REVIEW: Nest ‘Nest’ (EP)

(Tribunal Of The Axe Records, January 2016)

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

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

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

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

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


REVIEW: Valtiel ‘The Druid’ (EP)

‘The Druid’
(January 2016)

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

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

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

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

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

‘The Black Sun’
DHU Records/Devil’s Child Records

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

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

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

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

REVIEW: Ex People ‘Loss’ (EP)

Released: May 2015

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

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

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

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

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

REVIEW: Grey Skies Fallen ‘Earthwalker’ (promo)

July 2015

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

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

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

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.

REVIEW: Hearserider ‘Demo Tape 2015’

‘Demo Tape 2015’
(June 2015)

These Belgian fuzz pedlars emit some heavyweight, up-tempo stoner doom with frenzied eagerness. The two tracks on this enjoyable demo (‘Green Nebula’ and ‘Thora’) flow like unstoppable orange lava, destroying villages, towns and anyone fool enough to stand in their path.

Hearserider’s sludgy, raging stoner racket sounds like High On Fire in a food mixer. The gravel-chewing vocals are slightly monotone and would serve the songs much better if a touch of melody was added to create more light and shadow – but the raw energy and spirit is devastating.

It’s always great to come across a band with a name that makes you smile. And when they can follow the name up with music that has the power to blast your beard off, you’ve got a surefire recipe for success. So get on board this out-of-control corpse-wagon and take a wild ride into a new world of bustling Belgian doom.

REVIEW: My Lament ‘Sorrow’ (EP)


Solitude Productions (2015)

This five-track EP from Belgium’s My Lament contains some blissfully beautiful and bold moments. The follow-up to 2009’s debut album ‘Broken Leaf’, it sees the band – which has been in and out of existence since 2002 – in potent creative form.

My Lament create atmospheric and overtly emotional death-doom that has the power to turn your heart to ice. Generally slow, mournful and thoughtful, these Belgians also throw in some flashes of black metal fury. Clean vocals also make an occasional appearance, although with this style competing against the blackened rasp and the regular death growls, things can gets more bewildering than intoxicating.

The band seem determined to pour as much of themselves into each track as possible. The end result is that within each song there are elements that work really well, and also some that feel embryonic or unnecessary. Too often, songs seem unwilling to settle or unfold – and the EP can feel more like a series of creative moments rather than a complete and fulfilling whole.

The song ‘Night’, for example, starts off like it might develop into a mighty doom metal epic, but then takes a few sideways steps rather than building momentum towards a soul-flattening climax.

My Lament’s intimate poems of suffering and sadness are fascinating and surprising in many ways – you certainly never know what is coming next. Should they choose to smooth out their arrangements a little, then their heartfelt and engrossing death-doom might become considerably more accessible.

Listen here:

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: Black Forest ‘Sadness’


Endless Desperation Productions (2015)

With a sound and style that harks back to the formative days of death-doom metal, Black Forest were once known as the Russian version of My Dying Bride. Callow youths when this album was first recorded back in 2000, there is plenty of muscle, menace and misery to be found within their dramatic and melodic music.

‘Sadness’ is a marriage of melancholic pianos, weeping violins, wailing guitars and low growls in the grand tradition of British masters such as Anathema and MDB. Poor production quality on the original recording led to delays, until a reworked version that the band was happier with was finally released. Though numerous imperfections remained, the album was very well received in the local Russian market.

Black Forest then split up, with some members preferring to switch to the more popular death metal style, and the band’s huge potential was never fully realised. A decade and a half later, Endless Desperation Productions have brought Black Forest back from the dead with a nicely remastered version of the album.

‘Sadness’ is in places a flawed masterpiece, not only tapping into the black vein that began in the UK in the late 1980s but also adding their own sour and shuddering woe to the mix. A few clumsy moments aside, this is an elegant, fluent, well-paced procession of gloom, truly classic death-doom with plenty of unique touches. There area few awkward trip-ups, but nothing as cheesy as some of the stuff that My Dying Bride themselves have served up over the years.

Powerful tracks such as ‘Disappearing Pain’ have a timeless strength and energy rippling through their doomed verses. The production remains far from ideal, but it’s probably nothing you can’t live with. ‘Sadness’ may not have come out exactly as the band had originally intended, but Black Forest can look back on a mighty doom metal achievement with pride.

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

‘Shrine Of The Serpent’
Materia Prima Records / Parasitic Records (April 2015)

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

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

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

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.

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.

REVIEW: Leechfeast / Meth Drinker (Split)


Split 12″
Dry Cough Records / Raw Birth Records
(Released May 2015)

Listening to Leechfeast is about as much fun as smoking a dog turd: it’s filthy, sickening, abhorrent, inhuman. This offering of slow, down-tuned Slovenian sludge is also gently hypnotising with its turgid tones and solemn vocals. The band’s breathtaking bleakness is kind of beautiful.

And then along come Meth Drinker, and you start reminiscing about that dog turd, thinking maybe it wasn’t so nasty after all. Because Meth Drinker’s input into this split 12″ from Dry Cough is utterly soul-destroying. The New Zealanders’ agonising aural sewage is likely to ruin your day, but equally it might renew your faith in sludge.

It all adds up to an impressively horrendous 20 minutes of musical mutilation and torture. The kind of release that’s probably illegal in some territories for fear of the damage it might do to impressionable young minds. At the very least, this’ll mess up your brain for a little while, leaving you dazed and morose.

