its ancient roots, the EP is as fresh as a spring flower, albeit one that grows from the soil of a decaying grave. This Ljubljana-based quintet deliver a solid balance of unassuming traditional doom and heartfelt emotional catharsis.

ALBUM REVIEW: Venus Sleeps ‘Dead Sun Worship’


‘Dead Sun Worship’
(Self-released: March 2015)

The debut album from Ireland’s Venus Sleeps is a fairly brief but thoroughly loveable release. This Dublin four-piece sounds like Electric Wizard channeling the cosmic spirit of Hawkwind, with healthy helpings of traditional doom and stoner metal.

‘Dead Sun Worship’ is a tale of two distinct halves: the first couple of songs are brilliantly unusual, spaced-out doom misfits, while the final two songs are lumbering skull-crushers. And the two halves are separated by a gently hypnotising cover of Syd Barrett’s ‘Golden Hair’.

Venus Sleeps do not attempt your pummel your psyche into surrender, relying on creativity rather than power. Their songs cleverly twist and swirl whilst rarely losing their beard-trembling momentum or over-stretching into prog territory. There’s loads of spacey swooshing and pedal-based shenanigans throughout, and a droning psychedelic undercurrent that takes your mind to far-flung corners of the galaxy where no light ever reaches.

Opener ‘Ether Sleeper’ is like ‘Crack The Skye’-era Mastodon, with its swirling riffs and intergalactic chorus, while the second track, ‘Dawn Of Nova’ is a similarly quirky take on stoner metal, with heavyweight guitar tones battling against dextrous vocals.

Then comes the second half, and things get slower and heavier. That said, even on these final two arrangements, which see Venus Sleep draw more deeply on a Black Sabbath influence, the yin-yang balance between founder/singer/guitarist Sie Carroll’s triumphantly sorrowful vocal melodies and the band’s bone-crunching amplified thunder helps things to sound dynamic, fresh and, at times, spiritual. These latter compositions might linger too long for their own good, undermining their potency a little, but they’re still damn good.

Awesome artwork, great riffs, massive sound, memorable vocals: ‘Dead Sun Worship’ is an impressive debut album. It’s a vigorous, smart and often highly original take on psychedelic doom metal from an interesting new Irish band. Time to wake up to Venus Sleeps.

ALBUM REVIEW: Leather Nun America ‘Buddha Knievel’


‘Buddha Knievel’
Nine Records
(Released: March 2015)

Not just Leather Nun, but Leather Nun America. Presumably because somewhere in the multiverse there is another bunch of loons who’ve also deemed it the must-have monicker. At least nobody else came up with ‘Buddha Knievel’ as an album title – and why the hell would they?

Anyway, bewildering names aside, this is a solid trouserful of old-fashioned doomy metal. California’s Leather Nun America blend the streetwise vibe of The Obsessed with the melancholic foot-tapping twang of Spirit Caravan, the dusty pallor of Pentagram and plenty of NWOBHM attitude. Leather Nun America have been around for years, helping to keep the “Maryland” sound alive.

Their fourth album gets started with ‘Into Abyss’, a swirling Sabbathian trip, before ‘Warwolf’ kicks in with some groovy Cirith Ungolian bestiality. Despite a promising start, this track loses its momentum, and the album doesn’t fully recover until later on.

In fact, the album’s final two songs are perhaps the strongest. ‘Winter Kill’ is a dark, emotional and sludge-infused exploration, with John Sarnie at his most Wino-ish behind the mic. And ‘Irish Steel’ is an immense rock rumblathon, not quite as Motorhead-ish as some of the band’s early work, but more like a slightly overweight and depressed Judas Priest.

In the album’s middle section, some of the songs don’t quite get into full flight and leave little impression. Only ‘Barghest’ gets the blood pumping, with its early-QOTSA energy, while the slow, sad parable of ‘Priestess’ is let down by plaintive (and plain silly) lyrics.

‘Buddha Knievel’ is an album of creative highs and lows – but when they hit their stride, Leather Nun America unleash some timeless doom riffs to proudly keep the flame burning.

REVIEW: Lavamouth ‘Smile Room’ EP


‘Smile Room’ EP
Self-released: February 2015

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

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

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

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

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

ALBUM REVIEW: Endlesshade ‘Wolf Will Swallow The Sun’


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REVIEW: The Munsens ‘Weight Of Night’ EP


‘Weight Of Night’
Self-released: December 2014

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

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

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

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

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

ALBUM REVIEW: Opium Lord ‘Eye Of Earth’


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

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

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

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

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

ALBUM REVIEW: Heavydeath ‘Eternal Sleepwalker’


‘Eternal Sleepwalker’
Svart Records
(Released: March 2015)

Slower than a mountain and twice as heavy, this Swedish trio deliver immensely powerful death-doom with a hammer in one hand and a scalpel in the other. For all its bone-snapping muscle, ‘Eternal Sleepwalker’ is also sharp, cutting and cruel. This band does not simply want to flatten you like roadkill; they want to scrape you off the tarmac and carve you open.

Recorded in just two days, this raw, rumbling debut is no-frills, testicle-deflating metal of ultimate heaviness. The band unleash a volley of understated, crawling riffs, and with each sickening chord another fragment of your soul breaks off and dies. Even in the bleakest moments of repetition and drone (which come a little too frequently) the energy never wanes, the passion never fades.

Heavydeath show what can be achieved with a solitary, raging guitar and a whole heap of inspiration. And coursing through the veins of the music is a charismatic vocal performance that lifts the songs to heavenly reaches, and the drives them down to hellish shadow. Vocals and guitars both come courtesy of Nicklas Rudolfsson (ex-Runemagick), with Johan Bäckman cracking floors with his bass and Daniel Moilanen beating the holy crap out of his drums.

There is no shortage of originality on display on this album, and Heavydeath wield their weaponry with masterful skill and imagination. This is the album that those excited by the band’s extremely promising 2014 demos had prayed for. Formed in 2009, the Swedish outfit has almost fallen apart a few times through various complications, and they only begin playing live shows this year. But if they can replicate the alluring ugliness of this recording, the gigs should be worth the wait.

Heavydeath have a distinctive sound and capture a unique mood with their music. ‘Eternal Sleepwalker’ is blessed with resounding love and seething hate in equal measure, and quality in abundance.

ALBUM REVIEW: Wardenclyffe ‘Control All Delete’


‘Control All Delete’
Ván Records
(Released: March 2015)

Wardenclyffe’s supercharged traditional doom metal effortlessly brings in elements of epic doom and death-doom. Lyrically, the Swedish band deals with some fascinating stuff; themes of transhumanism, global control, cybernetics and occultism abound throughout this thoughtfully thundering debut.

