Sunday, October 26, 2014

…your time has come: NIGHT GAUNT – ‘Night Gaunt’

For at least the past three decades Italy has been a wellspring for some of the finest doom that the genre has to offer. The music is often creative and progressive and can be, at times, even challenging for the uninitiated. Groups like Black Hole, Paul Chain, Requiem, The Black, Bretus, and Doomraiser, just to name a few, have explored the possibilities of doom while leaving an indelible mark on the form. Joining the ranks of this amazing roster is Rome’s Night Gaunt, a band who plays it a bit straighter than many of their contemporaries, but to no less effect.

Night Gaunt’s self-titled debut represents what is best in traditional doom. The somewhat lo-fi production found on ‘Night Gaunt’ does not interfere with the tunes and effectively contributes to the sepulchral atmosphere of the album. The main result is that the guitars come across as gritty and somewhat harsh compared to other traditionalists of the form, but this gives Night Gaunt a unique edge. Guitarist and vocalist Gc has an excellent voice that is slightly buried in the mix. Often sounding like a blend of Peter Murphy and Dawn of Winter’s Gerrit P. Mutz (particularly on album-opener “Persecution”), Gc occasionally adds sinister grunts and an infrequent growl to the proceedings.

A sinister, tomb-like dissonance seems to lurk about on many of the tracks. The intro to “Persecution” is rife with discordant strums before the tune settles into a mid-tempo stagger. Gc ‘s vocal delivery on this track really stands out as he often inflects his voice with a slightly theatrical, yet ominous quaver, a technique that is also effectively used on the closing track, “Acquiescent Grave”.

While lurching riffs and a dank, crypt-like atmosphere bleeds into a majority of the tracks of the album, Night Gaunt is capable of ripping-it-up with some blistering tunes. The one-two punch of the eponymous instrumental, “Night Gaunt”, coupled with the following track, “Black Velvet”, is capable of getting the adrenaline flowing. In addition to just flat-out rocking, “Black Velvet” has some of the album’s most memorable riffs accompanied by devilish vocals and some Sabbathesque swing.

Night Gaunt have unleashed a stellar debut that is dark, dingy, and exemplifies the epitome of doom. Ultimately this is a traditional doom album, but Night Gaunt have pushed their instruments into the red without sounding completely overblown or unlistenable. Fans of Funeral Circle, Dawn of Winter, The Wounded Kings, or even The Grave will find a lot to dig on ‘Night Gaunt’. Hopefully this album will see a physical release in the near future. Killer stuff…



Saturday, October 25, 2014

…fleeing a lifeless vessel: HORSEHUNTER – ‘Caged in Flesh’

A swirling maelstrom of feedback and distortion, monolithic drums, and a seismic low-end rumble is a righteous introduction to Melbourne, Australia’s four-piece doom machine, Horsehunter. The band’s debut, ‘Caged in Flesh’, weighs in heavily on the stoner side of the spectrum while effectively harnessing and reigning in the acerbic savagery of sludge and the rhythmic, hypnotizing behemoth riffs of doom. With four tracks and a runtime that just tops forty minutes ‘Caged in Flesh’ is an epic undertaking, but Horsehunter succeeds by crafting songs that are varied in both structure and tempo.

Perhaps putting their best foot forward with the opener “Stoned to Death”, Horsehunter wages war on the listener with sixteen-and-a-half minutes of amplifier worshipping doom in the vein of Sleep, Demonic Death Judge, Traitors Return to Earth, and, of course, the almighty Sabbath. The tune ebbs and flows between onslaughts of undulating, fuzzed-out riffs of sonic terrorism and psych inflected waves of relative calm. For the most part Horsehunter plays it pretty straight on this track vocally, but later adopts a harsher, sludgier approach on subsequent tracks.

The title track, “Caged in Flesh”, dials in the sludge for a tune that is deceptively less dynamic than the album opener, but no less effective at laying waste through pure, unadulterated aural attrition complete with elephant-killing doses of feedback, wailing invocations of transcendence, cymbal washes, and wounded passages of crawling distortion. But just when the listener is worn down to a nub the bottom falls out and the song shifts gears and kicks into overdrive with a hypnotic groove.