Neither of these bands is out to change the world, but they offer a fine example of the power of sludge to emotionally cripple you while painstakingly pummelling your ears into a frothing pulp.

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: Aver ‘Nadir’

Aver Art

(Self-released, March 2015)

Aver’s super-chilled, sun-kissed classic stoner rock sounds like Acrimony, Pearl Jam and Kyuss enjoying a nice day at the beach, relaxing with a few tinnies and throwing some meaty riffs onto the barbie.

Glib Aussie cliches aside, though, this Sydney crew do it right and they do it well – ‘Nadir’ is packed with blissful tracks that swing from serene to stentorian to spaced-out. It’s half bubbling bong cauldron, half coral reef scuba diving.

This is an album that initially grabs you by the throat with its stoner power, then puts its arm around your shoulders and takes you on a peaceful trip into the dazzling haze. The slow thunder of ‘The Devil’s Medicine’ gets things underway with a bang, and the album gets more and more relaxed as it proceeds.

Some of the later songs to not quite live up to the early promise. ‘Setting Sun’, for example, seems to be building to a glistening crescendo, but simply drifts, unchanging, towards a straightforward finale. A little more ambition could have taken this track skywards. Likewise, the ironically-titled ‘Promised Land’ is something of a bongo-battering acoustic let-down.

But with powerful dynamics and groovy ideas, there are plenty of high points too. The grungy ‘Rising Sun’ is pretty enormous, and the album culminates with the floating psych-fest ‘Waves’ – nine minutes of natural rock featuring some lazily awesome riffs to let yourself drown in.

Throughout, the vocals seem to be at their limit in terms of range and power, but Burdt McGirt delivers an enjoyably ragged balance of melody and rawness behind the mic as he does with his buzz-saw guitar.

Overall, ‘Nadir’ offers an understated interpretation of traditional stoner rock. More variation and boldness might help to transform Aver from stoner dudes to creative pioneers, but for now just settle back and let the warm water tickle your toes. If this is indeed the nadir in the lifetime of Aver, we’re in for an astronomical ride.

ALBUM REVIEW: The Slow Death ‘Ark’


Chaos Records (March 2015)

This is the third album from the Sydney-based sorrow-sellers, and it follows last year’s well-received split with Majestic Downfall. The Slow Death have been producing elegantly streamlined funeral doom since 2007, and their latest release sees them in excellent form. There are crawling riffs, gently mournful passages of picking and also liberally-indulged synthesisers, of the swooshing sci-fi variety and also the piano-forte sort. Repeat plays reveal the subtle differences that these keyboards make here and there throughout the album.

Pallbearer main-man Brett Campbell has once again signed up for guitar duties, and while he helps to deliver the kind of six-stringed heaviness that was maybe lacking from the latest Pallbearer album, the real focal point of the album is the constant duel between vocal styles.

‘Ark’ is the final recording from singer Gregg Williamson, who died of heart failure at the end of 2014. His slithering, festering growl is a diseased swamp above which rises the celestial lamentations of Mandy Andresen (Crone, Murkrat). This marked vocal split is a constant feature, and their voices – as well as those of guest singers -duel, harmonise, wail, spit and mourn.

‘Ark’ features six songs; five of them achingly long and processional, and the other a brief, atmospheric instrumental mercifully positioned at the halfway stage. Opening song ‘The Chosen Ones’ is a cataclysmic barrage of utter woe, and the mood goes downhill from there!

Some songs are more impactful than others: the mighty ‘Declamation’, for example, begins with a riff so appallingly miserable that your brain might temporarily shut down, and it then proceeds to crawl through a beautiful mist, offering glimmers of hope in the form of an alluring solo from Campbell, some angelic high-register work from Andresen, and even an chugging uptempo death-doom section. ‘Adrift’ is funeral doom heaven, ‘Perpetuate’ is big and epic, ‘Severance’ is awkward, ugly and less focused, while a handful of the riffs can feel slightly vague, as if designed to recede into the background.

The album is released as a limited edition (1,000 copies) by Mexico’s Chaos Records. Mournful Congregation fans will lap it up, while fans of doom metal in general will also find loads to enjoy lurking within this ‘Ark’, from the killer artwork to the superb interweaving vocal and guitar melodies. The Slow Death go gentle into that good night, and leave a low burning flame in the darkness.

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.

REVIEW: Viajando ‘Counting Days’ EP


‘Counting Days’ EP
Self-released, 31 March 2015

Viajando’s ‘Counting Days’ EP is an enjoyable blast of stoner merriment. Each of the six songs on offer is a four-minute dose of guitar-led heavy stoner rock, featuring traces of Mastodon, Alice In Chains, Voivod, Metal Church and Kyuss.

The US trio concoct big riffs and play them loud. The tones are fuzzy enough to tickle your toes, the bass thick as a brick. And even when the music begins to wander off or feel less than inspired, the high-quality vocals of Taylor A mask any potential drop-off and keep energy levels high.

The same band member is also responsible for the drumming, however, which in places can sound a little safe and pedestrian, while the chattering bass drum interferes with the overall experience of head-nodding happiness. Nothing that can’t be fixed on the next recording.

Occasionally, Viajando enter darker and more emotive musical territory, such as on the thunderously gloomy standout track ‘Rogue’. Meanwhile, the song ‘Dead Mask’ shows early promise and passion with its twisting and idiosyncratic uptempo stoner riff, but then rushes into an undeservedly cathartic chorus before drifting off into uncertainty.