Oh, and lots of electricity. Wardenclyffe LOVE electricity. The band is named after the former HQ of Serbian American electrical engineer Nikola Tesla, who was one of the original members of hard rock band AC/DC. Or something. Adding to the intrigue, their 2012 demo, ‘Ordo Ab Chao’, was actually recorded as a soundtrack to a doctoral thesis written by singer/guitarist and band founder Jacob Nordangård, called ‘The Political History Of Biofuels In The European Union’. See? Fascinating stuff.

There may be some curious cerebral themes at play, and song titles such as ‘Externalization Of The Hierarchy’, but, on the other hand, there is also a rumbling dirge called ‘Merchants Of Doom’, demonstrating Wardenclyffe’s solid footing in the timeless ways of doom.

The pace of the album rarely raises above a trundle, but there are fiery passages of chugging death metal, which add a degree of emotional tumult. You can feel the influence of Paradise Lost, Celtic Frost and Samuel in the foundations of Wardenclyffe’s subtle control and quality, while quirky Swiss doomsters Pÿlon also spring to mind.

Generally, ‘Control All Delete’ is elegant if not always enthralling; it’s often more soothing than electrifying. It may occasionally feel slightly one-paced, but there are exquisite solos and admirable guitar dexterity, against a solid four-string counterweight and some wild-eyed skin pummelling.

Melody is lovingly integrated into the miserable morass. Alongside biofuel expert Nordangård, the band was created by guitarist Ola Blomkvist of the brilliant Griftegard, and there are traces here of that band’s gloomily uplifting nature. There are also plenty of genuine surprises along the way.

Wardenclyffe’s debut album is an extremely enjoyable exploration of mind and misery. This is high quality doom metal that honours the past while heading steadfastly into an uncertain future. Are friends electric? Yes they are.

REVIEW: Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard ‘Nachthexen’ (EP)


Released: February 2015

It’s safe to say that Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard (hereafter referred to as MWWB) do not take themselves too seriously.

“We are the ideal soundtrack to you next intergalactic voyage or black hole exploration,” they announce, warning that while listening to their music “you may have difficulty focusing.”

But the Welsh band’s comical monicker and frivolous stoner patter belie the genuine menace and magnificence of this synth-soaked cosmic doom opus.

‘Nachthexen’ is a 30-minute song of killer psychedelic riffage that draws on the mightiest influences (Sabbath, Sleep, Cathedral) and then launches into outer space like a bong-powered sludge rocket.

During the opening few minutes, otherworldly female vocals decorate the air like intergalactic butterflies, while swirling guitars pummel and pound like the engines of Apollo 11, the bass rumbles like last night’s curry and the drums course like electricity. Too many dumb similes? Who cares, this is awesome!

Despite the band’s light-hearted warning, there is no danger of losing focus while MWWB are doing their stuff. This is a dynamic, relentlessly entertaining riffathon that demands your full attention and maintains it throughout the entire duration of the kaleidoscopic track.

Riff after riff, MWWB’s creative juices explode from the speakers and ‘Nachthexen’ twists, turns, trundles, reinvents, pauses for breath, goes again, generating a phenomenal amount of groove, gravity and cheer enjoyment.

It would’ve been great to have Jessica Balls’s dreamy voice woven through more of the music, but regardless, this is a gem of spaced-out doom metal. The band refers to their tunes as “colossal interstellar arias” and while they might be kidding around, it’s a definition that fits perfectly.

Don’t miss out. Limited magnetic tapes available in the Spring.

ALBUM REVIEW: Crimson Swan ‘Unlit’


Quality Steel Records
Released: March 2015

German band Crimson Swan perform an atmospheric, floating style of death-doom that encompasses the likes of Swallow The Sun, Paradise Lost, Mournful Congregation and Shape Of Despair. From start to finish, ‘Unlit’ offers solid, blissful heaviness, epic and elongated riffs, and rich, soaring melody.

The seething tones of the guitars work well in a delicate balance against the split clean/growled vocals. And solemn synths are an excellent, mournful ever-presence, underpinning and strengthening the band’s overall sound, especially on the glorious ‘Accusations’ and the stunning funeral-doom album closer ‘Voidhaven’.

The first track, ‘Fade To Nothingness’, has great energy and momentum, but is a little safe and familiar. The same can be said of much of the album’s first half, and it is only later on that the quality steel is unleashed.

Crimson Swan sometimes fall prey to the trap of being overly emotive; squeezing in so many heart-wrenching elements that they begin to have the opposite of their desired effect – turning listeners off rather than drawing them in. There is too much flowery poetry, too much ersatz whispering, too much fairytale. Such emotional overload undermines the gravity of the band’s slow, serpentine riffs and their elegiac musicality.

“Staring at a crimson horizon.” (Oh God, he’s whispering again…) “I am draped in a cloak of shadows.” (OK, I’ll put the kettle on…) Sadly, when he’s not employing unnecessarily hushed tones, the singer’s thinly growled vocals are also less than convincing. In fact, he is at his best when simply singing; something that happens too infrequently on this album.

The final two songs are truly gigantic doom opuses, but that’s not quite sufficient to make up for repeated infringements earlier on. Crimson Swan’s ‘Unlit’ is an ambitious debut that has masterful moments, but is blighted by mawkish sentimentalism.

ALBUM REVIEW: Garden Of Worm ‘Idle Stones’

garden of worm

‘Idle Stones’
Svart Records
(Released: March 2015)

After their 2010 self-titled debut album – which was an odd but generally engaging twist on traditional doom metal – Finnish trio Garden Of Worm took a few years off to think things through and find their identity. Now they have returned with something even weirder.

Being named after a King Crimson song, it was always apparent that the band had a passion for the progressive, and they have really allowed this element to come to the fore on ‘Idle Stones’, albeit in a slow and solemn kind of way.

Gentle tides of folky prog rock swirl against an understated, hazy doom vibe as Garden Of Worm unfold their minimalist, freeform compositions in a quiet and unhurried manner. Rarely do the guitars make more than a casual growl, and while there are moments of lively retro occult rock, these are fleeting.

There is plenty of quality and imagination on display throughout this four-track album, but the music is a little too jumbled and unstructured to be thoroughly convincing. The songs sound incredibly relaxed and intimate, wandering through mist and magic before circling back on themselves and ultimately gong nowhere in particular. This almost-casual, improvised approach – notably on ‘Summer’s Isle’ – could be either liberating or deeply frustrating, depending on what kind of a day you’re having.

The final track, ‘The Sleeper Including Being Is More Than Life’, hints at the band’s doom metal past with good ol’ church bells and a rumbling intro, but the 20-minute arrangement never really springs into life. The same can be said for the album as a whole: it’s sparse, original and often charming, but lacking in real purpose and energy.

