I haven’t kept up with my journalistic duties as of late, and to be frank, I don’t intend to entirely rectify this matter shortly. Yet, I’ve no desire to completely neglect them either, so I’ve compiled a smattering of doom metal releases in a bump ‘n grind styled, quick mass of short reviews for you to enjoy at your leisure. Today, we’re looking at the latest from RottenDawn, Pale Grey Lore, Altar of Oblivion, Shades of Deep Water, The Howling Void, Excantation, & God Disease.
I’m not going to lie, I was 100% drawn to RottenDawn’s debut full-length because of the band’s line-up. Being founded a decade ago when guitarists Make Mäkinen (Sinisthra) and Joni Halmetoja (Legacy) came together, the group began to take physical and musical shape. Pasi Äijö of Unholy/Holy Hell fame joined on bass and vocal duties, and the group was rounded out when Mikael Arnkil, a former drummer of Abhorrence and Antidote (though better known as the bassist of Impaled Nazarene) was brought in to man the battery. The band’s doom/death seasoned with trad and old school influence is appropriately heavy, and Äijö’s vocal vomiting is a treat to listen to. Variation is sought with keys that tend to come on too strong and take hold of the song whenever they appear in organ mode, and an under-utilized higher rasp, but as far as the riffs go, there’s little grip to them and not much to remember or call home about, nor do they appear in troves.
Most of the songs on Occult run longer than 8 minutes and packing what they do, it’s not an unusual feeling to have that most of the songs drag on just because doom metal songs need to be long. RottenDawn’s playing sounds more slouching than tight which costs them a considerable amount of heaviness, and despite some attempts at distinguishing the songs from each other, especially the front half melds together and could have used another HC-burst like “Ode To Pjotr,” preferably written into another song and not just as an individual piece. Much of Occult‘s material is fine, if not memorable; when taken apart, a multitude of smaller issues and the lack of A-game material makes it a hard sell based on the album’s length.
Eschatology‘s cover doesn’t evoke ideas of the most brilliant stoner doom record, but it looks like a stoner doom record alright. Luckily, there’s quite a bit more to Pale Grey Lore than that, and it’s a far more inspired and fun record than the first glance could tell. Funny how expectations mold perception; at first Eschatology’s cover looked like a fairly well-realized cover for a very boring and pointless stoner record, but now that I’ve heard the record it looks much better, more fun and perfectly telling of the adventure Eschatology is. Sure, you have the usual stoner fuzz riffers that (unfortunately) don’t riff half as hard as their (usually baked as AF) writers thought they did (because they were baked as AF). Even so, “Void-Cursed” & “Before the Fall” don’t fall into the pointlessness that often plagues their ilk, and it’s easier to stand out on a record when you’re in the minority instead of sounding exactly like the song/riff before you. There are elements of garage and space rock, lighter psych vibes and just general hard rock influence as well, and while that doesn’t necessarily sound like the most vibrant combination, it makes all the difference. The likes of “Greed Springs Eternal” are built around melodic leads, and Michael Miller’s voice likewise plays a key role, especially on the acoustic-led ballad “Waiting for the Dawn,” which often approaches something memorable. Though Pale Grey Lore could use tighter songwriting and more focused pacing to make their diversity really stand out, Eschatology is quite a bit more than just another stoner rock record in all the right senses.
While still keeping somewhat in line with their previous hazier, emotive and atmospheric doom records, Altar of Oblivion‘s latest finds them dabbling in burlier riffs, more groovy leads and groin-grabbingly tough riffs. Their heaviest and most powerful tunes to date, The Seven Spirits may not please the most diehard fans of the band, but for me it’s likely their best effort yet. From the driving beats, riff flurries and woeful leads of “Created In the Fires of Holiness,” through “No One Left’s” opening moments (still reminiscent of their previous shenanigans), from “Gathering At The Wake’s” sledgehammer guitars to the title track’s somber, vocal-lead presentation, all the way to “Solemn Messiah’s” Maiden-esque leadwork, the album is filled with doom metal royalty. The only downside is that the closing “Grand Gesture of Defiance” can neither keep up with the rest, nor does it always seem like it knows where it’s going, despite some great, striking riffwork.
Last July, we took a look at Shades of Deep Water‘s older work, but the one man band put out a new album, Death’s Threshold, in late October. I told you to keep your eyes open for it; you didn’t. You live to disappoint me, your entire existence is a lengthy chain of disappointments, and you bloody well know who you are. Shades of Deep Water’s style is something akin to fairly uptempo death/doom but not without torturous influence from the funereal side of things. Largely driven by drum beats, varying between two tempos, Death’s Threshold’s four parts form a singular movement with little respite outside a few moments of calm in the third act that are vital to the record’s pacing. For much of the time the first two acts feel the same, with only the guitar lead playing on top changing; I don’t hold it against the record though, rather it gives it a very different vibe—a death/doom record to drive to, if you will. It’s an endearing and hypnotizing record and especially the second act has lured me in with its lead guitar mixing with the keys(violin?) for a wonky effect.