Viajando fit a lot of different elements into their brief songs, all within a solid stoner framework. In fact, they sometimes rush onto the next thing before the previous thing has become fully formed. The positive side of this bumble-bee approach is that songs never pause long enough to even think about becoming dull, which makes ‘Counting Days’ a pretty invigorating experience.

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.

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: 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: 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.

ALBUM REVIEW: DoomLord ‘Black Testament’


‘Black Testament’
Emanes Metal Records
Released: Dec 2014

Take the theatrical majesty of early Candlemass and mix it with the leather-clad energy of Judas Priest… and then leave it to bake in the sun for a few years. The result: DoomLord.

Hailing from steamy Puerto Rico, this band plays a timeless brand of doom metal that the masters of the past would be proud of. Classic, epic, heavy as hell and almost completely devoid of modern trickery – it makes your spine tingle.

Some of the songs are English versions of tracks that appeared on DoomLord’s exciting Spanish-language split with King Heavy earlier last year. This time round, they sound a little more refined and are boosted by a brighter production.

The new songs on offer are delicious, gigantic slices of creamy doom cake. From the creative creepiness of ‘Aminam Possessionem’ to the singalong misery-fest that is ‘Death Penalty’, DoomLord constantly deliver memorable and melodic metal, complete with resplendent keyboards and choruses that soar skywards.

Vestment-clad singer Dark Nerudas falls somewhere between Solitude Aeturnus’s Rob Lowe and former Metal Church front man David Wayne, with maybe a little of Ronnie James Dio’s fist-clenching sense of drama. Nerudas’s big, charismatic vocal performance really helps to bring the music to life.

DoomLord are not quite the finished article just yet though: there are one or two moments during the album that seem little uncertain or unsteady, while a couple of the riffs veer dangerously towards being formulaic. Meanwhile, the handful of spoken-word passages might annoy some listeners. But these are truly minor concerns when set against the album’s overall quality, consistency and pure glory.

Hail the new Lords of epic doom here:

Or 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.

REVIEW: Dö ‘Den’ (EP)


Self-released EP
(January 2015)

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

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

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

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

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

REVIEW: The Raven King ‘Red’ (EP)


Released December 2014

The Raven King have flown in from Gran Canaria, Spain, bringing with them an impressive four-track EP of curious and powerful doom/post-metal. The songs link together well to create an alluring, atmospheric and lovingly imagined release. Hints of black, goth and death underpin the doomy post-metal misanthropy. The gentle fuzz and jangle of the guitars does not quite match the ferocity of the vocals, but nevertheless the two sides of the band’s personality fuse together well.

From the moment that the opening song – ‘I, Bringer Of Death’ – begins with cold wind blowing and great bell chiming, it is evident that The Raven King enjoy using their music to build nervous tension. Ghostly string-plucking is interrupted by a thundering riff – a stoner rock beast given a black edge with Eduardo Rodriguez’s roaring voice.

This in turn is interrupted by a Sabbath-mimicking plod that forms a very memorable and enormously satisfying chorus. The song pauses and reinvents itself, losing and then re-establishing momentum.

The band’s propensity for repeated mid-song lulls is more damaging on the following track, ‘Walls Of Flesh’. Its teasing, deceiving death-doom style is cursed by a refusal to settle on the song’s heaviest / best bits. Instead, The Raven King choose to wander from the path in a dream-like and ultimately futile bid for profundity. Subsequently, the song begins to stutter and the hooks and licks sound uncertain, as if arranged in separate sections rather than one whole.

Likewise, ‘Black Light, Red Death’ is a swirling cauldron of misery and emotion that promises greatness but does not fully explode into existence, before the instrumental outro ‘The World In His Eyes’ ends proceedings on a placidly sorrowful note.

This EP is packed with great ideas and original touches, but these are often impeded or abandoned, resulting in a number of frustrating breaks in continuity. At their best, The Raven King create a gigantic torrent of stirring music that sometimes threatens to overwhelm; at which point, the band backs off to take a gentler route through calmer waters.

Listen to ‘Red’ here:


REVIEW: Keeper / Sea Bastard (Split)


‘777 / Astral Rebirth’ (Split)
Dry Cough Records
Released: January 2015

Two bands with differing approaches to sludge, but bound together in their exemplary devotion to the kind of relentless ferocity that makes your ears fall off and your brain implode.

Last year, Californians Keeper released a demo that got people talking, and here again they demonstrate why they are considered such an exciting prospect. ‘777’ is 14 minutes of desolate, shrieking horror. But not just any old horror, this is crafted and finely-honed horror.

Keeper have that rare gift: the ability to batter one chord into submission for an eternity and yet make it sound not only hypnotising but interesting and original. They maintain a high level of intensity, and it will be very interesting to watch these green shoots of misery grow over the next couple of years.

Sea Bastard, meanwhile, are stalwarts of the UK underground and deploy the kind of down-tuned sonic approach that can make a bong explode from three kilometres.

Sea Bastard are so heavy that when you listen to this song, the Earth temporarily adjusts its orbit around the Sun, to compensate for the additional weight. Not a band to worry overly about style, they prefer to obliterate everything in their path with substance, and it’s something they have become rather good at, as this latest composition attests.

