Doomthousandtwenty: The Austere August Ædition
Check out the newest music from Caskets Open, Convocation, Lord Vigo, Threnos and Smoulder.
Caskets Open – Concrete Realms of Pain
The combination of traditional doom metal and hardcore punk isn’t the freshest invention, Saint Vitus‘ entire career could rightly be said to have been built on that foundation, but it is not one all too often mined. Caskets Open has been filling that hole since 2007, but instead of the amalgamation of the two styles á la Saint Vitus, they’ve elected to incorporate punk as a secondary influence, occasionally throwing themselves into a frenzy, while mostly remaining firmly rooted in the tradition of doom.
The balance between the two has shifted from album to album and on their fourth full-length, Concrete Realms of Pain, the trio spends the majority of their time at a dragging pace, and so often lean towards a gauzy, rather than heavy, sound that the heavier sections feel just as much like suddenly appearing transverse lines as the punkier outbreaks do. This often makes for baffling songwriting; “Tadens Tolthe” opens up with the most furious 35 or so seconds the band has put to tape, but resigns to quietly pluck away notes on the bass for lengthy periods afterwards, while album highlight “White Animals” seems at first to only find its stride halfway through whereas “Riding on A Rotting Horse” seems content to overlook the doom part altogether. The mix of things can take a while to get used to, but Caskets Open have been doing their thing for quite a while now, and though it seems difficult to describe the album in any way that would both communicate its contents and still appear enchanted with it, the band is only half-a-step away from scoring a bullseye.
Convocation – Ashes Coalesce
Desolate, inconsolable and gloomy. These staggered descriptions portray Convocation‘s sophomore best, although there is more to its doom than such narrow corridors. Scars Across already introduced much of what is heard on Ashes Coalesce, but the everything has been improved upon, which is no small feat. The production is clearer and heavier, allowing for more of the record’s tonal darkness to shine through. There’s a sinister acceptance of an oncoming demise carried through the clean tones, a suffocating wrath to the slow, death metal riffs picking up the pace enveloping misery to the leads, the disquieting melodies and the dramatic keyboard arrangements constantly reigned in.
It’s difficult to see any way in which Ashes Coalesce could have sounded better, or more appropriate; equal care has been put into the compositions. At the heart Convocation is a funeral doom band; the tension kept throughout is immeasurable, though the songs are long—4 songs in 45 minutes—not one second feels like fluff, filler or needlessly dragged on. There’s also a surprising amount of variety within these songs. Yes, crushing, dragging doom is at its heart, but slow, pummeling death metal riffs, tremolo picked lines, the aforementioned keyboard arrangements, clean picked arpeggios and a lively drum performance that often dictates the ongoing mood are well used elements that form Ashes Coalesce’s fleshy shell.
Hints of LL’s other band Desolate Shrine can be heard here and there, slowed to a glacial crawl, but only hints, while Convocation draws more comparisons to Disembowelment, something of a trendy comparison these days, but one, unlike for many, deserved. With the music, instrumentals, the mixing, the recording and the artwork all handled by him, it would be easy to give all the credit for LL, commend Greg Chandler’s excellent master and carry on, but MN’s vocals are every bit as crucial to the success of Ashes Coalesce as the other pieces. I would even go as far as call them the finishing detail on which the rest rely. Ranging from deep gutturals to an inhuman scream and fortified with cleans and a couple of guests, without their placing and arrangement, it would be a much different album. Ashes Coalesce is one of the best funeral doom albums in recent memory, and my recent memory goes way back, so good, in fact, that I can’t even bring myself to worry about the duo’s future, though there seems to be no more room left for improvement.
Lord Vigo – Danse de Noir
A German trio taking both their stage and band names from Ghostbusters 2, playing supposedly epic doom, with a concept album about the original Blade Runner? Sound good? No? Too bad, ’cause that’s what you’re getting. Actually, for whatever reason, the album is split into two halves, the A-side is filled by the conceptual Offworld A.D. and the B-side is supposed to be made up of individual songs, but as both halves tie into Blade Runner, the only real difference seems to be that on the first half, the samples are separate from actual songs, whereas on the b-side they’ve been tracked together.
