Sunday, 31 March 2013

#264 Pentagram - Review Your Choices

Well. This is the last one for doom-metal month. In the coming days, it's back to metal of all tempos, all persuasions, and all sub-genres. For the last review of the month, here's something from a very, very old-school band.

Black Sabbath formed in 1969. Pentagram formed in 1971. Take a moment to think about that, because that's not much of a gap. As such, Pentagram are widely hailed as one of the foremost doom metal acts. The key difference between Pentagram and Sabbath, of course, is that Pentagram didn't release an album until 1985, and in general, have had a fairly chaotic and mildly confusing career, to say the least - I certainly can't claim to have any idea, despite trying very hard to do some research beforehand. Today, I'm looking at one of the bands 90's albums - 1999's "Review your Choices".

Pentagram's sound really comes from the oldest classroom in the old-school of doom - from when the music wasn't so far distanced from rock n' roll, and when slow-tempos weren't so emphasised, but instead just seemed to happen. Review Your Choices, while a record almost of this century, certainly sounds akin to something which wouldn't be so very out of place in the late-seventies or early eighties. The music is very Sabbath-like, perhaps with a little of the whimsical giddiness of Jethro Tull, particularly in the title-track, which has a jumpy enthusiasm, but also a dark air of warning - as the lyrics suggest, "there's a man with a pitchfork around the bend". In what could be considered poignant, that really feels like what doom metal, in the Black Sabbath tradition, does. It looks you in the eye, and tells you to watch out, because the world is a nasty place, filled with nasty things, and then it makes songs about them. Review your Choices certainly holds this true, as an album - it's dark, sardonic and more than a little pessimistic - a truly archetypal album of its genre. The combination of the guitar and bass tone is strikingly dark and brooding, enveloping the other instruments, and creating a mix which is a little bit chaotic, with everything perhaps slightly disconcerting in terms of where they are in the mix - the vocals sometimes echoing through, and at other times muffled - In the end, however, the production suits the reeling music rather well.

There are parts of Review Your Choices which are sufficiently fuzzy and bass-driven to render them genuinely claustrophobic, which in my experience, usually isn't something which early doom metal did very much, the occasional eerie, self-titled Black Sabbath song excluded. The tone of such music was undeniably very heavy a lot of the time, but it never quite seemed to have the speaker-wrenching properties of more modern stoner doom and it's neighbour-disturbing associates. Review Your Choices, in this respect, feels like it's taken influence from the fuzzy, crushing material which was very much existent within the doom-metal world by the time in the late nineties that it came to be written. Fuzzy, crushing material which, interestingly, was probably influenced by bands like Pentagram in the first place - perhaps the album is an example of real reciprocal synergy of influence within a genre. Whatever the truth of the matter, the album is deceptively heavy - it was only about half way through it that I realised just how much it was making my brain-cells vibrate. The guitar roars, and the bass-drum sounds like thunder, but at the same time, the music isn't devoid of subtly, with enjoyable wailing lead-work and the occasional embellishment, rendering the album a good, old fashioned "riffs, drums n' vocals piece" but one which is not without a dynamic and interesting edge, travelling between eerie beauty, disconcerting sections, and warm, mind-altering riff-work which really is up there in the league of Electric Wizard, or any respectable stoner-doom band, in terms of sheer wide-eyed brain-rattling rumble.

There are doom albums, and there are doom albums. Review Your Choices really feels like a fantastic specimen of the genre. Pentagram may have had an odd, rather non-linear career, but albums like this one serve as a real testament to the fact that that they are a band who will leave a hefty legacy. It's been a pleasure reviewing only doom metal for a whole month, and this feels like a fitting end to it.

This is a 9/10 album.

Pentagram on Facebook
Pentagram on Metal Archives

The next review won't be doom. Maybe the non-doom fans in my infinitesimally small readership will return soon...

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

#263 Solitude Aeturnus - Beyond the Crimson Horizon

One day, whilst trawling through bands fairly randomly, I happened upon epic-doom veterans Solitude Aeturnus, entirely by accident. I'm not sure how I'd not discovered them before, as they were certainly the sort of thing I was, and absolutely still am very into, when it comes to doom metal. Epic doom, I'll hazard, is actually the first taste of doom metal I had - the other varieties came later to me, and, before this month of doom runs out, in a few days time, I thought I'd stick another epic-doom review in somewhere. As it happens, that somewhere is today.