The first new material from the band since the 2013 album ‘Scabrous’, this is all about shuddering guitars, long, slow riffs, and relentless anger. Well, not quite relentless. Just past the halfway mark on this 20-minute behemoth, Sea Bastard launch into a fast bit*** which adds a pinch of groove and is sure to get a pit swirling.

This is a great release from Dry Cough Records, showcasing some truly horrifying talent from either side of the Atlantic.

*** We’re not talking Dragonforce here…

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.

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.

REVIEW: Avatarium ‘All I Want’ (EP)

Avatarium - All I Want - Artwork

‘All I Want’ (EP)
Nuclear Blast Records
(Released: 14 November 2014)

Avatarium’s self-titled 2013 debut album was an enjoyable mix of Candlemass-style riffery and gloomy rock – it was the sound of a band settling into its sound. And a taste of things to come.

One year on, the band – the latest incarnation of doom king Leif Edling – has blossomed into something spectacular. The final track of that debut (‘Lady In The Lamp’) resounded with echoes of 70s rock, and here Edling has followed that path to a vibrant conclusion.

Drawing inspiration from his old vinyl collection, Edling, together with guitarist Marcus Jidell (ex-Evergrey), has created a vibe that merges the flamboyance of Rainbow with the precision of Judas Priest, the jauntiness of Jethro Tull, the accessibility of Scorpions, and – yes – the intrinsic heaviness of Edling’s crowning glory, Candlemass.

The results are fantastic: two new, simple, elegant songs that burst into existence like fresh water from a mountain spring. The lively opening title track is at once epic and ravenous, sounding free and spontaneous but still tightly controlled. And then comes ‘Deep Well’, a gently-growing monster that could have come direct from the 1970s and yet maintains a modern, doomed charisma.

Jennie-Ann Smith’s vocals are pained and delicate, but whereas previously they had seemed slightly hesitant, now they are bold, proud and entirely compelling. Not only does she deliver a mournfully melodic masterclass, but Smith also throws in some dashing, vintage rock’n’roll flourishes which add character. It seems like we are now getting to know the singer through her performance: Smith is not Messiah Marcolin (he’s far prettier, of course!) and now she is letting her own personality shine through.

This EP also showcases the fine skills of keyboard virtuoso Carl Westholm. A consistent collaborator with Edling, Westholm’s synths are rather more restrained here that they are with his extravagant sci-fi-inspired project Jupiter Society, but they add a subtle depth and colour to Avatarium’s rich sound. This is particularly evident on the live recordings (from 2013 Roadburn Festival, the band’s first ever show outside Sweden) that make up Side B.

Candlemass plus Rainbow equals awesome. Leif Edling’s Avatarium have hit upon a winning formula with this instantly loveable EP – it’s a timeless mini-classic of modern doom.

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.

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.

ALBUM REVIEW: Caronte ‘Church Of Shamanic Goetia’


‘Church Of Shamanic Goetia’
Ván Records
(Released 31 October 2014)

Caronte’s new album feels like the final realisation of the Parma-based band’s heartfelt musical vision. Passion and creativity shine through as the Bones brothers (Dorian on vocals, Tony on guitar, Henry on bass) and drummer Mike de Chirico play their distinctive brand of slow, thoughtful voodoo doom.

‘Church Of Shamanic Goetia’ seems to be a reflection of a tough couple of years for the band, a period of time that has strengthened their bond and deepened their spiritual connections. As students of witchcraft and philosophy, Caronte have embarked on an esoteric trip into the unknown. Sometimes dark and psychedelic, sometimes spiritual and ponderous, and sometimes all-out stoner rock, this album draws upon the “forces of the universe” to inspire a joyously experimental adventure of gongs, bongs and long songs.

It all begins like a windy day in a Nepalese tourist shop: opening song ‘Maa-Kheru’s Rebirth’ tinkles, clatters and thumps various items of percussion to create a mind-bending musical mantra. Then the thick, soupy guitars flood in, Dorian Bones’s Danzig-tinged voice speaks of searching the void, and big, expansive choruses make the whole thing accessible. At times, the singer could be compared to professional sulky-pants Morrissey, but only in tone and delivery rather than preening personality.

The opening song fades into a slightly empty, vague passage in its middle, which loses the early impetus. And while this happens on a few isolated occasions throughout the album, generally there is enough interesting stuff going on to maintain your interest, whether you’re into psych or doom.

Bones’s vocals are interwoven with gentle chanting, such as on ‘Black Mandala’ and ‘Handlecheyapi’, as the Italian band delivers a consistently ritualistic concept throughout the album’s one-hour-plus duration. The hypnotising mantra may be the main focus, but Caronte also crank things up when the mood takes them.

The song ‘Wakan Tanka Riders’ begins as a stoner metal riot, as well as being a taxing tongue-twister. Anyway, whether or not you know what a wakan tanka is, by the end of this track you’ll definitely want to ride one. The closing song, ‘Left Hand Voodoo’, is a swirling, foot-tapping shamanic odyssey that brings the album to a deeply disturbing finale.

‘Church Of Shamanic Goetia’ is Caronte’s fourth release. In 2011, they recorded a debut EP called ‘Ghost Owl’, which was followed by the full-length ‘Ascension’ the next year and a split with Doomraiser in 2013. Caronte have drifted away from their Electric Wizard-style origins, searching the universe to find their own strong personality. In doing so they have created a great, original album packed with arcane magic.