ALBUM REVIEW: Lizard Queen ‘Third Eye’

lizard queen

‘Third Eye’
(Released: January 2015)

Italian band Lizard Queen deliver charismatic lo-fi stoner metal, touching upon desert rock in some parts, doom in others and elsewhere sludge. From trippy chanting and droning to full-on rock raucousness, Lizard Queen pack their compositions with intrigue and invention, ebbing and flowing between hard-hitting riffs and dream-like doomy mantras.

This, their second full-length release, is jammed with original and high-quality stuff, but too often it’s about as heavy as an inflatable sparrow on the moon. That’s because the guitar tones sometimes sound thin and lifeless, while the rumbling bass is often too quiet. Which is a real shame, because many of the eleven tracks on offer here would be pretty awesome if they were infused with a bit (lot) more power.

For example: the track ‘Monolith’ features the kind of classic stoner metal riff that you could sit and listen to non-stop for a week. There are some nicely balanced melodic rock vocals on display and, for once, the churning bass guitar is loud and prominent in the mix. But the song struggles to maintain its initial momentum. It’s not helped by the rather stilted drum fills and awkward transitions, but mainly it is undermined by a  slight disengagement or feeling of distance. Similarly, ‘Summer Of The King’ starts off as a swirling, delicately doomed monster, but the lack of depth in the band’s overall sound again proves critical.

Undoubtedly, the quality and creativity is present, and if you’re not looking for really super-heavy stuff, then you’ll be happy enough with this stoner fare. Hypnotising though Lizard Queen are (such as on the great finale ‘Lotus Of Destruction’), it is difficult not to feel that this album is a missed opportunity. Had they been able to capture all their power and commitment into the recording, then ‘Third Eye’ would be a real blast.

ALBUM REVIEW: Cryptrip ‘The Great Magmatic Leviathan’


‘The Great Magmatic Leviathan’
(Released: January 2015)

Scientists at the esteemed Italian Space Agency recently noticed a colossal object hurtling towards Earth. The object was moving at an almost impossibly slow pace, and travelling on a direct collision course. In January, it finally landed: Cryptrip’s debut album, ‘The Great Magmatic Leviathan’.

The Italian band, formed in 2012, have a created a slow, sludgy, stoner acid trip that sounds like it emanates from another galaxy. Opening track ‘Mescaline 1: Journey To The Moon Of Xzvarth’ rumbles into existence like an ancient Sabbath demo that’s been drifting around the cosmos for the last 50 years collecting alien dust. Swooshing, kaleidoscopic synths work well in parallel with long, shuddering riffs; dragging you through a swamp of low-end ecstasy.

Despite its basic premise of “slow and sludgy”, this is an album of many highlights and surprises. ‘My Evil Master Of Stone’, for example, is a timeless, thundering doom metal giant. The track gets your pulse racing even though it crawls like a snail. ‘Green Flesh Of Zombie’, meanwhile, sounds like an old Cathedral LP put through a food mixer and then fed to a diseased old goat. Beautiful stuff. There’s an unexpected blast of stoner black metal to kick off ‘Ghost Of The Pale Mountain’ before normal service resumes – elegantly sludgy traditional doom with a stoner twist.

Elsewhere, Cryptrip use layered, echoing vocals to add to the dizzying atmospherics. There are hints of the band’s death-doom roots when the vocal style gets more ragged, although these are not always the album’s most effective sections. Perhaps the cleaner style is better-suited to their dreamy atmospheres and psych influences.

There are a few occasions where this release loses some focus and becomes too simplistic. But generally ‘The Great Magmatic Leviathan’, which was mastered by James Plotkin in the USA, maintains a high level of quality and originality. There is always an underlying groove and energy to the music, and the songs are neatly packaged to ensure things never get repetitive. Cryptrip’s debut album brings personality and atmosphere to the world of sludgy stoner doom, and when it lands it makes an enormous crater in your world.


ALBUM REVIEW: Diesel King ‘Concrete Burial’

diesel king

‘Concrete Burial’
When Planets Collide
(Released: February 2015)

British hardcore-death-sludge heavyweights Diesel King will drown you in decibels. Their full-length debut is loud, abrasive and lots of fun. If “full-length” is even an accurate description. The entire album last for less than 30 minutes, meaning an average song length of around three minutes. Not exactly stereotypical sludge, then. In fact, most sludge bands write riffs that last longer than a whole Diesel King song. Rather, this filthy five-piece play a kind of slow, sludgy death metal interspersed with rabid fast bits. ‘Concrete Burial’ is an extended heart attack, a blur of pain and palpitations.

Throughout this brief blast of doomed bedlam, there are moments of almost-buried groove as well as echoes of the mighty Entombed. Lacking the variety and cutting edge of that great Swedish band, it would not be quite right to christen Diesel King as sludge’n’roll pioneers, but they certainly do things their own way. And while their repertoire is not one of elegant sophistication, they make up for that with low-end madness that’ll turn your bones to jelly, while Mark O’Regan’s wild-eyed, vomiting growl might make you lose hope completely.

The title track is fantastically incessant, as if trying to strip every last drop of meat from your carcass, while songs like ‘Prone To Destroy’ and ‘Horror. Disgust’ are utterly enormous. There are one or two lesser moments, such as the underwhelming ‘Facesplitter’, while the numerous uptempo twists might put off some doom fans. But Diesel King have an aptitude for turning something plain and simple into something crushingly effective. Diesel King’s music is as heavy as a haemorrhage, as painful as a hammer blow to the brain – and their debut album might kill you.

ALBUM REVIEW: Torpor ‘From Nothing Comes Everything’


‘From Nothing Comes Everything’
Head Of Crom / Black Bow Records
(Released: February 2015)

Heavy and honest sludge entrepreneurs Torpor have unveiled a debut album that successfully merges gigantic riffs with bleak post-metal and hints of hardcore. The album’s title may be slightly obvious and its artwork over-designed, but within lurks personality and invention. ‘From Nothing Comes Everything’ is infused with a breathless, dizzying energy that courses through the band’s raging tones, even despite the repeated mood and tempo changes, to ensure that each of the album’s six songs sounds fresh and elemental.

When they hit their stride, Torpor become a fierce, clattering pain machine. The British quartet can flatten cities with their gloriously interweaving guitars, crippling drums and multiple vocal styles. Nowhere is this deadly combination more evident than at the beginning and ending of ‘Surrender To The Light’, although the song’s middle section is a little less exciting. There are many highlights to be discovered on this interesting and sometimes provocative release, including the shuddering heaviness of ‘Abandon’ and the twisting, evil riffs of ‘Everything We Left Behind’.