The brief three minute instrumental “Nightfall” acts as an interlude of sorts before the album culminates with “Witchery”, easily the moodiest track of the album. “Witchery” is heavy, ethereal, and at times even caustic—three qualities that bring to mind the cosmic doom practiced by Yob. “Witchery” is an excellent closer as it has an intensity unmatched by any other tune on the album.

As far as debuts go, it doesn’t get much better than what Horsehunter has achieved with ‘Caged in Flesh’. Despite only four tracks the album never grows wearisome or begins to feel like a challenge. The band definitely has a deft hand at knowing when to change things up in order to keep the listener engaged. It will be interesting to see how Horsehunter develops in the future, especially with such an accomplished debut under their belt. A killer album that only gets better through repeated listens.



Wednesday, October 22, 2014

…ascending flesh and bone: SERPENT VENOM – ‘Of Things Seen & Unseen’

Serpent Venom’s excellent debut, ‘Carnal Altar’, was a thing of beauty. It was impossibly heavy without completely sacrificing melody. It was often oppressively dark, though given to occasional glimpses of light and, for the most part, it effectively balanced a sluggish crawl with mid-tempo groove. Fast forward three years and not only has Serpent Venom released an admirable follow-up to ‘Carnal Altar’, but they have released one of the finest albums of the year.

‘Of Things Seen & Unseen’ has been highly anticipated here at V.C.A., but this anticipation was also coupled with trepidation due to the departure of guitarist/Hammond organ player Pete Fox. Though the brief atmospheric use of organ is sorely missed on ‘Of Things Seen & Unseen’, the greater worry revolved around the riffs. What would Serpent Venom sound like with soaring heartfelt vocals and a tight, heavy-as-Hell rhythm section…but no riffs? Well, fortunately, that question is a moot point. Roland Scriver does a more than capable job of filling the void. ‘Of Things Seen & Unseen’ is almost a continuation of where the band left off with ‘Carnal Altar’ and is, in many respects, an overall heavier album.

‘Carnal Altar’ beget a handful of stone cold classic tunes with the self-titled lead-off track—the slow build of organ coupled with Sutherland’s intensifying drums and the main riff crashing in kills me every time—“For Walls of Solitude”, a tune that epitomizes doom metal, and the groovy up-tempo swing of “Devilshire”. ‘Carnal Altar’ captured a unique, crypt-like atmosphere that was imprinted on every single tune, a feat that has somewhat eluded ‘Of Things Seen & Unseen’. Despite a shift in atmospheric balance the band’s sophomore effort compensates with a combination of heft and traces of psychedelia that were only hinted at on the debut.

‘Of Things Seen & Unseen’ is a fantastic follow-up to one of Vertical Chamber Apparatus’s favorite albums. Fans of traditional doom, particularly the heavier side of the spectrum, should have no problems gravitating toward ‘Of Thing Seen & Unseen’. Serpent Venom is the total package—great vocals and vocal melodies, weighty bass lines, a drummer who adds depth and propulsion to the tunes and last, but not least, heavy-as-fuck riffs that become embedded in your skull.


Monday, October 13, 2014

…Reino Ermitaño – ‘Conjuros de Poder’

Peruvian witch doom masters Reino Ermitaño have finally released the follow up to 2012’s excellent ‘Veneración del Fuego’ with their fifth album overall, ‘Conjuros de Poder’. Those unfamiliar with the band’s inimitable take on doom-laden heavy music laced with a dose of psychedelia have truly been missing out. Thick creative riffs, uncharacteristic instrumentation, and enchanting vocal melodies are at the forefront and help elevate the band’s entire discography to an entirely different plane.

‘Conjuros de Poder’ is another worthy addition to the band’s catalogue and while it may not be quite as immediate or as instantaneously gratifying as their previous efforts, particularly ‘Veneración del Fuego’, it is an album of subtle complexities and nuances. ‘Conjuros de Poder’ is a darker, more somber album than what the band has previously recorded.

