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Posts Tagged ‘Doom Metal’

Apostle Of Solitude / The Flight Of Sleipnir / Rituals Of The Oak, Split (2011)

Old wizard

My review of the delightful three-way split between similar-minded doom fiends Apostle Of Solitude, The Flight Of Sleipnir, and Rituals Of The Oak is up now at MetalReview.  I wax a bit pretentious on the purpose of split albums, but all things told, this is a nice, seamless 50-minute trip.  The split is out now (on either CD or LP) through Eyes Like Snow, the heavy/doom division of Northern Silence Productions.

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Graveyard Dirt, For Grace Or Damnation (2010)

A suitably mournful vista

My review of the long-awaited debut album from Irish doom troupe Graveyard Dirt is posted over at MetalReview.  It’s a brilliantly-executed treatise on masterful doom/death metal, which makes all the more bittersweet a recent announcement on the band’s Myspace page that seems to indicate any further output from the band is unlikely.  On the strength of this album, that’s a real shame, but don’t let my maudlin hand-wringing prevent you from tracking down this kingly slice of delicious metal.

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A Funeral at Stonehenge

My review of the split between Evoken and Beneath the Frozen Soil – out now on I Hate Records – is up now at Metal Review.  Be prepared for some severely odd comparisons with children’s movies, and you’ll do just fine.

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Cough & The Wounded Kings, An Introduction To The Black Arts (2010)

 

A charming introduction

 

This excellent split pulls off one of those relatively difficult feats: bringing together artists of generally disparate styles to vie for your earspace without coming across like random combination of mere pastiche.  Of course, we’re not exactly talking about a Sonata Arctica/Darkthrone split  – these two bands clearly spring from the gnarled roots of that aged tree called doom.  Nevertheless, Cough’s nastier, caustic approach to corrosive doom doesn’t necessarily find an echo in the smoother, more traditional doom stylings of British gents The Wounded Kings.  What ties this split together, then, is not texture but structure (more on which shortly).

Cough’s side of the split kicks off with the welcome sound of gradually decaying guitars marking an ancient time like the tolling of leaden, tectonic bells.  These first sections of the track, once they are eventually coaxed into some cantankerous riffing, lock into a molten groove with a riff that barely manages to straddle half-note steps.  The fiercely raw vocals are laden with just the right amount of reverb, and though they are placed quite high in the mix, the pained howls proceed almost exclusively in short, elongated phrases, which matches the pace and intent of the riffing perfectly.  About a third of the way through, some Osborne-or-Oborn (take your pick)-esque clean vocals wobble into the eldritch haze, accompanied by a marked shift to a more driving riff – this is where the Electric Wizard influence is most starkly on display.  The second run-through of this chorus brings in a second guitar line, streaking through the miasma with some delightfully psychedelic soloing.

This is nearly twenty minutes of harsh, confrontational punishment, but it is thoughtfully constructed and paced for maximum impact.  The band seems to know how to hit all the right marks, changing things up at around the 1/3 mark as well as the halfway point, meaning that the listener is kept absolutely rapt with attention as her ears are dealt blow after doom-soaked blow.  There are plenty of other bands out there tilling this same field of sludgey, psychedelic doom, but very few that I’ve come across can construct an exercise this long with such surgical care while still sounding dangerously unhinged.  Perhaps the only complaint I can muster is that the cymbal hits are a bit more restrained than is my preference, especially in the ultra-slow dirge sections.  Nevertheless, fans of all kinds of down-tuned noise will find as much to enjoy here as in Electric Wizard, Salome, Esoteric, or even Coffinworm.  Cough’s side fades out uneasily on a bed of feedback and crushing doom chords, playing a bit like the song’s opening in reverse.  Time stops, retracts – the bell is silent in its dark tower.