Beyond the Crimson Horizon is Solitude Aeturnus' second album. If I was asked to put a date on this album without first knowing, I'm not sure if I could. Not only that, but I'm not sure if It sounds older or newer than it is. Ultimately, I think that bodes well for it - it's organic, no-nonsense charm carries a vibe of the eighties with it, but at the same time, it has that certain something of later times on board too. In fact, the album was released in 1992, and, I think it can be safely said, is the sort of album which the nineties really needed. Like its artwork, the album feels warm, perhaps even a little dusty - the dust of the red desert sunset, however, , and not the dust of disuse. Beyond the Crimson Horizon really feels like an album which brings together the accomplishments which metal had already under its belt at the time, and the influences audible in the record are overtly diverse. While consistently mid-tempo, the record manages to bring groove-laden riffs, very traditional, perhaps even speed-metal style vocals, and the occasional distinct triplet which wouldn't be unwelcome in eighties-thrash, and unite them under the unmistakable marching, thumping swagger of the kinds of epic doom which bands like Altar of Oblivion are playing now...  demonstrating my innate ability to discover metal bands the wrong way round, starting on the inspired, and moving back in time towards the inspiring. Albums like this, it seems to me, are inspiring in more ways than one - it's certainly refreshing to see that non-extreme metal was covering some ground in the nineties, dispelling perhaps, the decades ruinous reputation.

One of the characteristics of epic-doom which this album is practically a textbook example of is the fact that, for a decent chunk of it's running time, it's not all that doomy - a lot of the time, the tempo is high enough to render it traditional metal that's stuck in a traffic jam. At the same time, however, as with bands like Solstice there is still, no matter how close to traditional-metal it strays, something which anchors it in doom - and at times, it's not necessarily the tempo that does this. There's just enough murk, thickness and epic emphasis on chords to keep the record in the doom-sphere, demonstrating, perhaps unintuitively, that tempo is not everything when it comes to a genre which is by default slow. Two things which this album really goes to town with are the vocals, and the synergy between instruments. The vocals are, from the onset, impressive; grandiose, but not pretentious or cheesy, in the way power metal vocals might be. The vocal hooks are both memorable and powerful, without being over the top in a way as to shatter the very honest and earthy atmosphere which the album possesses. Beyond the Crimson Horizon is, it must be said, one of those albums which really reconciles being down-to-earth with being immensely epic and powerful - the sort of album which isn't insistent, but will blow your socks off it you let it. Secondly, the assembly of the parts into the whole is really something to behold. The album reminds me of those ancient blocks of stone from Latin America, which are so tightly slotted together that you can't fit a razor-blade between them. The guitar and drums are very exact, resulting in incredibly percussive and solid sound, with the chords and the drum-beats without fail manage to take off at exactly the same time.

Solitude Aeturnus is a band I'm rather shocked to have taken just so long to discover, especially considering that albums like Beyond the Crimson Horizon very much tick the majority of the boxes for what I enjoy in epic doom, and beyond that, music in general.

A fantastic record - 10/10.

Solitude Aeturnus on Facebook
Solitude Aeturnus on Metal Archives

Sunday, 24 March 2013

#262 The Wandering Midget - From the Meadows of Opium Dreams

As this month of doom ploughs on, and it continues to rain, snow and be generally grey, I'm sometimes glad I can call upon colourful doom metal like this - The Wandering Midget...

Sometimes the name a band decide to give themselves can draw you in before you've heard a single one of their songs. A few weeks ago, I discovered a band which fitted that description exactly. With a name like "The Wandering Midget", I had to investigate this Finnish doom-metal outfit from the moment I heard of them, and having listened to this record a few times now, I feel it's about time to review it. "From the Meadows of Opium Dreams" is the bands second full-length album and is probably one of the most purple albums in my music collection.

Four track doom records are something I've seen quite a bit of recently and From the Meadows of Opium Dreams is no exception - It gives the record a feeling of compactness, but on the other hand, also scale - The presence of any twenty-minute long tracks, of which this record has one, will always give an album a monolithic presence, and predictably, From the Meadows of Opium Dreams carries such a presence; when the album is talking, you listen. The album is, most strikingly, a real textbook example of a band making something grandiose without having to appeal to, and rely upon, embellishments to their musical recipe - A power-trio, but one which manages to sound far vaster than just three musicians. The depth and magnitude of the music on the record certainly belies the small assortment of instruments involved - merely guitar, bass, vocals, drums and a couple of effects here and there, manages to conjure something which really does sound dream-like and immense. The vocals, especially, are extremely powerful, a cross between very refined, almost classical baritone, and Saruman the White, which, I assure you, is as powerful and atmospheric as it sounds. Like a few of the bands I've looked at this month, The Wandering Midget seem to be a band with whom vocals are a real cherry on top, carrying what is already good doom to a whole new level, with soaring vocal lines which are memorable from the first listen - always, in my book, a definite plus.

Cruising below the soaring vocals are the riffs, which are certainly the second highlight of the album - the riffs tend to really feel like they're carrying a hefty atmosphere, with each chord really elevating the music, building up. Juxtaposed with this, the band also do a great job of subdued, mellow, and contemplative passages, which often last for minutes on end, really making use of individual notes and taking as much from their relative emptiness as what their content manifests itself as. The songs in general make full use of their running-time to build up and then crescendo enjoyably, whilst exploring plentiful stages along their journey - Songs like Temples in the Sky really feel like epics, whilst at the same time remaining close to the winning doom-formula, and staying refreshingly far away from pretentiousness or over-the-top-cheesiness - the record feels very organic and straight-forward, and the songs carry a sense of being crafted carefully and thoughtfully, yielding something which has been nicely, solidly made. In this respect, while the album perhaps doesn't invent anything wildly new to doom as a genre, it makes a solid opus of what is enjoyable about the genre already - granted, a band could have made this album fifteen years ago, but I'll always appeal to the fact that regardless of whether you think bands have made albums of this style before, by the truckload even, the fact is that that doesn't compromise the inherent quality of this album in particular - and as far as I'm concerned, it's an extremely enjoyable record.