Despite the overall gloominess of Reino Ermitaño’s latest the album still retains the magic found on earlier releases. “Ancestral” puts the spotlight squarely on bassist Marcos Coifman and drummer Julio "Ñaca" Almeida. Coifman unleashes some of his catchiest basslines to date and Almeida’s busy drum work help to both anchor and propel the song onward. Coifman really lets loose toward the end of the song to stellar effect. ‘Conjuros de Poder’ marks the second album recorded with guitarist Eloy Arturo and his presence has been a welcome addition. The band’s music has never sounded heavier, but Arturo is also able to accent his guitar work with subtle hooks and trippy atmospherics.

Rivalling the band’s unique instrumental style is the bewitching vocals of Tania Duarte who, on this recording, generally sounds angrier and even maniacal at times. The layered vocals found on “Calendula” for example are both sinister and transcendent. Not only is Duarte’s voice perfect for the band’s music, but she also adds an infections element to the songs by creating memorable vocal melodies that also act as hooks.

‘Conjuros de Poder’ finds Reino Ermitaño continuing down a spiraling path of doom that is well worth the journey due to the band’s creative and complex compositions. “Kali”, a tune that would have fit in well amongst the tracks of ‘Veneración del Fuego’, finds the band incorporating sitar for what is one of the standout tracks of the album. “Kali” has the feel of an extended epic jam, but at three-and-a-half minutes it ends way too soon. Despite the brevity “Kali” brings some of the album’s heaviest riffs and features some of Arturo’s best leads.

Reino Ermitaño have created another sonic masterpiece in ‘Conjuros de Poder’. Each track is imbibed with a mystical energy that few other bands are able to match. Though ‘Conjuros de Poder’ is generally a gloomier album than what the band has released in the past it still manages to enrapture the listener, particularly on the straight-forward rocker “Abraxas” or the emotional slow-burner “En mi Mente” which, in an odd way, brings to mind echoes of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing”. Another excellent release from Lima, Peru’s Reino Ermitaño. The band has yet to take a misstep. Highly recommended…


Friday, October 10, 2014

…say you love Satan: ELECTRIC WIZARD – ‘Time to Die’

Before getting started we need to establish a precedent. Up to this point I think Electric Wizard’s ‘Black Masses’ is easily the best thing the band has released. It’s dark, murky, and completely and totally acid-damaged beyond repair. The album has maintained a replay value around these parts that is only rivalled by their more traditional sounding debut. Not to diminish or detract from the band’s previous accomplishments, but this is simply where my head’s at.

The release of ‘Black Masses’ saw the band garnering their most mixed reviews for an album since the nail-in-the-coffin ‘Let Us Prey’, the release that ushered in the demise of the “classic” lineup. So where would they go next? Bringing Mark Greening back (briefly) into the fold was a brilliant move considering the exalted place that ‘Come My Fanatics’ and ‘Dopethrone’ holds for many Electric Wizard and doom fans. But if it has not been painfully obvious from the band’s early days, Jus Oborn seems too have no intention of releasing the same album twice. This has become even more apparent since teaming up with Liz Buckingham and their ever-revolving cast of drummers and bassists. After the release of ‘We Live’ the band has made some sharp adjustments to their sound, particularly in the production department—a trend that continues with ‘Time to Die’. The album takes the boggy, lo-fi garage rock sound of ‘Black Masses’ and pulls it deeper into the mud.

‘Time to Die’ may fail to match ‘Dopethrone’ in terms of overall heaviness or anger, but it easily eclipses their earlier accomplishments with pure unadulterated hate and pharmacological excess. With inspiration drawn from Ricky Kasso’s murder of Gary Lauwers, among other influences, ‘Time to Die’ empathetically construes psychosis and drug addled rage. For the first time Electric Wizard has truly succeeded in concocting a soundtrack that matches the seedy, exploitative underbelly of society that is embraced and championed by the band.

Without a doubt the album is front loaded. “Incense for the Damned” begins with the sound of rushing water, ominous organ, and Greening fading in from behind the kit overlaid with sound bites related to the Kasso murder case. Distortion begins to roar, Jus bellows, and the song falls into a head-nodding sinister groove. Despite being slightly buried in the mix, Greening’s busy drumming is a propulsive driving force for the tune, particularly when the song implodes and ultimately loses its form in a disjointed crawl before ultimately reincorporating.