REVIEW: Wormwood (Self-titled EP)


Self-titled EP
Magic Bullet Records
(Released October 2014)

These five songs are the sound of happiness being shouldered onto a butcher’s block and cleaved into tiny red pieces. Wormwood create bleak, raging sludgy doom that hits hard and echoes long in the memory, begging for repeat plays. Magic Bullet Records is a US-based indie known for its innovative punk and metal acts, and in Wormwood they have revealed a sharp new talent laced with violence and vitriol.

There is a sparsity and ugliness to Wormwood’s songwriting that underscores the Boston duo’s vision of negativity. This EP was recorded in all-analogue at Boston’s Mystic Valley Studios in a process that is laborious but worth the effort. In this case, Wormwood were not searching for a retro/vintage vibe, but rather for a simple, stark heaviness in order to convey their message of hopelessness. So while the compositions are lean and tight, the sound is fat and meaty.

This self-titled EP marks a debut not only for the band but also for Chris Pupecki as a lead vocalist. In his other outfit, Doomriders, Pupecki had only ever contributed backing vocals, and so he was stepping into the unknown on this recording. His performance here is remarkable: a breathless Tom G Warrior in a hardcore world.

On songs such as ‘White Plague’ Pupecki’s voice – as well as his guitar and bass – lends a sense of Celtic Frost-meets-Cerebral Fix-meets-Gang Green, perhaps with an undertone of Godflesh. And while in Doomriders he steers clear of pedals, here he has been set free to get as fuzzed-out and/or crusty as he likes. Long-time friend and cohort Chris Bevilacqua pummels his drum kit with equal venom. There is a wild freedom to this EP that is exciting and invigorating.

Lyrically, Pupecki engages in the timeless protestations of the alienated. “I’d rather die… than live your life… look what we’ve done” he storms on the brilliant ‘I’d Rather Die’. This track is perhaps the most memorable of them all, although each song is a concise and intelligently edited-down snapshot of spite, refusal, rebellion and dejection. Rarely is the manifestation of misery such a positive, enjoyable experience.

ALBUM REVIEW: Arcana Coelestia ‘Nomas’

arcana coelestia

Avantgarde Music
(Released: 20 October 2014)

This Italian band is named after a 250-year-old work (trans. Secrets of Heaven) by Swedish scientist and theologian Emanuel Swedenborg which explores the spiritual meanings behind the early books of the Bible. Essentially, it is an analysis of humanity and individual struggle, which seems oddly fitting considering that due to personal problems this album took four years to record.

Formed in Cagliari, Italy in 2005 as a black/doom metal band, Arcana Coelestia began to introduce dreamy soundscapes on their 2009 debut ‘Le Mirage de L’ideal’. Today, they combine these three elements, drawing on the talents of new singer RM (Dea Marica, Aphronic Threnody) and keyboard twiddler Kostas Panagiotou (Pantheist, Wijlen Wij).

The band’s identity is in its mercurial shifts of pace and temperament. There is a huge diversity within each of these five songs (all titled Nomas I, Nomas II, etc), and while the fast sections will scythe the flesh from your bones like blackened blades, the slower, atmospheric parts will then proceed to disassemble your skeleton and disperse the bones to the far corners of the universe. There are also a few delicate, swirling bits to allow you to catch your breath.

RM’s vocals are similarly contrasting, switching from glorious to sinister to manic and back again in the blink of an eye. The continual changes from melancholy to chaos are quite dizzying. Arcana Coelestia deliver a volatile and unpredictable mix, which is either an unsettling frustration or exactly what you want from extreme music – depending on your perspective. There are certainly examples where the changes are well managed: ‘Nomas IV’, for example, opens like a thunderstorm before morphing into a rumbling, synth-backed doom dirge on an epic scale, before building to a cataclysmic finale.

Arcana Coelestia are a doom hurricane, an overwhelming blast of emotion. They are blessed with an accomplished an well-balanced sound, helped by good production to marry together the competing elements of fierce black metal guitars and rich keyboards. ‘Nomas’ may have taken four years to finally get off the ground, but it has lost none of its energy and impact during those frustrating times. Arcana Coelestia explore not only the secrets of heaven, but also the mysteries of earth and hell too. And it’s a wild ride.

REVIEW: Jupiterian ‘Archaic’ (EP)


Released: July 2014

Io, one of Jupiter’s moons, is a harsh and violent place. With more than 400 volcanoes, it is the solar system’s most geologically active place. These volcanoes send towers of sulphur hundreds of miles upwards, and torrents of black lava scar the moon’s surface. Io has a core of molten iron and mountains that are taller than Everest. Disneyworld it is not.

And it is here, on this terrifying celestial body, where you’ll currently find Brazilian band Jupiterian, on the latest leg of their intergalactic tour. Amps blasting, vocals roaring, this South American four-piece do not care that the poisonous atmosphere destroys their lungs and the lava melts their kit. They’re on a mission. Delivering sludgy death-doom of supernova magnitude, Jupiterian’s debut EP ‘Archaic’ is a relentlessly slow, heavy offering that is as vast and bleak as the changeless visage of space.

From the spine-chilling tones of the opening moments, it is clear that this three-track EP is going to be about immense power. The guitars are a slow muscular rumble, while the growled vocals from singer  ‘V’ are the sound of imminent destruction from underground. And amid the crawling, molten flow, there are a few idiosyncratic twists.