As I've tried to illustrate for most of this review, From the Meadows of Opium Dreams is ultimately a very pleasingly solid record, and one which should appeal to most, if not all, fans of doom metal. It's certainly one which I've had a great time listening to, and one which really feels whole and complete.

This is an 8/10, I think.

The Wandering Midget on Facebook
The Wandering Midget on Metal Archives

I have no idea what I'm going to review next... keep tuned.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

#261 Bongripper - Satan Worshipping Doom

And now for some more stoner doom, this time from the instrumental riff-machine that is Bongripper. 

Bongripper are a fairly well known force in the world of stoner-doom - the sort of band which, until a few months ago, were in the extensive "I've heard of them, but not any of their stuff" box within my brain. When I eventually got around to discovering more, it came as a surprise to me how recently they formed - I had in my minds eye the sort of institution which has been around since the early nineties. In fact, Bongripper formed in 2005, something I wasn't expecting at all. If anything can be taken from this, however, I'd imagine it's this; pleasing reassurance that the metal scene still has the capacity to spawn good stoner-doom.

Another thing I didn't know, was that Bongripper are, and have always been, an instrumental outfit, sacrificing vocals in lieu of the riff taking centre stage. There are, in my experience, two kinds of instrumental bands - those who carry it out well, and those who don't. Bongripper are, fortunately, one of the former. While listening to "Satan Worshipping Doom" the lack of vocals didn't grate me at all - and it certainly didn't render the music unexciting. If one of the songs came on, and I had no idea what it was, I get the feeling that I probably wouldn't be surprised that it lacked vocals, as opposed to the way that some instrumental bands feel - every instrumental second made tense, with a feeling of waiting for vocals which will never come. I think it's something of a triumph for the band, in this sense - creating an album which feels like it belongs to the instrumental sphere, and which can be listened to and enjoyed on that basis. Perhaps the aspect of the music which makes this so utterly possible is the sheer quality of the riffs - huge, behemoths of fuzzy, distorted and chunky guitar thunder through the album like a very stoned panzer-division. The buzzing melodies feel extremely warm, hazy and giddy, with incredible amounts of sustain, and a tone which, along with bands like Electric Wizard and Yob, do an exceptional job of capturing the way mind altering substances feel, through the medium of sound. Some of the colossal, reeling note-bends really manage to convey a giggling, slightly silly, but nonetheless profound and ruthlessly heavy air. The riffs are, as I mentioned, the panzer division, but they are a panzer division driving brightly coloured tanks.

Like the Cathedral album I reviewed on Monday, Satan Worshipping Doom is an album which is happy not to let the constraints of tempo weigh to heavily on it. There are lumbering songs, but also speedy, sludgy sections which really get some energy pulsing through the record - there's even a bit with blast-beats, which I certainly didn't see coming the first time I listened to the record. The variety and solidity of the material certainly more than makes up for anything which vocals could have brought to the table, and perhaps, beyond that,  the uninterrupted flow of guitar work adds something to the record - there's definitely a hypnotic edge to the album, and it's without a doubt the kind of album which the listener would be advised to listen to all the way through, as opposed to trying out one of the four goliath tracks at random, for a first listen at least. The production values of Satan Worshipping Doom are also conducive to an enjoyable experience, especially the drum sound, which is absurdly juicy - the snare carries an incredibly punchy sound which really gives the percussion it's namesake property - really visceral and overt percussiveness, capturing it very nicely without delving into the strange and distasteful land of over-production. The snappy percussion really helps to stratify the layers of sound in the album, adding to the enjoyment. Production wise in general, for that matter, this is the kind of album where you can't imagine any ways in which it would be better off being otherwise than how it is, which, I'd like to think, is a hallmark of good quality.

Ultimately, Satan Worshipping Doom can probably be considered to be Bongrippers magnum opus, so far. At the very least, it has a mature, complete feel, which certainly adds to it's weight as a highly enjoyable work. When it's running time is over, it's the sort of album which you can look at and thing "My musical enjoyment has been enriched by this", and that, after all, is what we listen to music for.

This is a 9/10 riff monster.

Bongripper Official Site
Bongripper on Metal Archives

Eleven more days of doom to come... some of which will have reviews in them.

Monday, 18 March 2013

#260 Cathedral - The Ethereal Mirror

 Time for another doom classic now, as I swear angrily at my faulty internet connection, and realise that the red, italicized writing is more or less redundant...