The Wounded Kings, for their part, play a far less harsh, but no less intense style of prog-laced traditional doom.  In similar fashion to Cough’s side, side B opens with a slow building instrumental section.  Doomed riffs are doubled by faint organ, with some warm solo guitar bits whirling about just under the surface.  Here, too, our heroes’ vocals kick in around a third of the way into the murk, but here with the clean, slightly nasal approach one would expect from these more traditional stylists.  Think Reverend Bizarre, Warning, My Dying Bride, maybe even Witchfinder General on downers, and although The Wounded Kings throw in a bit more oddness than these aforementioned, the spirit is shared.  These reedy vocals gain momentum, until the clearest statement of intent rings out again and again: “I’m weak, but I will endure / With blackened sorcery.”  Such a simple, potent line may as well be officially adopted as this style of doom’s slogan and rallying cry.

The intense and increasingly complex layering of the last section of the song (from ten minutes or so onward) invites – even dares – the listener to dive straight into the heart of the chaos, to stare directly at the sun.  A swirling maelstrom of magic(k)al frequencies is drawn down around the listener, marrying the finest strains of traditional doom to these progressive flourishes of layered organ and keys with unblinking, perfectly restrained drums.  Keyboards, organs, guitars, and vocals are all layered atop the other, vying for prominence in the mix, surging and struggling against one another.  This type of music works tremendously well by projecting the yearning frailty of the human voice into this torrent of contrary vibration, as if demanding that the elements do their worst, against which stands, plainly, finally, a voice, some words.  A somber piano outro offers a plaintive coda, solemnly adjourning the summoned forces with mute, fruitless tears.  Briefest respite from the gathered darkness.

As I’ve said, these bands sound, on their surface, very little like one another.  The split plays, nevertheless, like an occult unity of, if not opposites, then at least tangents.  Each group brings a lengthy, multi-section piece of music, and each speaks obliquely to the other by the sharing of structure, and the almost mathematical configuration of timing and movement.  Thus, despite the obvious differences in their preferred brand of bleak musical output, these sonically dissimilar groups make sense together, at least with these two songs.  This split, which serves as a masterful introduction to both acts (as well as the titular black arts), ends up sounding like long-separated twins, having been raised in separate countries, spontaneously putting pen to paper and channeling the same story in different languages.  The tones are different, the syllables wild and unrecognized, but the message…  The message resounds.

Overall rating: 85%.  Drugged-up or trad-ed down, the doom is coming to getchoo.

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An Introduction To The Black Arts will be released by Forcefield Records on November 16th.  This split has also got me pretty pumped up for Cough’s upcoming full-length, Ritual Abuse, out later in October on Relapse Records, as well as wanting to revisit The Wounded Kings’ album from way back in January of this year, The Shadow Over Atlantis, which is out on I Hate Records.  For you vinyl fiends out there, though, don’t miss out on your chance to doom your turntable straight to hell with this tasty split.

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Unearthly Trance, V (2010)

 

Doom what thou wilt, &c., &c.

 

In which Brooklyn’s veteran filth hounds Unearthly Trance continue in their efforts to provide a soundtrack for the inevitable collapsing of worlds into shrieking pyres of dust and static.  Where the band’s two previous records, 2006’s The Trident and 2008’s Electrocution, largely shook off the drone of their early work in favor of a snarling, stomping Celtic-Frosty death groove, V is somewhat of a retrenchment, a retreat to sparser landscapes and fuzzed howls reeling their way to an unreachable horizon.

The hungry listener, therefore, will find nothing quite so immediately digestible as Electrocution’s metronome-disregarding “God Is A Beast.”  More times than not, though, the hungry listener is kind of an asshole, and needs to be put squarely in his place, which V will do with more than a little relish.  The album’s first track drops in out of nowhere, as though the song had been playing since ages before time, and someone just now thought to kick the shit out of some ‘record’ button.  It feels a bit like stumbling into the middle of a perpetually-occurring ritual.  A dreaded incantation sounds; the hooded assembly kneels, supplicant.