The spacey violins on the title-track (courtesy of Gnaw Their Tongues’ Moires) and the unusual, suspenseful riff that runs through the ten-minute-long third track ‘Currents Of Io’ are examples of Jupiterian at their best, willing and able to go the extra mile to create something new. The band could perhaps extend this attitude in order to bolster one or two of the less compelling sections, where thundering repetition is the order of the day.

Jupiterian are able to mould their ferocious power into well-structured and interesting arrangements as they set off on a domed journey to the most dangerous reaches of the solar system. If you’re travelling with them – and it’s highly recommended that you do – be prepared to face the darkness.

ALBUM REVIEW: Helevorn ‘Compassion Forlorn’


‘Compassion Forlorn’
BadMoonMan Music
(Released: September 2014)

Palma de Mallorca, capital city of the Balearic Islands is a place of sun, sand and sea; a favoured holiday destination of the Spanish royal family and famed for its unusual bronze bins… With the release of Helevorn’s ‘Compassion Forlorn’, it is now clear that Palma is also a place of darkness, pain and haunted melody. Whichever way you look at it, sunshine or shadow, there is beauty to be found. Helevorn’s second album, four years after ‘Forthcoming Displeasures’ is a devastating mix of tear-stained gothic metal and thundering doom.

Helevorn create slow, simple, elegant songs of sorrow and deliver them with style. Sung in English, Josep Brunet’s proud, piercing clean vocals are punctuating with rasping growls, and his superb melodicism  brings the music to life. Brunet’s voice is imbued with a desperate in-your-face sadness that is both endearing and enthralling. Brooding/blasting guitars are blessed with rich, warm tones that hold you in their muscular, suffocating embrace. And the flowery piano parts and enticing synth undertones from Enrique Sierra add depth and inventiveness.

Essentially a slicker, modernised version of 1990s Paradise Lost, a combination of epic doom, gothicana, and mid-tempo Katatonia death-doom, Helevorn are following a well-worn path. They may lack a degree of originality in their core riffs, which often follow a fairly standard pattern, but the band makes up for it with the kind of passion and power that lifts them to a higher echelon.

Songs such as ‘Burden Me’, ‘Looters’ and ‘Delusive Eyes’ are seriously impressive arrangements that showcase the band’s superior songwriting skills. While the album can feel slightly one-paced overall, many of the songs benefit from structures that flow and bend but never get lost. They never fall into the trap of over-extending – instead, roaring from your speakers for five or six minutes each before moving onto the next item on this tapas menu of misery.

Helevorn, formed in 1999, have an ability to be extravagant without self-indulgence, to be emotional without blubbering. The stirring spoken word passages may be off-putting to some, but thankfully their timing and positioning is generally well-judged. The colossal choruses and golden harmonies will make your soul happy, while the female vocals on the final track ‘Els Dies Tranquils’ (Catalan for The Calm Days) provide a thrilling finale.

From the opening song, ‘The Inner Crumble’ (300g of plain flour, 170g of brown sugar, 450g of chopped apples…. No, wait, that’s a different kind of crumble) through 50 minutes of explosive gothic doom, Helevorn have struck gold with ‘Compassion Forlorn’ – an album of great finesse and emotional depth.

REVIEW: Bog Oak ‘A Treatise On Resurrection And The Afterlife’ (EP)

Bog Oak Treatise front cover

‘A Treatise On Resurrection And The Afterlife’
Svart Records
(Released: 28 November 2014)

Sit up, world, and pay attention. Bog Oak are a bit special. This US band plays intelligent blackened doom, their raw, youthful ferocity moulded into something stunningly elegant. This four-track EP is heavy as hell, and it’ll take you to heaven.

The opening few seconds might trick you, very briefly, into a stoner mindset, but then the black metal influence envelops you, the fuzzy sludge sweeps away your feet, and before long you must surrender wholly to the unknown. Bog Oak have a beautiful, original sound. In some ways they are similar to another bunch of misery-magicians from Svart Records’ expanding roster, the bold Kuolemanlaakso, in terms of their direction and scope. But the Californians employ richer tones and subtle melodies that will make you melt.

Julie Seymour’s devilish screamed vocals derive from the lowest torture chambers of the underworld, and are countered with a clean voice that is not stereotypically feminine, delicate or soaring, but rather goose-pimple-inducingly dark, sombre and evocative. There is a forceful attitude spilling from her reddened larynx, at once chilled, laconic, almost grungy, but also bitter, grim and cold.

Seymour’s ingeniously understated clean vocals are what makes Bog Oak stand head and shoulders above the rest. The chorus to ‘Time Drift Of Seasons’ will make you burst into tears of delight, while ‘A Sea Without Shore’ (where the screaming takes a break) is truly one of the finest doom metal songs of the year. Original, fascinating, tender, enthralling, surprising, gorgeous, heart-breaking, unique…

It’s not solely about Seymour’s charisma though, and the music is an overwhelming ride too. Three minutes into the song ‘The Resurrection Of Animals’, for example, Bog Oak launch into one of the heaviest chunks of metal heard around these parts for a while. Their slowly twisting, gently thundering riffs are like a lethal injection, creeping into your bloodstream almost unnoticed and then – bam! There’s nothing you can do but die happy.

Lyrically ‘A Treatise On Resurrection And The Afterlife’ embraces the occult, and Bog Oak list a mind-boggling array of obscure influences. Safe to say that Mr Crowley is mentioned, though, so those of us unfamiliar with the metaphysics of Mulla Sadra (the shame!) at least know which ballpark we’re in.