As far as doom metal goes, there are many who consider Cathedral to be essential listening, and it's no surprise, as Cathedral are definitely one of the bands who have been hugely influential in the doom-metal genre as a whole, despite being a decade junior to bands like Saint Vitus and two decades younger Pentagram and Black Sabbath. I can safely say that they were among the bands which acted as my launchpad into the genre, and beyond that, are one which I still appreciate more and more as I listen to their music.

Cathedral may have not been the first doom band, by any stretch of the imagination, but as I mentioned above, they contributed a lot to the genre. At the same time, however, Cathedral are an extremely distinct act - It's almost impossible to mistake a Cathedral song for something else, and the bands mind-altering, trippy blue and purple artwork is recognisable in a record store, or on merchandise from a matter of miles. Even if the artwork of the Ethereal Mirror, the album I've chosen to focus on, seems to obey the laws of Euclid, the doom-enthusiast still has to come to terms with the fact that the artwork  has a seemingly mono-winged figure with a hat made out of a castle. Focusing on the artwork rather than the musical content may seem an odd move, however, I wouldn't want to start a Cathedral review without a respectful nod to how iconic the bands artwork, from almost all of their records, can be. Why The Ethereal Mirror? you ask. Tempted as I was to take a look at the more widely revered "Forest of Equilibrium" - one of the all time greats of the doom genre, that's undoubtedly an album everyone has something to say about - I enjoy, at times, to defer to the other albums in the discographies of bands like Cathedral, in the name of variety. The first point of notice in The Ethereal Mirror, in terms of difference from it's predecessor, is that it's a considerably faster, more dynamic record, with shorter songs, higher tempos and, generally speaking, perhaps a more accessible sound, foreshadowing the bands faster, thundering stoner-metal future. 

The second observation is how wierd the album is, in the utterly quintessential Cathedral fashion. The riffs sound inventive and bendy, more intricately woven than your usual chord-after-chord-after-chord carry on. The Ethereal Mirror does a fantastic job of being full of mid-tempo doom riff-work which doesn't sound like cliché, stereotypical doom riff-work. I think it certainly says something about Cathedral as a band, being able to produce work which is overtly high calibre doom, but at the same time, managing to sound refreshingly unlike other doom. The Ethereal Mirror is undeniably one of the faster albums I'll be looking at this month, and it's tempo lies far in excess of it's predecessor, with the exception of Soul Sacrifice. The point I'm distilling from that, is that the album is one which manages to test the ceiling, and not just the floors, when it comes to the genre's tempo. Even the slower tracks have a certain swagger, above a plod. Presiding over the psychedelic riff-ride are, of course, the vocals of Lee Dorian, sounding awed, excited and at times a little maniacal. What washes through most distinctly is a sense of real enthusiasm, and you can tell that, not only do the vocals fit, but he is really enjoying performing them. The lead work is really enjoyable too, with dancing, slightly unsettling melodies and solos, which make the music vibrantly colourful, but somewhat twisted - like being carried away by a beautifully exotic carnival, but at the same time worrying where exactly they are taking you.

The Ethereal Mirror is one of those albums which feels unrelentingly solid - not just in how the songs sound, but in how complete it feels - certainly a case of the right songs being in the right order, and moreover, managing to maintain a single atmosphere, but at the same time concede to variety and a dynamic listen. It's all I ask for in an album, generally.

This is an 8/10.

Cathedral Official Site
Cathedral on Facebook
Cathedral on Metal Archives

More italicized red writing to come... soon.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Live Review #001: Saint Vitus w/ Mos Generator and Atragon

Aside from not being sure how to format and structure them just yet, I finally feel the time is right to start writing live reviews. It's easy to say "I don't do live reviews" - as I said several years ago, when I lived in a place with no gigs, but now I have a much better chance to see bands, and I feel perhaps, finally, I should try one. It may or may not be a catastrophe.

I'd been thinking of doing live reviews for a while, and a few weeks ago, I couldn't help noticing that I'd be going to "The Cathouse" in Glasgow to see the very forefathers of the doom metal genre, Saint Vitus, during a month in which I dedicated this blog entirely to doom metal. That seemed, to me, a very good time to début live reviews as a feature, and with a band so absolutely appropriate to the current direction of reviews, this wasn't an opportunity to be missed. Happily, seeing the band in the first place likewise wasn't an opportunity to be missed, and I can safely say that this has been one of the most enjoyable gigs I've been to in the year so far.

I don't tend to take photos at shows, instead, here's the tour poster, and my ticket. 

The Cathouse wasn't a venue I'd ever been to before, but I'd heard a few mumblings about it having questionable sound - whether the acoustics of the building itself, or simply the sound-engineer throwing ham at the walls to see if it sticks, instead of working was at fault, I don't know. Whichever was true at the show which gave the people who told me this, it certainly wasn't true on the night - The sound, for both opening bands, and the mighty Vitus was perfectly reasonable, dare I say better than your average venue of it's medium-to-small dimensions. The show was nothing if not efficient, either, with the first band on within about ten minutes of the first ticket-holders making it through the door - less of a wait than I tend to endure, being one of those people who can purposefully aim to be late, and still arrive half an hour before the first act come on-stage. 

