ALBUM REVIEW: Messa ‘Belfry’


(Aural Music, May 2016)

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

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

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

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

ALBUM REVIEW: Funeral Marmoori ‘The Deer Woman’


‘The Deer Woman’
Minotauro Records (Nov 2015)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Argonauta Records. Nov 2015

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

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

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

ALBUM REVIEW: Il Vuoto ‘Weakness’

Satanarsa Records, August 2015

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

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

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

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

ALBUM REVIEW: Doomraiser ‘Reverse’


‘Reverse (Passaggio Inverso)’
BloodRock Records
(Released: January 2015)

Doomraiser have brought all of their considerable experience and craftsmanship to bear on their fantastic fourth full-length release. This is melody and muscle from Italy’s Eternal City and the band, who have been in existence for more than a decade, successfully combine excellent epic doom with good old metal chugging and more aggressive elements.

It’s an updated and sinister version of Solitude Aeturnus or early Paradise Lost – modern, mean and free of nostalgia. With its bombastic synths and thundering crescendos, ‘Reverse (Passaggio Inverso)’ is unapologetically epic and powerful, but yet the music remains grounded and honest, a fistful of worldly suffering. Doomraiser create a sometimes brilliant balance of oh-my-god-we’re-all-gonna-die, and what-the-hell-we’re-all-gonna-die – bold magnificence in the face of desolation.

One or two of the songs are slightly longer than they probably need to be, and perhaps wear a little thin as they plod on. But generally this is an impressively consistent album that’s packed with top-quality doom riffs and stunning vocal melodies. Singer Nicola ‘Cynar’ Rossi (male) expertly balances rough-edged verses with soaring, cathartic choruses. On a couple of occasions, in their grizzliest moments, Doomraiser begin to veer towards rumbling death-doom, but they always pull back before becoming genuinely ferocious, preferring the more thoughtful, melancholic atmospheres afforded by the epic style.

‘Mirror Of Pain’ is one of the standout tracks, with its chugging riffs, colossal chorus and irresistible, miserable groove. ‘Dio Inverso’ blossoms into a towering giant of a song, while ‘In Winter’ is a slow, simple and spectacular doom opus. Mixed and mastered by Billy Anderson, ‘Reverse’ is an album of quality, power and charm from a band that is the master of its art. Anyone who thought epic doom was a matter of history should pay heed to these Italian maestros, who have one foot firmly planted in the glorious past and the other raised to kick you in the face. Enjoy the suffering.

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: 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: Epitaph ‘Crawling Out Of The Crypt’


‘Crawling Out Of The Crypt’
High Roller Records
(Released: 31 October 2014)

One of the lost treasures of the late 1980s / early 1990s Italian ‘spaghetti doom’ movement, Epitaph released three demos back in the day, but never managed a full-length offering. Spin forward 30 years, and here it is, finally! Epitaph turn back the clock with this album, a re-working of dusty old tracks with plenty of modern touches to ensure that it doesn’t sound like a dated vintage novelty.

Opening song ‘Beyond The Mirror’ is a seriously impressive doom metal classic, like a thundering, epic version of early Trouble. Here, the twisting vocals are at their most controlled, the melodies stunning, the chorus unforgettable.

Ultimately, Epitaph do not quite reach those same lofty heights during the eight songs that follow the explosive opener. But there are still plenty of examples of genuine excellence. ‘Battle Of Inside’ is reminiscent of the equally overlooked Averon, or perhaps Chapter VI-era Candlemass, being a tight and solidly-built composition of traditional doom with gentle, understated synthesizer backing.

The keyboards return to great effect in the track ‘Daughters Of Lot’, creating an electric current of excitement each time they appear (and thankfully they re-appear numerous times throughout ‘Crawling Ot Of The Crypt’).

Equal parts energy and enterprise, the song ‘Sacred And Prophane’ is not far behind in terms of enjoyment, although Emiliano Cioffi’s vocals can get rather thin or erratic – a complaint that arises on occasion throughout the album. Also featured is the voice of Gianni Nepi (from fellow Italians Dark Quarterer) which add an extra level of authentic 80s vibe, although again his tones are not to everyone’s tastes.

Initially, the rockier-sounding ‘Loser One’ does not quite fit in, but, as it grows and blossoms, the song demonstrates the band’s adventurous songwriting abilities and willingness to push themselves. Similarly, the rippling bass line that runs through ‘Confuse The Light’ heralds a minor departure in style, but Epitaph have the guile to make it work without losing sight of their doomed core.

Guitarist Lorenzo Loatelli, a relative newcomer who arrived in 2012, adds a dynamic boost to the riffs, delivering enough crunch and heaviness to do justice to music that emanates from an era when metal was metal.

Recorded at the trusty Opal Arts Studio in Verona at the end of 2013, the first master of ‘Crawling Out Of The Crypt’ did not satisfy the band’s critical ear, so they turned to High Roller stalwart Patrick W. Engel, and the results speak for themselves.

A blast from the past they may be, but Epitaph are not exactly crawling from their coffins. More like striding with renewed vigor, while pushing a shopping trolley full of miserable classics. They will surely be warmly welcomed back by dooms fans the world over.