Exploring the dark side is hardly a rarity in this shadowy corner of the music industry, but few bands do so with such grace. One of the best releases of 2014 – a must-have for everyone in the world.

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.

REVIEW: Orphans Of Dusk ‘Revenant’ (EP)

Orphans of Dusk - Revenant cover

‘Revenant’ (EP)
Released August 2014

The great Pete Steele would definitely approve. Orphans Of Dusk, a band hailing from New Zealand and Australia, deliver enormous, powerful goth-doom riffs that are infused with both delight and derision. This is Type O Negative revisited, with a bit of rampaging death metal thrown in to add an energetic edginess to the gothic drama. It’s an interesting twist that raises this four-track EP from mere homage to something altogether more appealing. It’s reminiscent of Rise Of Avernus’s stunning ‘L’appel Du Vide’ but without the female delicacy.

Growled vocals are used sparingly so as not to distract from the gloom. And while the clean vocals may lack the floor-splitting resonance of Steele, or the lyrical clarity of Woods Of Ypres’s David Gold, singer Chris G dexterously interweaves the clean and filthy styles, giving these Orphans a solid, distinctive sound. As he roars in the ecstasy of misery, church organs wail and somber, echoing drums resound. The songs envelop you like a black curtain.

Beautiful synths hide behind ugly riffs. Choruses reach incredible epic heights. Yes, there are the string-sliding, pitch-shifting tributes to Type O Negative here and there, but even where the inspiration feels a little blatant, it is delivered in such a thoughtful and warm-hearted manner that the listener is pleased to be reminded of ‘Bloody Kisses’ and TON’s other classic releases.

This is doom metal on a grand scale. The slow, avalanche-heavy riffs rumble with a punchy gothic groove and an invigorating sense of melody. There are some interesting mood and tempo switches and creative rhythms, although on occasion songs do not feel fully realised due to their slightly impatient arrangement. ‘Nibelheim’, for example, starts off as a curiously wonderful combination of Bolt Thrower and My Dying Bride, and goes through a number of costume changes, leaving you impressed but a little shell-shocked.

‘Revenant’ is a great-sounding and great-looking release that is presented with great care and attention to detail. It skilfully balances ferocity and melancholy, varying between complexity and simplicity, first caressing and then pummeling. Perhaps most tellingly of all, when it’s over, you’re left wanting more.


ALBUM REVIEW: Apostle Of Solitude ‘Of Woe And Wounds’


‘Of Woe And Wounds’
Cruz Del Sur Music
(Released 31 October 2014)

Any doom metal band can claim to reach the blackest depths of sorrow and ruin. But for the average listener it’s less about the destination and more about how they get there. Some bands walk, some crawl, and some even piggy-back their forebears. When you travel with Apostle Of Solitude, however, you travel by chariot!

This is a band with the skill and poise to temper their passion for all-out misery and forge it into something more dangerous. These American doomsters have harnessed their suffering and breathed new life into it, creating music that is both dark and vivid. In many ways, Apostle Of Solitude are a traditional doom metal band, but they have taken the early 1990s model and then modernised and adapted it to their own will. They are reminiscent of the tragically under-rated German band Doomshine in terms of their sheer quality, consistency and subtle creativity. With maybe a hint of US compatriots Beelzefuzz.

Slow, rapturous riffs fill the air like thick incense, intoxicating. Chunky twin guitars are enhanced by the rumbling bass and immense drums. Chuck Brown’s vocals are clean and measured. As the album develops, its processional lumber becomes increasingly limber as greater complexity and variety is added, resulting in a textured and rewarding whole. This is a flag in the sand for American doom metal.

It’s not epic as such; nor is it especially heavy or funereal. It’s simply excellent metal, jam-packed with interesting stuff and boasting a broad musical and thematic scope. We may be thundering towards the shadowed gates of Hell, but we might as well enjoy ourselves along the way, right?

The first few songs showcase Apostle Of Solitude’s ability to write a killer doom metal riff, while tracks such as ‘Die Vicar Die’ see the band plant a seed and patiently water it until it blossoms into something beautiful. The crunching guitars come to the fore on the mid-tempo NWOBHM/Sabbathian giant ‘Push Mortal Coil’, which sees them dip a tentative toenail into rocky waters. The following song, ‘This Mania’, finds the band in even faster, angrier mode, producing an anthemic mixture of Solitude Aeturnus, Pantera and Entombed.

On the whole, ‘Of Woe And Wounds’ is dynamic, diverse and inventive, although it does pander to the occasional genre cliche. The song ‘Lamentations Of A Broken Man’ is slightly simplistic, the gloomy grunge of ‘Luna’ a bit uncertain, like YOB flirting with Alice In Chains, and many of the vocal harmonies are wholly unnecessary – though admittedly more restrained than many bands in this field.

‘Of Woe And Wounds’ is a powerful and original album, packed with sophisticated and hugely enjoyable doom metal anthems. Indianapolis’s Apostle Of Solitude recently celebrated their tenth anniversary and with their third full-length album have staked a claim to be the American masters of doom.


ALBUM REVIEW: Abysmal Growls Of Despair ‘Abyss’

Abysmal Growls Of Despair

Released August 2014

Be afraid. Be very, very afraid. ‘Abyss’ is a truly terrifying, mesmerising slab of funeral drone and atmospheric noise. This relentlessly sinister album is enough to give Satan nightmares! Even the artwork will give you the creeps.