The first act, in this instance, were the relatively local stoner-doom outfit Atragon, who at one time opened for more or less every band to roll through, albeit in a fairly positive light. A recent trend of theirs, however, has been to open for bands relatively appropriate to their genre, which is refreshing, having seen them at times on the same bill as grindcore acts, and god only knows what else. It perhaps best illustrates the band's prolific appearances when one considers the fact that I had indeed seen them the previous day, opening for the French drone act Monarch and as far as I can remember, they played the same set. Fortunately, the set was an enjoyable one, and the band managed to riff through their set in a tight, orderly fashion, with both the accustomed crushing riffs, and the fluid, flowing lead work of their relatively-new guitarist utterly audible. Even their bassist, a man so thoroughly self-deprecating that at times that other people deprecate for him, was keeping a tight-ship on this night. Despite the venue not being warmed up particularly, Atragon managed to draw a crowd two or three rows deep, and their Electric Wizard meets Corrosion of Conformity meets Danzig stoner doom came through bright and clear - dispelling from my mind, until well after the gig, my suspicions of the venues ostensible sound-problems. 

Second up, and the last support act on a bill with fewer bands than I initially suspected, were Mos Generator, who were, admittedly, an entirely unknown quantity to me, having already presupposed they were "some band from Glasgow or somewhere". Instead, they turned out to be a pleasingly high calibre stoner-rock power-trio from the states, and probably played at the highest tempo of the evening. The band's sound combined elements reminiscent of Kyuss, Black Sabbath and at times Motorhead, all the while coming across as very all-american rock - They sounded, to put it another way, perfect to the backdrop of a large illuminated board reading "The Cathouse" which was glowing covertly behind the drumkit. The other entity behind the drumkit - the very energetic drummer, exuded the enthusiasm of Animal, from The Muppets, but possessed great deal more finesse. You could immediately tell that the drummer knew how to make the percussion watchable, twirling drumsticks dramatically, and really keeping my attention for most of the band's set. They dedicated a song to the late Clive Burr, which I felt was a nice touch, reminding everyone that, despite the vast majority of us, musicians and crowd-members, never meeting one another, rock n' roll unites us all in remembering.

Saint Vitus, I'm sure we can agree, are a fairly renowned band. Whenever I usually see such bands live, at shows, I expect to wait a half-an-hour, perhaps more, while the band do fairly-renowned-band-type-stuff, backstage. Saint Vitus, it seems, don't much care to pause - not more than ten minutes or so after Mos Generator left the stage, I was stood at the barrier, half-way through some sentence of small-talk when a roar went up from the crowd, and I could feel the crowd massing behind me. I was slightly confused when the roar subsided into an out-of-the-blue ECW chant, which suddenly made sense when I noticed Dave Chandler was wearing an "EC F'n W" t-shirt. The casual appearance of the band, and the immediate banter between them and the audience solidly set the scene for the rest of the bands set. Saint Vitus are the sort of band who excel at showmanship - and are, at that, a band who can really be considered to have two front-men, and this was certainly emphasised by the bi-polar churning of the crowd, trying to reach whichever member was closest to the barrier. On one hand, you've got Scott "Wino" Weinrich on vocal duties, and on the other, you've got Dave Chandler's attention grabbing guitar antics - performing the sort of tricks which guitarists just don't seem to do very often any more - several times during the gig, I looked up from nodding my head to notice him playing guitar above his head, or soloing using his tongue. Saint Vitus are, undoubtedly, a band who know how to engage with their crowd, and at that, one who love what they do. When the show was over, the band spend plenty of time mingling and chatting with the fans, which isn't something I've really seen a band do to such an extent before - I've personally never encountered a band who were so approachable, and I think there's a real greatness to the bands stature - that of one which can make the crowd as enthusiastic as we were, but also one which is equally content to lean over the barrier into that crowd - one which is happy to stay and shake hands at the end.

I've never seen a venue so buzzing and packed, which brings advantages and disadvantages. Some crowds at shows understand physics, and can apply it to  the space within venues. Others cannot. The two people behind me spent a lot of the time doing experiments to see if two objects really could fit into the same space at the same time. Unfortunately, that space happened to have me in it, and a degree of my attention not utterly taken by Saint Vitus on stage was devoted to remaining in one place. Fortunately, this didn't spoil the proceedings. The set-list was one which was certainly well balanced all-round, blending the classics with tracks from the new album, which the tour is in support of. The set culminated in the final encore, Born Too Late, at which point I knew that it was the cherry on top of the occasion. 27 years ago, the band wrote that song, and they said they were born too late then. Almost three decades later, many of us shared that sentiment - it can be alienating, when in the morning you go back to whatever you do, and suddenly, your the only metalhead in the room. Of that same token, however, it felt now, as it must have then, that in some way, it really is our time. It's wonderfully refreshing to see four ageing, but deeply enthusiastic musicians on stage - not a single haircut between them. They never gave up on rock n' roll, and they make that utterly plain.