But where Torpor’s personality really shines through is during the passages where post-hardcore elements fizz and froth to the fore. ‘As Waves Crash’, for example, may temporarily elbow aside the sludgy bleakness, but it is undoubtedly a standout track because it feels new, intense and memorable. Over the last couple of years, Torpor having been doing the rounds with the likes of Conan and Bast, demolishing gloomy venues around the UK. Torpor, thankfully, offer something a little bit different and they have the creativity and quality to stand out. They are not yet consistently distinctive enough to be challenging for the British sludge crown, but ‘From Nothing Comes Everything’ finds a young band exploring new ways to brutalise.

ALBUM REVIEW: Morbid Evils ‘In Hate With The Burning World’

morbid evils cover

‘In Hate With The Burning World’
Svart Records
Released: March 2015

Finnish sludge purveyors Morbid Evils hate everything. They hate the world. They hate sunshine. They hate melodies. They hate happiness. They hate each other. They hate you.

So far, so sludgy, right? You could even argue that ‘In Hate With The Burning World’ is the perfect sludge album, offering as it does absolutely no glimmer of hope, love or beauty. The only downside to such a spectacularly negative outlook, though, is that the band’s failure to allow even the narrowest shard of hope to shine through makes this relentlessly desolate, furious album seem slightly one-dimensional.

Whereas some sludge-trudgers, from Isis to Subrosa, are able to keep the listener guessing by offering elements of light that put the darkness into context, here you just know there is nothing to look forward. Nothing on the horizon, just more of the same.

The band even tell you as much: “Our aim is to create soundscapes that suck the listener into fiery sewers in which there is no hope for a future,” says Keijo Niinimaa (guitars/vocals). And in that sense, it’s mission accomplished; ‘In Hate With The Burning World’ is slow, raucous and agonised.

Morbid Evils commit heart and soul to this bleakest of world views, wilfully luxuriating in their own anguish. The levels of intensity and energy on this debut album are hugely impressive. There are also plenty of cruel, chugging riffs, such as on the powerfully bleak track ‘In Hate’ or the hideous ‘Pollute’, while the growled vocals are consistently raw and bloody.

The album’s six songs do not outstay their welcome (generally clocking in around the seven-minute mark), showing that Morbid Evils have a good understanding of how to hone their noise, making it survivable if not exactly enjoyable. Such dedication, care and expertise suggest that maybe these Finnish misery-mongers don’t hate everything after all.

What’s more, ‘In Hate With The Burning World’ is so self-consciously and absolutely uncommercial that it’s almost sure to be a winner for Svart Records. If you love music that is hopeless to the point of droning depravity, you’ll fall head over heels in hate with Morbid Evils.

REVIEW: Count Absurdo ‘The Night Of The Living Soil’ (EP)

count absurdo

‘The Night Of The Living Soil’
Released: Nov 2014

Terrifying, surprising and plain weird in equal measure, Helsinki power doom trio Count Absurdo certainly leave a memorable aftertaste.

They boast bass tones that could shatter steel, guitars that slowly flay the skin from your body, drums that sound like the echo of a thunderstorm in Hades, finely-crafted compositions and a creepy atmosphere… but all of these finer aspects of the music pale into insignificance against the insane high-pitched vocals of the opening track ‘Welcome To The Mansion’. It’s like King Diamond having a heart attack in a brothel.

‘The Night Of The Living Soil’ is a messed-up and disorientating curiosity. The three songs race by in a flash – even the super-slow and menacing nine-minute opus ‘From Dusk Till Doom’. Here, the crazy sky-scraping vocals make a reappearance, although only in the background, which is probably a blessing. Overall, all three band members contribute to the vocals, which adds to the sense of confusion.

There is not enough glue sticking everything together. The quirky elements come and go, as one moment the band focus on bluesy improv and the next they explore faster power rock. As a result, the various sections will appeal to different audiences, but some people might be distracted by the ever-shifting vibe. With absurdity comes a degree of inaccessibility, and, while Count Absurdo are undoubtedly original, it is difficult to feel a deep connection with a personality that keeps changing.

See if you can unravel the mystery here:

ALBUM REVIEW: Apostate ‘Time Of Terror’


‘Time Of Terror’
(Released: March 2015)

Ukraine’s Apostate come howling from the vast expanses of Europe’s largest country (Russia is pan-continental) like a sickly black wind. They create long, twisting hymns of horror, expertly controlling their distinctive mix of woe and fury in order to ensure that we are, in equal measure, surprised and sated.

Ukraine’s oldest doom metal band started life in 1993 as a black/death metal outfit, initially lasting only five years. They reformed in 2009 and unveiled their debut album ‘Trapped In A Sleep’ a year later. Today, reflections of that ferocious past life remain, with the band switching between slow, hellish torture, melancholic groans of suffering and blasts of cataclysmic speed.

There are five songs on offer here, each around the 10-minute mark, and each showing a slightly different side to Apostate’s intriguing personality. ‘World Undying’, for example, showcases their commitment to timeless doom metal standards, while ‘Pain Served Slow’ features a riff that’s as delicate as it is complex, without ever losing the ever-present, house-demolishing power that this Ukrainian five-piece concoct.

The album’s standout track is perhaps ‘Pale Reflections’, with its curious time signatures, artery-popping guitars, tsunami drum work and evil, rasping vocals. When they put it all together, Apostate sound like a potent combination of Hooded Menace, 40 Watt Sun and Mayhem. With a splash of Celtic Frost’s vivid originality and, on the heart-wrenching ‘Memory Eclipse’, the epicness of Candlemass.

The switches to black metal come a little too frequently, almost becoming predictable as the album progresses. But it must be ceded that the songs are brilliantly moulded in order to blend both styles effortlessly. There is method in the madness.

Apostate’s ‘Time Of Terror’ is a confident, dynamic album that merges raw power with sophistication, as black metal brutality crashes into excellent, original doom metal – with devastating results.

ALBUM REVIEW: Mesmur ‘Mesmur’


Released: December 2014

Mesmur do not want to entertain you, they want to punish you. Perversely, this American band’s dedication to suffering is extremely satisfying – they are experts in pain. The opening track begins with what sounds like a dentist’s drill whirring behind slow, evil guitars and foreboding drums. From that point onwards, you are in a world of hurt.

Fans of Evoken or Mar de Grises will find plenty to admire in Mesmur’s excellent self-titled debut, but this North Carolina outfit add their own distinctive personality to the funeral doom genre with some impressive flourishes. Unlike some funeral bands, this album does not take the best part of a month to get through – the five songs are over in around 50 minutes. And yet Mesmur never rush; they allow their music to breathe and grow like death in a petri dish.

This is misery on a grand scale. Searing, feral lead guitars duel and writhe against a backdrop of four-stringed torture, while Chris G (Orphans Of Dusk) unleashes his pleasingly hot-blooded growl over fascinating drum patterns. And, throughout, the synth work of guitarist/songwriter Yixya (also of progressive black metal loons Dalla Nebbia), are blissfully sinister enough to freeze the red stuff in your veins.