Throughout the album’s hour-long invocation, the band leans heavily on the trudging, drone-inflected doom featured in songs like “Submerged Metropolis,” largely forsaking the righteous hate-gallop of the previous two outings.  Speaking of “Submerged Metropolis,” Unearthly Trance’s ability to pen wonderfully evocative song titles continues apace here, with “Sleeping While They Feast” and “The Horsemen Arrive in the Night” particularly bringing to mind horrid visions dancing on the hazed periphery of consciousness, glimpsed only in ragged-breath nightmare.

“The Tesla Effect” is among the more straightforward offerings, with its drunkenly swerving swing beat, while “Solar Eye” features a bended, droning riff that gives the song a wonderfully elastic, almost buoyant feeling.  Quite an achievement for a band so relentlessly focused on grime and abjection, no?  The two-part “Adversaries Mask” is maybe the most intriguing bit of sonic uneasiness, with the first part a generally subdued affair which flirts throughout with creeping menace, Ryan Lipynsky sounding at times like Nick Cave tripping headlong into the occult.  The second part drapes some guts-deep snarling from drummer Darren Verni in all manner of hellish frequency manipulation and feedback, coming across like radio transmissions from a world torn apart by electromagnetic storms.

Rather than evoking the typical clutching panic of soot-encrusted doom through a dense, claustrophobic production and style of songwriting, the majority of V proceeds (and succeeds) by injecting the spaces between notes and phrases with the sort of clenched-jaw tension that ends up producing much the same effect.  Witness the closing sections of “Solar Eye” for an apt demonstration of this ritualistic technique.  Depending on your mood and/or eschatological inclination, the album’s closing track “The Leveling” either fizzles out disappointingly or heralds the advent of a slow-burning wave of technological destruction.

All of this is to say, essentially, that V is an out-and-out doom record, which may leave some listeners (this one included) initially slack-jawed and befuddled.  Upon reflection, it seems that Lipynsky may have exorcised some of his more up-tempo and aggressive demons with the Howling Wind’s excellent Into the Cryosphere earlier this year.  V, therefore, is a patient album, which is often music critic code for “It’s boring but I think I should like it anyway”; in this case, however, this patience is that of a gradually-unfurling apocalyptic vision, or a prehistoric predator crawling through untold eons to loose its fetid breath on your neck.  Meaning nothing so grand as “ignore at your peril,” but rather, “listen, or don’t – the time that remains, remains either way.”  Your vision clouds, solar winds carry a whispered message of absent light and inevitable crumbling.  This music waits, and watches, and breathes out a long, low sigh.  Static.

Overall rating: 80%.  Doom, or don’t, but you will be doomed.

V is out now on Relapse, and available for purchase here.

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The Dead, Ritual Executions (2010)

Claustrophobic avant-sludge doom/death with jaunts into funk? Yes, please.

Australia’s The Dead self-released their sophomore album Ritual Executions last year.  2010, however, sees them freshly signed to India’s newly-launched Diabolical Conquest Records, with Ritual Executions getting a remastering job, updated artwork, and seeing a proper label release.  A murky hybrid and death metal and doom is the order of business for this Australian trio, but we’re not talking the doom/death of early Peaceville mopesters Anathema, Katatonia, Paradise Lost et al; instead, this is more like the dank, doomy, crypt-like death metal of early Incantation, or the quicker moments of legendary gut-wrenchers Disembowelment (though, in all fairness, if Incantation worship is your cup of righteous tea, the new Father Befouled album out on Relapse ought to be destination one).

The album starts off with a slow dirge of a song in “Burn Your Dead,” with a pleasantly thick, skull-rattling bass tone on the arpeggio riffs.  Vocalist Mike Yee demonstrates some abominably deep, guttural death tones, which are mixed in such a way as not to overpower the music, but still somewhat higher in the mix than many similarly-pitched vocalists, in a manner which verges on the comprehensible.  The closing sections of “Burn Your Dead” utilize an effective rhythmic compositional style to drone out with – a measure of 4/4 time followed by a measure of 3/4 time.  It’s a fairly simple tool, but it demonstrates that some deliberate thought has gone into the crafting of these tomes of death.