Some might say their songs are much too slow. They don't know the things we know.

Saint Vitus Official Site 
Saint Vitus on Facebook
Saint Vitus on Metal Archives
Mos Generator on Facebook
Atragon on Facebook
Atragon on Metal Archives

I hope my first ever live-review hasn't been too unwieldy or disappointing. I can only improve, after all. 

Monday, 11 March 2013

#259 Ahab - Call of the Wretched Sea

In this month of doom reviews, focusing on a single aspect of metal doesn't necessarily mean a lack of variety, and I definitely want to capture that variety when it comes to doom metal. Today, we'll be looking at funeral doom, one of the darkest, murkiest members of the doom family.

In my experience, Ahab are usually one of the first bands mentioned, in any given conversation about "funeral doom", and they are certainly the band which got me into the genre. As I said with regards to epic doom last time, funeral doom is one of those sub-genres the name of which sounds like what it is. As albums like Call of the Wretched Sea, Ahab's debut, can show, funeral doom can be as atmospheric as any epic doom.

As the artwork suggests, Call of the Wretched sea is an album which is heavily, if not entirely centred on the ocean, and whaling. I don't know what it is about the human understanding of music which gives us the blessing that we can hear certain sounds as being "like" certain things in the world, but whatever is is, Ahab use it to full effect. I haven't listened to many albums which sound more like the sea than this one. From the aquatic, haunting synth intro at the start of the album, to the crushing, submerging dirge of guitar, pulsing like waves on the ocean, and with the claustrophobic, pressing presence of the music leaving the listener feeling like they are being submerged in it's vast expanse. After all, like the atmosphere of the album, the ocean is massive, but also something one can be very within. The music utterly captures this, and while the atmosphere is vast, it also feels close, and grips you tightly, like the ocean itself. It's not the sort of atmosphere which makes you soar on majestic wings, but instead grasps you, and holds you tight, while at the same time being just as beautiful. The intense grip which the music can take is very well symbolised by the albums artwork - the inherent beauty of the painting juxtaposed with the brutal destruction it depicts, both of man and whale. The power and crushing hammer of the riffs and extremely deep vocals feel very overtly like a meeting of beauty and heaviness, and while other styles of doom can do this, they often don't sound anything like as dark, haunting or ethereal as albums like this.

The aspect of the music which brings the album furthest into my enjoyment is the hauntingly gorgeous lead-guitar, which is used fairly frequently throughout the entire work. The smooth, golden threads of music weave an extremely dark and extremely beautiful atmosphere, although neither of the two words do it justice - it feels very much like confronting something ineffable - there's a huge sweetness and yet bitterness in the music, particularly given life through these lead guitar parts. The atmosphere is left with an echoing, almost nostalgic tone, contrasting with the rhythm guitars gargantuan heaviness, providing both unforgiving vastness, and the perhaps oppressive, yet extremely comforting grip of the sea - the notes feel, and sound both close and afar as they are played. The steady, at times subtle drumming certainly adds itself to this feeling, with each snare hit, especially in the lowest tempo sections, sounding vast in it's relative isolation from the next drum-beat to come - funeral doom has one of the lowest tempos of any of the doom-genres, perhaps second to drone music, and Ahab certainly explore tempos with very few beats per minute. The album remains quite dynamic, however, with plenty of tempo changes keeping the music interesting, which, when combined with the lead guitar sections, leaves the listener with a very distinct memory of every song, from the very first listen.

Call of the Wretched sea is definitely the kind of album which it feels like you've more than merely listened to by the time it has finished. The kind of album which you enter, and exit, and what happens to you between these times is very overtly different from the rest of the day. When the end arrives, like the end of a film, it takes a few minutes to adjust and retrospectively work out what just happened. The answer I usually arrive at, is that I've just listened to an fantastic record.

This is 9/10.

Ahab Official Site
Ahab on Facebook
Ahab on Metal Archives

More doom reviews shall manifest themselves soon.

Friday, 8 March 2013

#258 Candlemass - Nightfall

From stoner doom, now, to a different place entirely, where doom metal has an atmosphere which is high in an entirely different way - the lofty, epic world encountered in Candlemass' second album - Nightfall.

Candlemass are a name thoroughly synonymous with epic-doom. The genre title itself, aside from describing perfectly the music one has in store listening to an album in the style, was also one coined by the band, with their debut "Epicus Doomicus Metallicus" certainly placing a name to it's own musical persuasion. Nightfall is the band's second full-length album, and is regarded as a classic - the first truly "classic" doom record, but not the last, that I plan to take a look at in this month of doom.