The songs do not abandon you to darkness entirely – they twist and chug, explode and explore, constantly finding new ways to release the band’s fire-eyed demons. From the agonised, creeping death metal of ‘Lapse’ – a song that overextends a little (these funeral dudes have a tendency to over-indulge, y’know) – to the bleakness of the 12-minute ‘Abnegate’, a crawling, standard epic that does not quite showcase the full scope of the band’s talents, this is an album of intensity and curiosity. The devil is in the details.

‘Mesmur’ is a high-quality doom metal release that welcomes you to a secret world of torment and makes you feel right at home. Packed with seething darkness and beautiful keyboards – and featuring the kind of awesome artwork that you can savour while the music unfolds – it comes highly recommended.

REVIEW: Gévaudan ‘Message For The Damned’ (EP)


‘Message For The Damned’
Released: December 2014

UK band Gévaudan were formed in 2013 and this three-track EP is their first release. A very impressive debut it is too, with some fanciful and melodic embellishments upon the heavyweight stoner theme.

Influenced by Goatsnake and Electric Wizard, they unleash substantial stoner riffs with an electrifying modern edge. With rich, warm, thundering tones, they lovingly embrace the finest aspects of traditional doom, but update and invigorate them with their own personality.

This is not mere bong-eyed stoner drifting, there is a depth and vitality to the playing. The combination of vintage and vitriol makes for a great listen: fun, disarming, entertaining and splendiferously heavy. There are subtle hints of Nemesis/early Candlemass, but Gévaudan never really touch upon the epic side, preferring to pulverise rather than wail.

Adam Pirmohead’s clean vocals are pure and arresting, and he mixes it up with some incongruous and unnecessary growling, presumably in a bid to keep things interesting. However, the level of violence that such vocal diversions provides is a little at odds with the band’s animated take on the stoner genre and their stomping, Kyuss-like vibe.

Similarly, perhaps while pushing too hard to squeeze numerous elements into their compositions, the raging, spoken-word passage on the Mage-like title track is over-egged and the song loses its focus. It is admirable that these Brits are keen to instinctively follow their creative flights of fancy, but not all of them work perfectly.

Gévaudan are a band willing and able to explore new nooks and crannies in the crowded stoner doom scene. Should they avoid the omnipresent spectre of Sabbath replication, to which they occasionally succumb, and cut out the unnecessary bits, this young band could create something special.

ALBUM REVIEW: Gallileous ‘Voodoom Protonauts’


‘Voodoom Protonauts’
Epidemie Records (2014)

This Polish space-doom album is a sometimes chaotic meeting of muscle, melody and madness. With its hard-rockin’, organ-driven progressive undertones, it’s a very different proposition to the music Gallileous once created.

Way back in 1992, the band unveiled a demo of raw, shuddering funeral doom called ‘Doomsday’. Since then, they have endured more than their fair share of personal tragedy, but, having reformed in 2006 with a new, blossoming stoner-ish vibe, the modern version of Gallileous focuses on chunky riffs rather than the bleak, anguished aggression of their past.

Having faced loss and grief, maybe they are now at one with the universe, finding solace in the endless mysteries of space. ‘Voodoom Protonauts’ certainly harks back to the likes of Hawkwind or Deep Purple, as well as the energy and atmosphere of a Kadaver recording.

The album’s solid production helps to naturally bring together the various complementary elements: the sturdy guitars, gleefully reverberating bass and clattering drumwork.

Some of the song arrangements feel slightly jumbled – there are numerous moments of brilliance, but they are not always explored to their full potential. Similarly, the vocals can be indistinct and meandering, lacking real power or precision. These two issues results in an album that is frustrating in places, but excellent in others.

The song ‘The Green Fairy’ is one of the standout moments; an uncomplicated and wholly entertaining composition with a catchy riff, sense of humour and resounding personality. The momentum builds, the music develops with tension and excitement and the song finishes on a high. Elsewhere, ‘Brand New Cosmos’ is a mesmerising intergalactic mantra, but the adventure loses some of its appeal as the song progresses.

‘Voodoom Protonauts’ has plenty of great moments, and is packed with impressive, creative space-doom. But it’s difficult to figure where some of the songs are supposed to be taking you. Maybe that’s the problem with launching into the unknown abyss of space – you never quite know where you’ll end up.

REVIEW: Schweinsteiger (Self-titled EP)


Self-titled EP
Released: November 2014

This is sludgy, crawling, puked-up doom metal from Eindhoven, Holland, with hints of black metal in the vocal delivery and a shades of slow, old-school death in the chugging guitars.

Schweinsteiger are stylish and compelling, but too often the three songs on this EP rely on those familiar tactics of ‘sustain’ and ‘repeat’. They are undeniably and furiously bleak, but are not engaging enough to take the listener along for a fully-immersive ride into the soul of the songwriters.

The final track, ‘Waterbound’, is the most consistent and powerful of the three, rising and falling with admirable control, before reaching a simple but synapse-snapping finale.

The choice of Schweinsteiger as a band name is intriguing. The swaggering soccer star Bastian Schweinsteiger plays for Holland’s bitterest rivals Germany, suggesting a rather hateful and anguished frame of mind from this Dutch outfit.

The world champion midfield player is not known for his pace (a perfect match for this kind of music), but he has the intelligence, skill and elegance to thrive at the highest level of the sport. The band that shares his name is not quite of the same class, but they show glimpses of a winning mentality. They are perhaps more of a Per Mertesacker (Germany/Arsenal FC defender). He is big and powerful, but takes an aeon to change direction.

This self-titled EP from the Dutch band creates a solid but unspectacular framework of slowly rotting doom metal. If they are to emulate their decorated namesake, they might need to show a little more self-belief and push their creative abilities to the maximum.

ALBUM REVIEW: Cosmic Plunge ‘Wanderers On The Face Of The Earth’

Cosmic Plunge

‘Wanderers On The Face Of The Earth’
(Released November 2014)

A note to all Promoters, Venues and Doom Fans: Beware!

When groovy Greek stoner leviathans Cosmic Plunge play live, the ground will shake and buildings might collapse. Look what happened at their previous show…

You've Been Plunged

This band from Crete create riffs of immense proportions and play them with strings so low you could use their guitars as skipping ropes. ‘Wanderers On The Face Of The Earth’ consists of seven monstrous tracks of joyous, effortless, rumbling stoner majesty taken from the vault marked “timeless”.

It’s an album of slow, enjoyable Sabbathian groove; in fact, this is probably what Geezer Butler’s dreams sound like. The songwriting is, like the tunes themselves, solid as an ox, and despite the generally pedestrian pace, the album charges along with a resolute energy that is expertly controlled and focused throughout, despite its title.