Lord Vigo‘s doom isn’t particularly epic, or doomy for that matter; rather their style comprises of flabby ’80s heavy metal replenished with indolent Maiden-isms. Though their playing is more lazy than intentionally slow, and their songwriting often underdeveloped, guitarist/bassists Tony Scoleri and Volguus Zildrohar have just enough sense of melody to keep the band afloat. Drummer/vocalist Vinz Clortho’s voice will surely divide the crowd with its shrill hollering, but it also carries roughly 70% of the album, and the majority of the hooks. Danse de Noir is a fairly enjoyable and easy album to listen to, and better than you’d have any reason to expect from what has been said here, but it’s very difficult to love for all its shortcomings, and I don’t see myself returning to it for more than a spin or two.
On Thorns I Lay – Threnos
On Thorns I Lay goes all the way back into ’92, and excluding a two year hiatus, has been at it ever since. Though they started playing death/doom, they eventually slipped into gothic rock of some kind. Their post-hiatus records have made a return of sorts into their old ways, but with more pronounced, sorrowful guitar melodies. In all honesty though, Eternal Silence was bad, and though Aegean Sorrow had its moments, ultimately it fell victim to its bland songwriting and lack of character. No album of theirs has made its way into my rotation since ’97s Orama, so I didn’t expect much from Threnos and it was both exactly what I was waiting for and a little surprising.
Threnos follows firmly in the footsteps of Aegean Sorrow, but refines the melodic language into something that’s both more intricate and memorable. It still feels like the band has traded away much of their character for a more generic but even take on the sound. The surprising part, which should come as no surprise to you, is that on Threnos it works. Stefanos Kintzoglous’ deep roars and guitarist duo Christos Dragamestianos’ and Akis Pastras’ melodies dig their way deep and made me realize just how much I had missed this kind of doom; it doesn’t seem that the year’s been ripe with it nor have I returned much to old favourites. At 45 minutes, Threnos never grows stale and the change from woeful guitar melodies into power chords and violin on “Ouranio Deos” and the aggressive chugs of “Misos” help keep a sense of movement about. On one hand it may be an all too familiar take on a sound On Thorns I Lay neither adds to, nor manages to make their own, but on the other, Threnos is so well executed it’s hard to find much fault in it.
Smoulder – Dream Quest Ends
Roughly a year since their debut, the Toronto epic doom and trad metal quintet of considerable hype returns to pay tribute to Mark Shelton and one-up their debut. It’s all off to a good start with the title track’s fist-pumping power chord riff, memorable lead melody and some dual vocals. The mix is fuller than on the debut, leading for a more all-around powerful sound and Sarah Ann, whose voice is sure to deter a few, does her best to elevate an already powerful composition. It’s a little unfortunate that the mid-section should feel like a build-up, because it doesn’t build up towards much and the return to the opening riff comes off as anticlimactic.
The slower and more plodding “Warrior Witch of Hel” does well with a difficult template, alternating the same motif between a single-note picked lead melody and a power chord riff, and has pretty much the band’s best chorus so far, showcasing the heights subtlety can reach. Bassist Adam is often given as much room as the guitarists and along Sarah’s vocals it’s his playing that ends up separating and elevating Smoulder above the growing epic doom masses. Unfortunately the closing Manilla Road cover “Cage of Mirrors” doesn’t work as well as the original tracks. It’s a good song, and a fine version but something about Sarah’s vocals, which I otherwise enjoy, doesn’t gel with me on the track, especially around the 4-minute mark. A couple of quibbles aside, Dream Quest Ends also contains some of the best (epic) doom put out in 2020 and no doom aficionado who’s managed to miss it so far should continue their wayward ways.