Epic doom is an interesting mixture of things - bits and pieces of conventional doom, traditional-metal, and more than a few operatic leanings all come together. The result is more airy and often more intricate than it's more conventional cousins, and at times, it is indeed more energetic and fast. Nightfall certainly has songs, like "At the Gallows End", which conform to this type, but, like the genre itself, it is still undeniably doom, and plenty of the album pounds away at the lower tempos quite contently, and very much effectively. It doesn't take much time or cognitive work to figure-out why it's called epic doom either. Nightfall is massively grandiose and, to overuse a phrase, very epic. In my experience, however much one loves metal, and in my case, that means a lot, listening to a Candlemass album like this one, or any similarly grand sounding metal-record very much carries a sense of formality - it feels higher than "plain-old-heavy-metal", despite there being no reason for supposing the latter to be in any way illegitimate. Throughout nightfall, above the crunchy, perhaps a little humble, guitar tone which propels the music along, all sorts of angelic epic parts soar - powerful synth seeps through the music, elevating it and giving is a vast atmosphere - the sort of thing which would sound superb in a cathedral, or flowing through the stones of some ancient auditorium.  Joining the synth is the golden, glowing lead-guitar, which weaves gorgeous and superbly memorable melodies and solos, which are often the musical aspect which really being the songs into their own.

One of the most notable features of the album are the extremely talented vocals of "Messiah" Marcolin, who delivered vocals on this, and a number of the bands subsequent works. I'm generally poor at reviewing vocals, and they're certainly a sphere I don't explore as much as the other aspects of a given album, but Marcolin's vocals immediately struck me as interesting to listen to - Aside from being very operatic, even theatrical, I also find them unpredictable to listen to - The notes which follow from one another aren't always the notes you were expecting, or even the ones which a music-theory purist would entirely approve of, but they are nonetheless very clearly deliberate and performed with great talent. This idiosyncrasy has the effect of rendering the vocals on the record extremely haunting, often in a beautiful sense, and also quite eerie - while the album is certainly one with a beautiful atmosphere, there are constant reminder that metal can also be devilish and a touch maniacal. They blend extremely well with the poignant, steady crashing of the drums, and the general, not-too-polished epic melody. I say not too polished, and mean it in a positive light, as musical grandiosity certainly doesn't mean perfectionism - the record hasn't taken hundreds of takes, and hasn't been painstakingly edited and produced, and frankly, it's far better for it, than if the band had taken the (relatively easy to grasp at) decision to have pristine, sterile production. I'm glad they didn't.

Nightfall is definitely on the required-listening-list for epic doom as a sub-genre, and sadly the album one which I discovered far later than I should have - I'd been enjoying epic doom for months before trying out the very fathers of the genre - Candlemass. Songs like "Samarithan", with it's fantastic crescendo and beautiful narrative, is reason enough for any self-professed doom enthusiast to be motivated to give the album a listen.

This is a 9/10.

Candlemass Official Site
Candlemass on Facebook
Candlemass on Metal Archives

I'm not sure what I'm going to look at next, but it's going to be more doom...

Monday, 4 March 2013

#257 Conan - Monnos

Welcome back, to the second review in a month dedicated to nothing but doom metal. Without further ado, it's time to take a look at Conan, and their primordial, bongwielding album of heroic stoner doom. 

If you've never worn ear-plugs to a gig, you might instinctively think that their use might be a little bit rude to the band. Actually, I find them to make the music more clear and "well-produced sounding". The night I saw Conan live, last year, was also the night I forgot to bring my ear-plugs to the gig. Consequently, after a deafening set which made the floor, the walls, and my innards shake, my ears were ringing for quite some time. Any such sonic experience leaves you curious to hear studio material, which, promptly, I did.

A lot of what Conan do, as do doom bands more generally, revolves around the riffs, of which Conan have a hefty, and thunderous stockpile. The bands riffs have two contrasting features; first and foremost, they sound primordial and brutish - as if instead of guitars, some long lost hairy race of people pounded them out on animal-hide drums. On the other hand, the riffs feel restrained, at times even minimalistic. Every chord is allowed time to simmer and rumble, even in the sections where the tempo rises a little. What emerges is in equal measures very powerful, and very clear, and all the more rewarding to listen to as a consequence. The soft but intense fuzz of the riffs never quite rises to a speaker-torturing level, but manages to spew noisily, and with a good deal of floor-vibration from anything you so choose to play it through. Not quite the skull-shaking, teeth-rattling insanity of bands like Electric Wizard, but instead a subtler, albeit no less powerful style, and one which isn't afraid to unleash some titanic lower-end. Joining the riffs are memorable vocals, which likewise utilise a straight-forward approach, the end result of which is equally effective as the straight-forward treatment of the guitar, and indeed drum work. Like the rest of the composition, the vocals manage to capture the primaeval, stone-cracking feel, with bellows and crystal clear yells which seem to strongly emphasise themselves, and really punctuate the music, serving both as memorable, and expanding the soundscape which the riffs create.