The bassist calls himself ‘Fucking Wizard’, so it’s probably wise not to spend too much time with him. However, the bone-snapping, atomic-bomb power emanating from his four-stringed doom machine is integral to the ferocious heaviness of the band.

In a genre where Tone is king (guitar tone, that is, not Mr Iommi), twiddling the knobs on your amps to find a killer combination can be half the battle won. Cosmic Plunge have created a winning sound that, while not exactly original, is catastrophically heavy to the point of ecstasy.

It’s not all about knobs, of course. Vocals come from the more sensibly-monickered ‘Jim’, whose singing is original and idiosyncratic, although some of his stylings become a tiny bit repetitive as the album wears on. There are also some beautifully insane lyrics to behold: “Doom, the ship was called. Mad sailors who sail to the edge of the world. There’s a witch weaving alone. Evil mermaid will rest your soul.”

Cosmic Plunge possess all the tools for the creation of thundering, lumbering doom, although they rarely push themselves very far from the basic template. It’s an approach that results in a hugely consistent release which is generally safe and unchallenging – it would be great to see what these guys can do when they really spread their wings.

While they remain primarily guided by the rusty train tracks of classic stoner doom, Cosmic Plunge throw around more than a few new ideas to keep things interesting. ‘Wanderers On The Face Of The Earth’ is a great addition to the stoner hall of fame, keeping the flame burning with unerring faith, passion and enough power to flatten the Parthenon.

REVIEW: Apneica ‘Pulsazioni… Conversione’ (EP)


‘Pulsazioni… Conversione’
(Released August 2014)

Italians Apneica concoct a unique brand of experimental, death-doom tinged melancholy. Amidst the grey clouds of jangling guitar tones and gently caressed cymbals, wild flashes of colour appear from nowhere, and black thunder explodes. ‘Pulsazioni… Conversione’ depicts an incongruous combination of meandering doom-rock and floor-cracking ferocity. Extreme-Lite is a very difficult trick to pull off, but Apneica make a worthy effort.

Apneica is the brainchild of Alessandro Seghene, whose screaming vocals are countered impressively with gently melodic Italian-language clean singing. There are numerous transitions between the two sides of the band’s personality, but they are not always smooth. In fact, the sudden changes of emotional direction are so frequent that they quickly become unsurprising.

The song structures and arrangements could be better-managed to allow the undoubted creativity a more secure platform upon which to shine. Too often, the band’s impulsive approach to songwriting is a distraction – too many changes, not enough direction.

This four-song debut EP was recorded in Sardinia, mixed in Sweden and is now baffling / enthralling heavy music fans the world over. It is effervescent and energised, but its volatility never quite spills into something dangerous. Though not especially heavy, there is a pleasing depth and inventiveness to the music, though – particularly on ‘In Orbita’, the most complete and satisfying track on offer, and one which is guaranteed to get heads nodding.

‘Pulsazioni… Conversione’ is an intriguing release that flashes between a myriad emotions to create an atmosphere of bewilderment and frustration.

REVIEW: Gale ‘Vol.1’ (EP)


‘Vol. 1’
Self-released October 2014

If a gale is an unstoppable force of nature that wants to smash you into the mud and destroy your world, then this Phoenix, Arizona band could not be better-named. Recorded live (almost in one take only), there is a pleasingly natural-sounding unity and dynamism to Gale’s debut release.

The amplified drums are deranged and animated, the shuddering bass gets geiger counters flickering across the land, and the two guitarists brew up a wild, forbidding storm. Together, they deliver twisted riffs that are both powerful and controlled. All four members contribute vocally, and while the fleeting clean vocals could be stronger, they do add a hint of delicate melody to temper the growling fury.

This young band has concocted five sludgy, YOB-like tracks that rarely sound anything other than original, gutsy and sharp as a madman’s axe. Gale are undoubtedly intense, but they use their extremity wisely, never pushing towards tedium or mindless heaviness. The thoughtfully-composed songs grow and beguile as much as they batter and blast.

Gale’s ‘Vol. 1’ is an intelligent and well-judged debut that reveals an exciting young band full of ideas. If this is the calm before the storm, then 2015 could be one hell of a year.

ALBUM REVIEW: Blue Snaggletooth ‘Beyond Thule’


‘Beyond Thule’
(Released: November 2014)

Play it loud and revel in the madness of Blue Snaggletooth’s joyous, cathartic stoner escapism. Considerable line-up changes since 2011’s debut album ‘Dimension Thule’ do not seem to have affected the Michigan, USA band’s core energy, and sole surviving member and songwriter Chris Taylor has concocted a relentless barrage of excellent riffs that his new colleagues help him to deliver with power and precision.

Taylor’s lyrics centre around classic fantasy and sci-fi themes, adding to the album’s unapologetically vintage vibe. This is definitely natural rather than nostalgic, though – Blue Snaggletooth may be fuelled by the forefathers of 1970s rock and metal, but their skill and vigour ensures that they sound modern and original. You might find traces of Grand Magus, Kyuss, Fu Manchu, Priestess, Hawkwind, QOTSA, Pearl Jam or Monster Magnet, but essentially Blue Snaggletooth are their own masters.

‘Beyond Thule’ kicks off with ‘Reptiles’ and it’s immediately clear what’s in store: a wall of crunching guitars that churn out tight, lively riffs. The album’s second song ‘Sleeping Mountain’ is perhaps the standout composition, combining groovy, melancholic and doomy rock with a delicious chorus, and showcasing a penchant for epicness that befits the spectacular lyrical scope.

The second half of the album hints at elements of “proto-doom”, although leaning more towards Budgie and Pentagram than the bleakness of Black Sabbath. There are a few slowed-down moments, such as on the song ‘Gawkers’ (one of the few tracks than drifts off-course slightly), but generally Blue Snaggletooth succumb to the intoxicating lure of high-octane stoner celebration.

A number of the songs are over almost before they begin, resulting in an occasional failure to capitalise on great ideas. But the flip-side of that complaint is that you’re left with an album that is almost entirely trimmed of fat – ‘Beyond Thule’ is a lean and muscular stoner rock beast.

ALBUM REVIEW: Caskets Open ‘To Serve The Collapse’


‘To Serve The Collapse’
Ranka Kustannus
(Released: 21 November 2014)

Not only is this casket open, but the corpse has jumped out and is currently chewing the feet off the shocked and terrified congregation.

Caskets Open are blessed with a knack for making even the simplest riff sound ground-breaking, adding their fierce Finnish fire to the icy chill of traditional doom to create something amazing.

Caskets Open describe themselves as “slow rock”, but that scarcely does justice to the depth and intrigue of their sound. From slow, evil, pulsating riffs to thunderous hardcore energy, they are certainly doing things their own way. This is not a band trying to please anyone but themselves by following occult trends or feigning misery – they simply follow their hearts and their passion floods out through the music they compose.