If you’ve picked up on that, though, later track “Centurian” is a bit of a let-down, since it, too, boasts that same meter (though in a somewhat more straight-forward 7/4 attack) for pretty much its entire duration.  The vocals also become somewhat monotonous as the album wears on, although not so much that they detract terribly from the masterful display of grooving, doom-tinged death metal.

The production isn’t quite gritty or fuzzed-out enough to push this album into sludge territory, but some of the songwriting veers in the direction of booze-drenched misanthropy.  There are a few frustrating quirks to the drum production, though.  The hi-hat has got a weird buzz to it, and the kick drum could stand to be mixed a little higher.  Still, it’s not overly clean, and although it rings somewhat hollow, the drum production still sounds like a real person pounding away on a real kit.

The album works effectively as a whole because of the band’s strong compositional skills, and the smart sequencing of tracks to alternate between trudging epics and more in-your-face, aggressive death metal blasts.  Some of the quicker tunes like “Cannibal Abattoir” show a very sprightly, almost jittery style of drumming (particularly in the snare drum work), which is occasionally reminiscent of a slightly less-busy Brann Dailor from Mastodon’s early work (think Remission or even Lifesblood).  I’m also not sure if it’s just because I’ve been listening to too much Kylesa lately, but I swear that some of these faster moments have a similar psychedelic feeling in the riffing.  At any rate, if the prospect of this type of doomy, well-composed death metal with non-obtrusive psychedelic touches gets your blackened heart all a-flutter, then you would do well to check this album out.

The funk drumming breaks in “Born In a Grave” are a bit jarring, but ultimately provide an interesting contrast to the more standard death metal signifiers used throughout.  The latter sections of this song, however, have some great, cavernous echoing effects to match the atmosphere of patient, plodding doom, and actually turn this track into one of the album’s highlights.  The build-up and eventual release around the five-minute mark (“BOOOOOORRRRRN…IN A GRAAAAVE”) is absolutely fantastic, and leads me into a near-apoplectic fit of wanting to smash furiously anything within reach.  Hide the china.

Other excellent moments include the groovy riff and breakdown around 1:30 into the title track, which is seriously crushing.  Think of the bulldozing momentum of Bolt Thrower or Asphyx, and you’re well on your way to grasping the effect of concrete slabs dropped repeatedly on your head.  The closing track “Death Metal Suicide” is a quite interesting change of pace, offering up another set of pretty funky grooves, especially in the drumming.  Whatever else you may think of it, it’s an extremely bold choice, playing a ten-minute long, funk-influenced instrumental jam to close out one’s album in a genre as frequently myopic and orthodox as death metal.

Some of the more avant-garde moments on this disc recall queasy death metal savants Gorguts (circa Obscura, primarily) and Portal, the latter of which may be more than a coincidence, as Ritual Executions was remastered by Aphotic, one of the guitarists from Portal.  The Dead don’t ever quite reach the same level of otherness (or what-the-fuck-ness) as either of the aforementioned bands, but it’s clear that they are drinking some of the same fetid water.

In general, the mélange of styles offered on this record ends up meshing rather well into a unique death metal whole.  Fans of the already-mentioned unsettled death metal acts Portal and Gorguts may find much to enjoy here, as will fans of the more strictly deathly side of doom/death metal.  One of the primary references which continues lurching into mind is Lasse Pyykkö (of Profound Lore’s Hooded Menace, as well as Phlegethon, Vacant Coffin, Claws, etc.), fans of whose should flock to this Australian cult with morbid glee.  Diabolical Conquest Records have found themselves a real winner of an album here, and I will be eagerly following future releases from this grimly determined band.  If Tom G. Warrior is to be believed, and only death is real, then get yourself a copy of Ritual Executions for a sledgehammer dose of heavy fucking metal reality.

Overall rating: 80%.  “BOOOOOOORRRRN…IN A GRAAAAAVE!!!”  Doesn’t get much better than that, friends.

More information on Diabolical Conquest Records is available at their website, where you can also order a copy of Ritual Executions.

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