Thursday, October 25, 2012

Demonic Death Judge – ‘Skygods’

Finland’s psyche-sludge overlords, Demonic Death Judge, have closely followed the orbit established by 2011’s excellent full-length album, ‘The Descent’, with another earsplitting slab of progressive minded stoner metal entitled ‘Skygods’. Not to dismiss their self-titled EP, but the band has been on an upward trajectory since the release of 2010’s ‘Kneel’ EP. Each successive release has found the band layering impossibly heavy riffs with atmospheric passages and Jaakko Heinonen’s sinisterly harsh vocals. While their method of attack has remained consistent, the band’s sound has subtly evolved over the past three releases. The ‘Kneel’ EP was an all out attack of abrasive, mind-melting catchiness capable of leveling a skyscraper. ‘The Descent’ found the band branching out by coupling more complex arrangements with classic rock influences and an increased depth of psychedelic textures. ‘Skygods’, the next logical step in the band’s evolution, makes an incremental sacrifice of their acerbic sludge in favor of Sabbath-inspired riffs and a deeper investigation of ambient soundscapes.

“Skygods”, the album’s namesake, kicks off the release in majestic fashion by layering post-metal guitar leads atop mesmerizing riffs. The element that truly elevates the opening track to greatness is the penetrating, fluid basslines of Pasi Hakuli, which is imprinted all over this release. The second track, “Salomontaari”, slows things down by featuring a more doom-oriented sound. The song twists and turns through its near eight minute run time, eventually breaking down not once, but twice into instrumental passages that selectively features lead-guitar jamming, Pasi’s infectious basslines, and even keyboards. The brief, dreamy, ambient passage “Latitude” gently lulls the listener into a false sense of calm before escalating into the onslaught that is “Knee High”, a tune that could easily have been lifted from the “Kneel” EP. “Knee High” competes as an album highlight due to the staggering, up-tempo riffing of Saku Hakuli which Heinonen’s vocals complement perfectly.

The second half of the album begins innocuously enough with an instrumental passage featuring acoustic guitar before Heinonen’s shriek pierces the calm. “Aqua Hiatus” easily flows between calmer, acoustic inflected moments and doom-inspired riffing. Again, Demonic Death Judge knows how to mix things up and keep every composition interesting. The sludge-swagger of “Cyberprick” has a jazzy breakdown incorporating a brief spoken-word sample that menacingly claims: “You're looking at me and you're looking at the future. See, this country is gonna blow. And people like me are gonna light the fuse. The despised, the betrayed. We're gonna light the fuse and this country is gonna blow. This country is gonna blow…” Eerie lead guitar launches into “Nemesis”, another effectively atmospheric track in the vein of “Latitude” though more song oriented, which features a rarity from Demonic Death Judge…clean vocals. While the song embraces atmospherics in favor of the hard-hitting sludge that the band is notorious for, “Nemesis” really stands out as an album highlight. The longest track, “Pilgrimmage”, appropriately closes out the album. At ten minutes in length, it allows the band to really spread their wings and really venture into a moody composition that seems to combine all of the softer elements that make the other seven tracks on this album so great.

Demonic Death Judge’s ‘Skygods’ is another addition to an already stellar discography. The band has managed to effortlessly combine seemingly disparate elements into a cohesive whole of psychedelic-inflected sludge metal. While this album may not be as immediately heavy as the ‘Kneel’ EP, it does manage to surpass that early recording in terms of songwriting, and overall mood. ‘Skygods’ is easily the band’s most mature and varied album to date. It’ll be interesting to see how the band continues to evolve on future releases and where their sonic explorations will take them.

Words: Steve Miller
(Originally published at Doommantia)



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