The quality never lets up – ‘To Serve The Collapse’ is remarkably consistent release, packed with excellent new material plus a couple of re-recordings of the best stuff from their recent demos.

In particular, the album closes with ‘I Don’t Mind’, a spectacular track originally to be found on the band’s exciting 2008 demo ‘Buried Upside Down’. It sounds better than ever – effortlessly mixing epic and aggressive with a level of success that few bands manage. Timo Ketola’s clean, impassioned vocals are more sour than sweet as he leads us into his world of pain.

Slice into Caskets Open and you might find veins of Paradise Lost, Cerebral Fix, Saint Vitus, Reverend Bizarre, Candlemass, Witchsorrow… There are reflections of Type O Negative in the sudden bursts of punk violence, and these faster sections only serve to highlight the regal grandeur of the slower songs. Often, the band manages to cleverly combine opposing elements into one whole, such as on ‘Humanist’ where choral backing meets hardcore ferocity.

The songs grow and blossom like lung cancer, taking you ever closer to pain and death. From the brilliant elegance of ‘Phantom Wood’ to the unstoppable force of ‘Mayhem’, this album is at once angry and epic, deeply personal and yet highly accessible. An amazing release that keeps giving – go and buy it immediately.

ALBUM REVIEW: Barabbas ‘Messe Pour Un Chien’

Messe pour un chien

‘Messe Pour Un Chien’
Released: November 2014

French. The language of love, of romance, of poetry. And now, thanks to Barabbas, of idiosyncratic, versatile doom metal that on occasion is so sexy it’ll get vous hot under le collar.

However, from the moment you realise that the album’s title translates as ‘Church Service For A Dog’, it is clear that nothing here is clear. Far from being poodle-pampering Parisians, this band from the suburbs of Combs-la-Ville deliver potent, passionate music from the heart. In places, ‘Messe Pour Un Chien’ transcends the confines of genre tagging. Yes it is undoubtedly doom metal at its core, but this is curious, elemental heavy music that crosses boundaries.

From gothic church organs to a brief Diamond Head homage, it is difficult to define the personality of this band. Most visibly, Barabbas play thundering, glowering stoner doom with raucous, rough-hewn vocals and vital, vicious guitars.

The French band had promised something “dynamic and overwhelming” and they have certainly delivered on that. The album is packed almost to the top with richly rewarding material that offers the listener a real adventure. From the stylishly rising chorus of ‘Priez’ to the strange and beautiful synths on the title track, you get a sense of creative juices flowing freely.

‘Messe Pour Un Chien’ is also produced with great care and attention, showcasing the band’s solid songwriting skills. There are a couple of uptempo rocky tracks – ‘Moi, Le Male Omega’ and ‘La Beaute Du Diable’ – which neglect the heaviness and do not quite sit comfortably amidst the doomy density of the rest of the album.

But things quickly get back on track with the gloriously over-the-top ‘Judas Est Un Femme’ – and you don’t have to be multi-lingual to comprehend the meaning behind that song title. On this composition, a sludgy, filthy, mud-sucking riff is counteracted with a gargantuan choral chorus. It’s spectacularly enjoyable.

This album is full of surprises, character and invigorating doom metal. It’s the kind of release that can divide opinion while also appealing to a diverse audience, and such versatility demonstrates a band unafraid to experiment and explore its identity.

REVIEW: The Howling Void ‘Runa’ (EP)


Avantgarde Music
(Released October 2014)

In the case of The Howling Void’s ‘Runa’, EP stands less for Extended Play and more for EP-ic! This three-track mini-album is like a soundtrack to some fantastical Warhammer movie in which shadow and plague cross the land and all the good guys die. The End. There is a great deal of philosophical and mystical inspiration poured into the compositions, but it all boils down to a staggering end-of-days vibe.

This one-man band from San Antonio, Texas, has released four full-length albums to date, including 2013’s ‘Nightfall’, and the triumphant triumvirate of songs on offer here (two of which were also recorded earlier in 2013) mark a shift away from previous funeral dirges towards a more accessible and melodic “Celtic” style of atmospheric doom. New track ‘The Wolf And The Eclipse’ joins older favourites ‘Irminsul’ and ‘Nine Nights’ and the songs complement each other well.

‘Runa’ builds on the symphonic elements that can be found on ‘Nightfall’ to create an vast, misty landscape peopled by the dead and dying. The Howling Void draws in aspects of Moonsorrow, Hamferd and Falkenbach, including a blackened undertone, while weaving together tribal elements and tranquil keyboards that add warmth and depth to the multi-layered sound.

The vocals are occasional, clean, peaceful and passive as if unwilling to interrupt the grandeur of the music. The songs swell and build, surging ever-forward like an eternal war machine. Complexity and originality are not the focus here – ‘Runa’ is more a case of perfecting a certain sound; painting the background to a vision of the world. A precursor to greatness, perhaps, a taste of immense sorrows to come.

ALBUM REVIEW: Anguish ‘Mountain’

Dark Descent Records
(Released November 2014)

Anguish’s songs seem designed to confuse and disorientate the listener. If you have the patience to get into the required frame of mind, the fleeting, tangential nature of the eight tracks that make up this vertiginous ‘Mountain’ are kind of enthralling; a twisted masterclass of intriguing, unsettling doom metal.

The band hails from Uppsala in Sweden, and ‘Mountain’ is the follow-up to their debut ‘Through The Archdemon’s Head’ – a release that piqued the curiosity of the doom world in 2012. Two years on, Anguish might not have established themselves as a major influence within the genre with their latest album, but they certainly demonstrate a forceful personality.

‘Mountain’ has a schizophrenic split between traditional epic doom and raging restlessness. Singer J. Dee’s style is sometimes akin to that of Tom G Warrior, a mournful rasp of rebellion, and the guitars’ muscular discordant chug has echoes of old Celtic Frost. Agitated and awkward.

And yet Anguish blend all of that with the elegant, epic riffs of Candlemass, showing a slow and mighty mastery of traditional doom metal values – as well as a willingness to reach for the stars. Elsewhere there are elements of Griftegard and Pallbearer, but lacking the direct impact of those bands.

The golden-winged opening riff of the song ‘Master of Peak’s Fall’, for example, is spectacular, although the band seems unwilling or unable to fully exploit its potency, preferring to wander in search of the answer when the answer is staring them in the face. Therefore, despite the band’s vigour and creativity, some of the huge potential of these songs remains untapped by a refusal to focus on what works most simply and effectively.

There are many moments of overwhelming raw power and excitement scattered over this ‘Mountain’, and undoubted quality running throughout the album, particularly on tracks such as ‘The Woven Shield’. Among the cloudy peaks there are also some low, rock-strewn valleys, as ultimately ‘Mountain’ never quite settles into a satisfying rhythm – the relentless tempo changes and riff switches eventually become a little frustrating.