When you take a step back from the album, and in my experience of listening, only then, do you realise that most of the songs adopt a noticeably higher tempo than your usual fuzzy, wake-the-neighbours style doom metal. I think I can safely say that the album gains a real edge of this in terms of energy and flow - there is a pulse and vitality in the music which sometimes gets left behind, especially among the slower, more lumbering behemoths of the genre. That isn't to say that Conan don't also provide slow, earth-shaking sections which lend themselves to much rocking back and forth - there's a lot of that too - but it's a fair bet that the band have achieved an interesting balance between the energetic material,  and the grumbling, ferociously stoned sounding slow sections, and it's an album which is pleasingly more dynamic as a result. It's this fresh, dynamic feel to the music which I personally consider to be the highlight of the album, with the purring tone and crisp drums complimenting each other nicely. I wouldn't so much consider it a stoner-doom album to become lost in, and the band don't really indulge in too much psychedelic guitar playing, or embellished atmosphere, but in a way, that's yet another thing which is enjoyable - the album is a break from the trippy, Witches-Sabbath-filled place where this kind of music usually sends me, and my impression is that Conan are relatively straight-forward and proud of it - you get guitars, bass, drums and vocals, and no more - and with those four things, they have carved quite the megalith.

I'm not sure why I didn't review Conan within a few weeks of seeing them live, as I tend to do in similar circumstances. Ultimately, it's probably come in handy that I forgot to do so, because they're certainly a band I'm pleased to include in a themed month dedicated to what they do best. Frankly, I'm as impressed now as I was when I first heard the album.

Certainly an 8/10.

Conan Official Site
Conan on Bandcamp
Conan on Facebook

Check back soon for even more doom... 

Saturday, 2 March 2013

#256 Pallbearer - Sorrow and Extinction

 Welcome to the first review of March, a month I've decided, quite arbitrarily, to dedicate to the interesting beast that is doom-metal. I plan to write reviews of well-established, and up-and-coming bands, and write a few  features solely dedicated to the sub-genre, for the entirety of the month. If you're a doom fan, be sure to check back from time to time to see what I've been up to.


Pallbearer are a band I've heard about here and there on the breeze, and one I eventually got around to listening to during the process of realising that there are a lot of new doom-bands out there at the moment, making a name for themselves. I wasn't sure what to begin this month of doom with, and a review of Pallbearer's début full length album, "Sorrow and Extinction" seemed as good a beginning as any.

There are numerous qualities which I associate primarily with doom-metal, and I can safely say that I picked up quite a few of them coming from Sorrow and Extinction - The album brings rough, crushing chords, crashing like waves onto a shoreline - but at the same time, it's a serene shoreline, with a lot of beauty. One of the first lines I though of while I first listened to the album, with a mind to reviewing it in future, was that this is doom-metal for the sunshine, not for the murky, rainy days. The vocals, as if sung from the top of a sun-soaked spire, soar high above the rest of the earthy, churning instruments - the slow, steady drums and tectonic, roaring guitars. I've not heard vocals like these in a while - they remind me somewhat of those from epic-doom outfit Atlantean Kodex, but at the same time, Pallbearer's vocals seem to be very idiosyncratic and memorable - through the album, the vocals deliver some fantastic melodies - each song has one, for the most part, and many of them are memorable from the very first listen. They're the kind of vocal melodies which are used often enough to embellish the songs nicely, but sparingly enough to feel precious when they arrive. In a lot of the songs, I found myself listening thinking "Oh, I hope the vocalist does that again". Likewise, the guitars deliver splendid, bright melodies which are probably on a par with the vocals, and certainly elevate the album heavenwards, speaking whispers of the epic side of the genre, particularly in songs like "Given to the Grave", in which synth is also called upon, to create a positively transcendent atmosphere.

Juxtaposed with it's brightness - even warmth, the album is undoubtedly sad. Perhaps not dark in atmosphere, but thickly laid with sorrow. The tower from which the vocalist sings is one of imprisonment, not elation, as they sing to the sea of crunching chords below. The lyrics certainly reflect this too, with poignant and poetic language, which certainly seems to add to the albums epic scale, and definitely makes it something of a journey through melancholy. Interestingly, for its scale and high majesty, the album isn't one I'd immediately label "epic-doom" - the epic atmosphere feels a little more organic than that - not insisting upon itself, in a contrived way, but instead coming across as just what happened when the band got together, wrote material and made music. In this respect, the album seems to make the best of both worlds, it's feet don't leave the ground absolutely, as reflected in the retention of an earthy, shuddering roar - even some stoner-doom psychedelic tendencies and notes which bend and sway almost merrily here and there, but at the same time, the music very much has its head in the clouds, and hauntingly, mournfully so. I don't often run into an album so intense, but at the same time, utterly listenable; I lost track of time more than once whilst listening to the album, and the songs seemed to fly by, despite their typically hefty length. Perhaps that says something about how absorbed the album can make the listener, whilst at the same time not making listening a chore. It's great when albums do that.

As you can no doubt tell, I'm rather impressed by the album, and I'm already interested to see what the band do next. I must confess, obvious as it may seem, there are plenty of "essential" doom releases I've missed out on so far, but, to me, I don't think I've ever encountered something quite like this. That, I think, is what this month of doom-metal is about - not just celebrating doom, but helping me to discover more of it.

This is 8/10.

Pallbearer Official Site
Pallbearer on Facebook

More doom to come...