For two albums, The Howling Void’s sole member R, a man of many bands, created plodding funeral doom, lightly glazed with keys, almost aimless in its direction, but not without a sense of purpose. Then, on The Womb Beyond The World, he took it upon himself to create a strain of grand funeral doom, with heavier key presence akin to older symphonic black metal bands. More meditative in its tones and driven by a clearer intent, it became one of my two go-to hangover records (Melanie Martinez’s Cry Baby being the other); it was only natural that The Howling Void soon abandoned this style completely. While the music R made with the band was by no means bad (Nightfall is full of good ideas and TDatEoD has several too), my interest began to wane and the full-lengths from 2016 and 2017 had little to nothing in common with the project’s older works. I followed the band and R’s other projects around half-heartedly until an announcement came that a new album, Bleak and Everlasting, would be released as April of this year died and that it would be a return to the project’s funeral doom roots.
Six years have passed since TWBtW, and the world is a very different place, and I am a different man. Obviously Bleak and Everlasting could not have such an effect on me as the band once had, but I find strange comfort in its arms. Instead of a glacial meditation on mysteries as advertised, for me, the record sounds warm, even hopeful, if melancholic. Knowing there’s no return, but at peace, I admired the view one last time—the river depicted on the beautiful cover art. Musically it’s most simplistic funeral doom, playing on heavy beats and rhythmic chugs beneath bleak and wistful leads.
Though the keys play a major role in establishing the atmosphere, the direction seems less symphonic and more atmospheric, with bells and piano filling out some of the empty space, though much remains on the scarce landscape. As with all The Howling Void releases, I find the compositions missing progression; there’s direction and intent, a point of entry and stated means and goals, but nothing seems to be moving towards anything. Despite the leads, the vocals and the beats, it often feels like nothing particular goes on in the songs. Yet BaE does not, nor did TWBtW, truly suffer from this. The direction and intent give enough form for the compositions and there is a constant, slow change as motifs come and go, functioning similarly to the static tension that keeps the finest of drone doom together and engaging. I’m not certain whether this is a good or a bad thing, but considering I do enjoy the record nonetheless, I’m willing to give it a pass.
The split with Excantation features one song from The Howling Void, similar to the style on Bleak and Everlasting, but with a mix favouring the keys more and featuring the talents of drummer S. There’s also a more definite sense of progression to be found here, and as far as the project’s funeral doom output goes, “Born Dreaming of Death” is one of their finest songs, even if I do find myself noticing, more than before, the lack of that magical “something” that would place The Howling Void among the very best funeral doom bands. But this split gives me hope that perhaps, one day, they will. And even if they don’t, we’ll have great music and a good time in the very least.
Excantation is another San Antonio, Texas funeral doom band, largely performed by one man. Shane Elwell is responsible for practically everything here: the heavy bass and rhythm guitars that provide more texture than anything else, the drum beats that seem to exist more to separate the music from being ambient than driving the rhythm, the deep vocals and the wistfully ominous lead guitars that alternate in providing momentum for the two compositions totalling half an hour. The only thing Elwell doesn’t handle himself is the keyboards, used sparingly to create atmosphere, handled by one Ryan Wilson. Yes, the line-ups of these two bands are identical. Though in comparison, Excantation is rawer and rougher, with more oppressive tones, and while the shorter “Pale Embrace of Despair” works fairly well, the seventeen-minute “Rituals In Solitude” suffers greatly from aimlessness. There is little sense of purpose in the composition, as if Elwell hadn’t quite known whether to make an ambient song or a metal song. Similar to the issues suffered by The Howling Void, Excantations’s longer offering here is the only composition harmed by them, and if you’re new to the band I suggest checking out Voyage of The Imperator instead for a more bite sized (and effective) approach at first. Bonus points for the beautiful cover art for both records.
The churning, drawn-out chords and malign atmosphere that ruled God Disease’s debut full-length, Drifting Towards Inevitable Death, are very much still in place on the follow-up EP Hymns For Human Extinction. The fuller, heavier mix suits well the moody approach in which the death metal influence comes through the tone and vocals, rather than the riffs. Though advances have been made on that front as well, following a lengthy intro, “Dawn of The Dying Breed” features the band’s most memorable leadwork to date. The monotony that plagued DTID hasn’t been done away with despite the considerably shorter length, and the songs feel more like variations on a common idea than individual pieces, which could be both a good and/or bad thing. HFHE tends to lean towards the latter due to its relatively indistinguishable nature. Regardless, HFHE is another small step forward for God Disease, and again a slightly more convincing record that should not leave fans of Krypts‘ sophomore cold.