Is this ‘Mountain’ worth climbing? Yes, but remember to take a packed lunch.

ALBUM REVIEW: Mage ‘Last Orders’


‘Last Orders’
Witchhunter Records
Released: 31 October 2014

Mage’s excellent 2012 debut album ‘Black Sands’ was a maelstrom of thrashy doom, and this impressive follow-up continues in a similar vein. ‘Last Orders’ is a collection of seven high-quality tracks that are majestically controlled and compact – and yet also ripple with a spectacular energy. This is the sound of a band in rude health, utterly watertight but far from safe. These underrated UK rockers barge into your living room, kick the pet dog out of the way, plug in and blast it.

The 1980s thrash metal influences remain, but perhaps now there is a little more Candlemass than Overkill, more Kyuss than Suicidal Tendencies. Mage have gotten darker, although not necessarily dirtier. They capture all their hurt and horror into finely crafted compositions. ‘Beyond’, for example, is a gigantic doomed epic, while ‘Violent Skies’ brings in a grungy stoner groove that is delivered with a confident air to ensure the vibe remains fresh. Mage are able to reach emotional depths through understatement and simplicity, a sign of worldy wisdom perhaps.

That said, some parts of ‘Last Orders’ hurtle like a massive, shuddering asteroid. ‘Old Bones’ sounds like Motorhead wrestling with Orange Goblin in a thunderstorm. And it possesses more fire and brimstone than the latest offerings from either of those great metal standard-bearers. Recorded at Skyhammer Studio in the UK and produced by Chris Fielding (Conan, Electric Wizard), this album is brilliantly balanced with a slightly meaner, meatier sound than on the band’s previous release.

Vocalist Tom sounds like Phil Anselmo after a few sleeping pills (in a good way) and while there is not a lot of variety in terms of the tonality or melody, his interesting patterns and phrasing make him a pleasure to listen to. Lyrically, too, you can fall into ‘Last Orders’ very easily and become part of the adventure. As with the music, understatement is the order of the day, and the lyrics are teasing and tantalising, never scarce or trite.

If there are any complaints, it would be that Mage tend to reject the codpiece-wearing, catchy choruses that some of these monster tracks deserve. Nothing too cliched or obvious, of course, but perhaps a few more to sing along to would boost the overall impact. And the final song on ‘Last Orders’ – ‘One For The Road’ – could be called a little formulaic by Mage’s own high standards.

Mage’s new album is a consistently excellent offering, combining doom with traditional metal energy, stoner grooves and thrash power. ‘Last Orders’ is a smart, modern album that is highly recommended for anybody who values honest-to-goodness heavy metal that worships the riff and is doomed to eternal damnation. Sign up here.

ALBUM REVIEW: Black Capricorn ‘Cult Of Black Friars’


‘Cult Of Black Friars’
Stone Stallion Rex
Released: 1 November 2014

Two witches and one warlock from Cagliari, Italy, make up Black Capricorn, and between them they create slow, swirling doom metal that is dark and relentless. ‘Cult Of Black Friars’ is often hypnotising – the fuzzy guitars of Fabrizio Monni crawl along with a creeping insistence, while his vocals are grim and echoing.

At first, it sounds as if this might be a fantastic album of ritualistic, epic doom. However, as it progresses, ‘Cult Of Black Friars’ drifts along to the point where it ceases to be challenging or original enough to maintain a listener’s full attention. Some parts of the album are really successful, merging aspects of Jex Thoth, Candlemass and Alice In Chains. And there are some deliciously groovy moments, as well as lots of hard-hitting heaviness. But the riffs are simply too obvious and under-developed to make a lasting impression.

Black Capricorn are inspired by some pretty cool stuff – from manga to Italian movies – and they utilise these at various times in the form of audio samples and book extracts in order to keep you guessing. The track ‘Animula Vagula Blandula’ kicks off with a beautiful, mournful flute-focused intro section, but the promised intrigue fails to materialise. Instead, another rather basic, uninspiring song unfolds before the flute is re-introduced, slightly clumsily, later on. The track is built on an intriguing idea and has great promise but it does not quite deliver.

The band has light-heartedly described the album’s final, acoustic song ‘To The Shores Of Distant Stars’ as “Black Sabbath meets Pink Floyd”, but in truth Black Capricorn come nowhere close to echoing the deep emotional trenches that those two great bands explore, lacking the sophistication to embark on such memorable adventures. On this, their third release, the Italian band – who have been together since 2007 – create a dark, magical atmosphere but, aside from a few fleeting moments of quality, their music rarely binds together into a convincing or cohesive whole.

ALBUM REVIEW: Hypnochron ‘Herbs For The Alter’


‘Herbs For The Alter’
Released: 24 October 2014

Imagine that a wildebeest has been to a party with some guys from work, sank a few Southern Comforts WAY too fast and before long was smashing the place up, shouting: “You’re all assholes anyway!” Hypnochron is the sound of that wildebeest’s hangover. ‘Herbs For The Alter’ is a painful mix of confusion, paranoia, violence and a deep, addled sense of satisfaction.

‘Smoke Weed, Hail Satan!’ is the Chicago band’s motto, and this is definitely a wavelength album – in that you have to be in the right ‘frame of mind’ to get the most from it. The riffs are lumbering monsters, sometimes drawing on classic or even thrash metal influences, but always slow and soothing. So anaesthetising are they, in fact, that the songs sometimes don’t quite materialise at all and the hooks drift by, inches out of reach.

Instrumental music can be enthralling – as Hypnochron’s often is – with the lack of a focal (vocal) personality a means to fuller immersion in the thick guitar tones and the interplay between the band members, leaving the music more open to the listener’s own interpretation. On ‘Herbs For The Alter’, the guitars create a blissful barrage of acidic stoner doom, played with an almost sleepy demeanour. Hypnochron would perhaps benefit from tightening up a little, but even though they are as loose as a technicolor goose, there is no doubting their commitment to the vibe.

Initially it seems that the band might be over-reliant on samples from spooky movies (an affliction that does the genre no justice), but the samples become less frequent as the album progresses. And while not particularly fond of the habit of plundering other people’s creative works, if anyone knows where the quote “I’m still sore from what the devil did to me…” on the track ‘Submit’ derives from, please shout. Elsewhere, the samples are less light-hearted, touching upon drug addiction and governmental manipulation.

There is plenty of variety on offer throughout ‘Herbs For The Alter’. The two-minute ‘Snort’ is a comically whirling blast of chaos metal, while songs such as ‘Rise From Below’ and ‘Fall Of The Sun’ are solid blocks of immense, hypnotising doom. And while the production is a touch hit-and-miss, sometimes forcing the drums too far towards the front of the mix, Hypnochron deliver around 50 minutes of music that may alter your perspective on life.