The name of this band may be slightly off-putting for its simplistic literalism, but the music itself is pretty devastating. From the desperate, wolf-like howling of the enigmatic opening track, to the album’s sorrowful finale, AGOD deploy expertly-judged and well-paced sound effects that fall across your mind like a black curtain blocking out the light.

Using extensive extracts from classical masterworks ‘Pie Jesu’ and ‘Moonlight Sonata’, it is difficult to make a judgement about the musicianship on display. Undoubtedly, the finest music contained within this ‘Abyss’ is the creation of other composers, which is sometimes embellished and sometimes undermined by synthetic sounds of pain, sorrow and horror.

The sweet notes of the classical music are mere glimpses of light and beauty, but always shadow and dread overwhelm them. At times, the combination is breathtaking and beautiful, at others, genuinely frightening.

However, it is a fairly one-dimensional approach that works better in some places than others. For example, the mountainous rumble that overwhelms Pie Jesu on the track ‘Hang This Fucking Black Frockman’ is grimly enthralling, but the desolate moaning that disrupts Beethoven’s tender sonata is rather less convincing.

The closing song, ‘Calm Despair Hollow Life’ shows AGOD’s ability to create its own delicate composition, a gently mournful ditty that completes the album on a comparatively melancholic, peaceful note. ‘Abyss’ is a dark, destructive and disturbing experience that takes familiar sounds and sends them to Hell.

REVIEW: Norilsk ‘Japetus’ (EP)


Released August 2014

This three-song EP from Quebec’s Norilsk is inspired by vintage doom/death such as Thergothon, with added elements of sludge and post metal. Named after Siberia’s northernmost city, this release covers themes of isolation and lost identity.

It moves at a slow, patient pace, with solid production allowing a good balance of searing, heavy-ish guitars that alternately fester and explode, dynamic bass that weaves a spell, and drums that both attack and complement.

There are two original compositions on offer, either side of a cover of Voivod’s ‘Negatron’. The opening title track is a fairly elegant example of doom/death with dark, black vocals, and an industrial undercurrent. There is a hint or two of Isis or Neurosis amid the expansive, chilly atmosphere.

Norilsk’s other creation, the strangely titled ‘Potsdam Glo’, is a stark, bleak and confident track that showcases more vocal dexterity from the multi-talented Nicolas Miquelon, as well as a greater degree of musical adventure. With cleaner vocals and elements of My Dying Bride, the song is more sophisticated than complex, and there is a clear sense of a band (Nick Richaer handles drum duties, while Miquelon does the rest) that is looking to explore boundaries. And they are very capable of going to interesting places.

The duo’s penchant for the unusual shows in the choice of their fellow Canadians’  ‘Negatron’, which is a great song but hardly a Voivod classic. Norilsk give it a doomy treatment, and their personality glows through the gloom. This EP is 20 minutes of energetic apocalypse – keep your ears open the the forthcoming full-length release.

ALBUM REVIEW: Pallbearer ‘Foundations Of Burden’


‘Foundations Of Burden’
Profound Lore (Released 19 August 2014)

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

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

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

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

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

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

ALBUM REVIEW: Dysphorian Breed ‘The Longing For The Tides Of Metamorphosis’

dysphorian breed

‘The Longing For The Tides Of Metamorphosis’
Self-released, August 2014

The debut release from Sweden’s Dysphorian Breed – a one-man project from David Fredriksson – is a triumvirate of slow, regal and at times spectacular doom metal. Blending aspects of death, funeral, sludge and epic, ‘The Longing For The Tides Of Metamorphosis’ consists of three 11-minute songs that have many virtues and a few debutant flaws.

Fredriksson’s music is a platform from which glorious, gothic choirs send out their heavenly hymns, and his deep, sinister growls are an ugly counterpoint to these synthesized moments of beauty. There is an interweaving disharmony between the rich guitar tones and the extravagant keyboards that creates beauty and tension, although the pattern becomes slightly predictable at times.

Strangely, opening song ‘The Tides’ keeps stopping between sections as if taking a breath. If used just once or twice, these pauses might be considered an effective tool, but repeating them so often becomes a distraction. Thankfully, the inelegant arrangement that afflicts the first track does not tarnish the second and third.

On ‘The Longing’, Dysphorian Breed’s languid death-doom is embraced by warm, dense synthesizers that sound like they came straight from a 1980s movie set. The song’s spine is a straightforward ascending riff, which is interspersed with sludgy nastiness, including clattering bass drum and snarling groove, to create a cacophony that is straight out of the pits of Hades. It’s all meshed together into a cohesive and pleasing composition.

Opening with a great, memorable riff, the third and final track, ‘The Metamorphosis’, has a genuine, invigorating sense of emotional release and musical catharsis. As ever surrounded and embellished by the grandiose keys, the guitars weep and sway to begin with. Then, temporarily at least, the gothic drama subsides and anger and attitude come to the fore, making this the most varied, intriguing and unpredictable of the three.

Fans of keyboard-driven funereal doom will not find too many surprises here, but will be satisfied with the quality and patience of Dysphorian Breed’s debut. The songs do not quite reach the high pinnacles that they sometimes threaten to scale, but with a little more complexity and experience added to the mix, ‘The Longing For The Tides Of Metamorphosis’ could yet be the start of something great.