“I Am Nothing” easily stands as a crowning achievement amidst the band’s vast collection of tunes and even rivals the sheer heaviness of anything on “Come My Fanatics” or “Dopethrone”. The tune is centered on a simple, yet menacingly simple cluster of notes that seem to sickeningly lurch and reel. When not invoking madness the tune exemplifies the epitome of heavy with a pummeling main riff and plenty of feedback and swirling noise. Again, Greening is in top form as his drumming seems to ebb and flow from within the whirlwind of howling distortion.

Despite presenting some of the band’s most unique and menacing tunes haphazardly enveloped in a psychotropic induced psychosis, ‘Time to Die’ is a bit long in the tooth. “SadioWitch” is a killer tune, but pretty much is a reworked version of “Black Mass”. “Funeral of Your Mind” is somewhat of a sonic mess that sounds more like a long lost Comets on Fire tune than what Electric Wizard is traditionally known for which could good or bad depending on your mood or state. Regardless of the album’s runtime and the presence of a few revisited riffs ‘Time to Die’ is worth the admission for the first four tracks alone.

To be honest I wasn’t expecting to be blown away by this album like I have been. Following the release of ‘Black Masses’ I imagined that the band would shift their sound in a completely different direction. Instead, they seem to be continuing a trajectory that is taking them further into a hate filled, murky abyss that embraces the darkest side of psychedelia and human nature. Tastefully placed organ and mellotron scattered throughout the album are excellent atmospherics touches. The band lays it on a bit thick with the sound bites, but this does not prevent the album from standing out as one of the year’s best. But, if you’ve written off the Wizard following the release of ‘Witchcult Today’ and especially ‘Black Masses’, then there might not be a whole lot here for you.



Thursday, October 9, 2014

…the Morning Star descending: Lucifer’s Fall – ‘S/T'

Potentially the most “traditional” sounding doom album to be released this year belongs to Lucifer’s Fall—an offshoot of Adelaide, Australia’s amazing doom outfit, Rote Mare. The band’s self-titled debut is not a complete stylistic shift from what Phil Howlett has produced in the past with Rote Mare, either in the band’s earliest incarnation as a solo project or as a fully realized metal band. Howlett’s vocals and distinctive riffs betray a complete departure. Despite the stylistic similarities Lucifer’s Fall finds Howlett delivering an overall cleaner vocal delivery and, occasionally, even belting out some over-the-top banshee wails to maximum effect.

The seven tracks of ‘Lucifer’s Fall’ have an authentic, old school feel that draws equally from the conventions of both doom metal and traditional heavy metal. Howlett, credited as Deceiver, and Rote Mare drummer Ben Dodunski, known on this recording as Unknown Unnamed, prove that in addition to perfecting a dreary snail-paced crawl, that they are also masters of mid-tempo metal. The end result is a selection of tunes that remain unmistakably doom while eliciting a fist-pumping, head-banging response—an approach to doom metal, in spirit, that they share with Maryland’s mighty Iron Man.

What really stands out on this album is the lead guitar playing of Howlett. While it may not be a virtuoso performance of technical shredding it never fails to remain creative and melodic. Howlett manages to hit the right note at the right time and with the right tone. The opening notes of album standout “The Suffering Wizard” are nothing short of sublime. It is a lazy, melodic intro that is—at the same time—razor sharp, not too dissimilar from many of Jerry Fogle’s standout leads on Cirith Ungol’s first three albums.

While the bulk of the album resides comfortably in the mid-tempo range, there are a couple of faster paced tunes to get the blood pumping. The near-instrumental “The Summoning” is a scorcher with propulsive drumming, galloping riffs, and occasional interjections of the song’s title as the tune’s only lyrics. “Unknown Unnamed”, despite the drawn out, languid intro is also imbibed with a fair share of adrenaline.

Executed without pretense, ‘Lucifer’s Fall’ is a terrific album that should appease fans of doom metal and old school metal alike. While comparisons to Rote Mare are inevitable and not completely unfounded Lucifer’s Fall is irrevocably its own beast. Hopefully Howlett will return to his work with Rote Mare and continue to further develop Lucifer’s Fall. Both bands are highly recommended.