Doomthousandnineteen: White Lines & Black Powder
The white lines of frost’s grip that is.
Lord Vicar – The Black Powder
When discussing doom-royalty, how often do you come by the name Lord Vicar? Despite appearing on sizeable fests, and active touring, and consistently high quality material, Lord Vicar’s profile seems oddly low. They do get a fair bit of traction, but it’s impossible to entirely escape the feeling of being overlooked, doubly odd for the times we live in, where name-recognition as big as Lord Vicar’s usually translates into massive hype before a second’s worth of music has been heard. With Reverend Bizarre’s Kimi Kärki, Count Raven/Saint Vitus vocalist Chritus Lindersson and October 31st/Twisted Tower Dire bassist Jim Hunter -though the latter left after the band’s debut EP – the band, now rounded out by drummer Gareth Millsted and bassist Rich Jones, has always been loaded with experience, with proven skill, and history.
Though perhaps it is for the best. Lord Vicar has never been a an empty parade for once-known musicians to come together and try to scrape by. They’ve always been an exceptional band with no difficulties whatsoever to stand on their own legs, look at their past and disregard it. They are their own men, they are their own band, and every single one of their albums has proven that over and over again.
Their fourth, and very likely finest, full-length – The Black Powder – is no exception. With opener “Sulphur, Charcoal and Saltpetre”, they’ve crafted a manifesto to proclaim this, and state their superiority over their peers. A massive, sprawling composition proving Lord Vicar’s ability to handle everything from funeral dirges and menacing, steamrolling heft to wistful acoustic passages and raising an obstreperous rumble. At 18-minutes, it’s a song few could manage with grace, but Lord Vicar keeps it constantly moving and engaging with ease. The difference between merely writing a song, and putting your soul into it.
Much as sulphur, charcoal and saltpetre are ingredients for black powder, so does the opener hold the ingredients for The Black Powder. Each subsequent song takes an aspect or two, not motifs, not riffs – but ideas and themes, from it, and coils around them. From the brisk, brief stomp of “Impact”, constant shifting of “The Temple In The Bedrock”, the penultimate “Nightmare’s” acoustic melancholy, or the return to prog-minded, suite-like build-up of closer “A Second Chance”, each song grows from “Sulphur, Charcoal and Saltpetre’s” many faces, and the opener, in turn, comes to mirror them all.
Though The Black Powder is a massive opus, a daunting effort, the level of interconnected songcraft Lord Vicar shows here is supreme to the extent the record feels much shorter than it’s almost 70-minute run-time, inviting immediate replays with frequency few albums of similar heft and length can. Should 2019 provide a doom metal album to surpass this, it would be a feat for the ages.
5/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell
Red Moon Architect – Kuura
I have enjoyed Red Moon Architect’s two previous albums with much gusto, giving Return of The Black Butterflies a place on my EOTY list two years ago, and though Fall did not at the time make it to any such list, it might just be even better. What I most admired on RotBB were the last two tracks, which moved the band firmly towards a funeral doom-like landscape – a genre my love towards has been well documented within these very pages. Imagine then my enthusiasm when I learned that the band’s latest opus – Kuura, an album that is unlikely to see release on physical media besides the LP format, courtesy of The Vinyl Division, would further journey into such depths.
Formerly their style was best described as the kind of death/doom that relied more on atmosphere than riffing, with simple chord-based progressions embellished with a bountiful harvest of scarcely-constructed melodies. What then could Kuura’s direction possibly mean than increasingly oppressive, thickening atmosphere, melodies more haunting and bare than ever before with Rutanen’s powerful, deep growl providing ambient-like texture while his higher rasp proving more anguished than ever – with Viljanen’s ethereal cleans flying on top? And oh how right I was!
Except that I don’t think that’s Viljanen – actually I don’t think she makes an appearance of any kind on this album. And Rutanen doesn’t really use his deeper register, and conveying anguish in this case means that listening to computer-processed, effect-laden, panhandled vocals of his makes me writhe in anguish. Whatever compelled the band to think that heaving layers upon layers of dogshit on his voice would somehow make it sound good? And to be entirely frank, though the melodies have become more bare than ever before, they’re hardly very haunting. Kuura lies at the ambient-most, droning side of funeral doom. Divided into three parts, the second of which consists from what sounds like a creaky door hinge slowly opening for five minutes over wooshing wind. I can’t pretend that I am not bitterly disappointed in this record – especially after how good “End of Days” and “NDE” were, but Kuura is not entirely without it’s charms.
The sixteen-minute closer does reach the oppressive atmosphere that I had hoped for, and the piano melody working it’s way through most of the song, though more hopeful than gloomy, hits every right spot. It’s just that the other two-thirds don’t really achieve the same heights, or effect, the vocals remain painful to listen to, the contrasts Red Moon Architect has so far taken great advantage of shine with their absence and with the historical burden of having produced excellent funeral doom prior, Kuura is shredded in comparison. It’s almost like Kuura was intended to be a counterpart to the other year’s “Rising Tide” single, which in turn favoured Viljanen and saw the band approach their sound from a brisk, chorus-centric angle – but a deeper connection between the two was never forged. And on it’s own Kuura isn’t up to par.
2/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell
Dirge – Lost Empyrean
Around December 2017 I was often met in the streets of Äkäslompolo cursing loudly to myself and wildly swinging my arms about. The reason for this behaviour, less peculiar than you’d believe, was Alma Baltica, the follow-up EP to 2014’s Hyperion, a masterpiece of post-metal flavoured doom. And the band had had the audacity to drop an ambient EP. Over the following year, Alma Baltica proved a worthwhile release of it’s own, but it wasn’t until last December that Lost Empyrean truly delivered what I had yearned for. Why’s it taken so long for the album to be featured here then? Fuck you, I don’t tell you how to do your job, do I?
Lost Empyrean essentially marked a death knell for the band, though this was announced only later there were no rehearsals, writing sessions or shows after it’s release. This, and the passage of time considered, I doubt a regular review is in order, but it is far too good an album to be left completely ignored. Characterized by much of the influences of their previous record. No trace of their early industrial metal stylings can be heard, though the lead-weight riffs and atmospheric ambition remain, having now shed the last vestige of their mid-era albums that sounded like a post-hardcore band having gone doom, and even leaning less towards the synths and electronics this time around – though they are still a heavily featured, integral part of their sound – giving the guitars, especially the melodic lines some additional space. This may be the closest Dirge ever came to “just” doom.
It may not quite challenge Hyperion, but it is, in some ways, more pleasant to listen to, and an excellent record to lay your career to rest to.