Tuesday, July 14, 2015

…come my saviour: BEHOLD! THE MONOLITH – ‘Defender, Redeemist’

Behold! The Monolith’s sophomore full-length, ‘Defender, Redeemist,’ was an egregious omission from my radar in 2012 and I wasn’t turned on to its brilliance until later the following year. I had been a casual fan of the band’s self-titled debut—especially blown away by the sprawling ambience of the album’s second track, “Battle for Ball’s Deep,”—but somehow the follow-up escaped me. I had been anticipating the band’s trek through Denver playing alongside Sadgiqacea and In the Company of Serpents—a killer bill around. Unfortunately, tragedy struck due to the untimely passing of Behold! The Monolith’s bassist and vocalist Kevin McDade and the band’s fate seemed to be sealed. Whether or not I picked up a copy of ‘Defender, Redeemist’ before or after these fateful events is inconsequential, what truly matters is that ‘Defender, Redeemist’ has become one of my favorite albums of all time and has never been far from my stereo. It is a modern metal masterpiece that is rife with fantastical world-building, expansive song structures, and tastefully implemented atmospherics.

Behold! The Monolith defy easy categorization and are probably best served by simply being referred to as “Metal.” Still, few band so effortlessly and successfully combine elements of doom, sludge, progressive rock, and thrash all executed with a weighty nod to traditional heavy metal. The short instrumental “Guardian’s Procession” opens the album and lives up to its namesake with an unsurpassable grandeur. Despite its brevity, “Guardian’s Procession” is stately, epic, and even elegant. There is a false lull with this graceful introduction as ‘Defender, Redeemist,’ is, for the most part, relentlessly heavy. The blistering, thrash-heavy onslaught of “Halv King” is perfectly juxtaposed with “Guardian’s Procession” for maximum potency. McDade’s bass kicks off the tune with Motorhead-like intensity and guitarist Matt Price and drummer Chase Manhattan follow suit. McDade’s vocals are raspy and savage—often spat with a vitriolic intensity. While the majority of his vocals are often harsh and acerbic, McDade had a great voice as evidenced on “Desolizator.” McDade switches up his vocals from a hellish bellow to clean vocals on his third run-through of the closing lines, “Sent forth from his body / He closed his eyes to believe / I cast a shadow on his dormant body / And took his life for reprieve / Fell on desolization / The judgement sent from unknown,” a subtle yet effective technique that highlights the band’s ability to craft infinitesimal, yet impactful, hooks.

At just short of the five minute mark the parasitic ode “We Are the Worm” may be one of the shortest tracks of the album, but it is definitely one of the richest in terms of song craft. And Hell, I may be crazy, but there are echoes of Thin Lizzy scattered throughout as sections of Price’s layered guitar are interspersed with spacey, frantic bursts of psychedelia. Though the entire album is an example of perfect sequencing “We Are the Worm” followed by “Witch Hunt Supreme” hits the listener almost as hard as “Guardian’s Procession” followed by “Halv King”. “Witch Hunt Supreme” is easily the moodiest track of the album. Ominous waves of atmospheric guitar blight the song like an encroaching storm as McDade spins dark tales of witches and woe.

All of the compositions of ‘Defender, Redeemist’ are grandiose and epic in essence, if not in scope. The fourteen minute opus “Cast on the Black / Lamentor / Guided by the Southern Cross” manages to be both. It is an ambitious track that highlights the band’s progressive tendencies and their traditional metal sensibilities. The opening riff is noble and stately and also seems to resonate with the album opener “Guardian’s Procession.” While there are moments scattered throughout the album that could be directly descended from doom metal they are in greatest supply on “Cast on the Black / Lamentor / Guided by the Southern Cross.” The first “movement” of the track is played out at a staggering doom crawl that eventually succumbs to an acoustic guitar passage yielding one of the albums few serene moments. The song continues to evolve and meander through realms of acoustic laden prog-rock and riff-heavy metal.

‘Defender, Redeemist’ bears no chink in its armor nor impurity in its faith. Based on the growth from 2009’s self-titled debut the band’s rising trajectory can only be speculated upon. It took a while, but Matt Price declared that he would carry on with Behold! The Monolith with blessings from McDade’s family and friends. Following a three year wait Behold! The Monolith is about to unleash the promisingly titled ‘Architects of the Void,’ their first as a four-piece with bassist Jason “Cas” Casanova and vocalist Jordan Nalley. While the four-piece incarnation has a lot to live up to live clips have been promising and seem to indicate that Price is still determined to craft sprawling heavy metal epics complete with atmospheric textures, blistering solos, and unforgettable heavy riffs. Though Behold! The Monolith are entering a new era the fact remains that ‘Defender, Redeemist’ is a juggernaut of an album from the grandiose opening of “Guardian’s Procession” to the fading feedback of album closer “Bull Colossi.” The album is a modern day classic that sets the bar high for the succeeding four-piece lineup. Anticipation is high for the late September release of ‘Architects of the Void.’




Sunday, July 12, 2015

…beware the haunter and the hound: BLACK CAPRICORN / BRETUS – 7” split 2015

Italian doom acts Black Capricorn and Bretus have teamed up for a split 7” release that is almost as evil as it is heavy. Slow ominous riffs are the rule and both bands bring a fair-share of shadowy psychedelics to the proceedings, particularly Black Capricorn—a band that has been successfully quarrying elements from the dark underbelly of space rock over the span three excellent full-length albums. Bretus may not have spiraled as far down the rabbit hole as their fellow countrymen in terms of overt psychedelia and noise manipulation, but they have mastered the craft of composing engaging, hook-laden traditional doom metal that seems to get murkier and heavier with each successive release. Though officially released in 2015, Bretus’ Lovecraft indebted ‘The Shadow over Innsmouth’ (review HERE) was a 2014 favorite here at Vertical Chamber Apparatus.

Bretus’ contribution, “The Haunter of the Dark,” definitely has more in common with the dark sonic vibes that emanate from ‘The Shadow over Innsmouth’ as opposed to the varied, still excellent debut full-length ‘In Onirica.’ The tone for “The Haunter of the Dark” is set from the get-go with pouring rain, distant thunder, and the portentous tolling of a bell clanging gloomily at the fore. Clichéd? Perhaps, but who cares? It works perfectly with the ensuing auditory assault unleashed by Bretus. “The Haunter of the Dark” is classic sounding doom metal that could best be described as classic-era Trouble meets Germany’s Dawn of Winter. “Haunter” is a mid-tempo scorcher with enough heft to get the adrenaline flowing, yet still slow and atmospheric enough to remain foreboding. This is some of Bretus’ finest work to date.

Black Capricorn’s “The Hound of Harbinger God” is an entirely different abomination altogether. A rising tide of white noise engulfs the listener and as the swell reaches its bursting point the band settles into a slow, lysergic groove. Without a doubt, this is some of Black Capricorn’s strongest material. The liquid lead guitar playing—contributed by both Fabrizio "kjxu" Monni and Daniele Manca—seems to bleed through the cosmic aether and out of the listener’s stereo speakers. “The Hound of Harbinger God” is a trippy, stoned-out tune that burns with the intensity of a candle at a black mass before fading away, engulfed by the returning wave of white noise.

Both bands put their best foot forward and pull no punches on this split release. “The Haunter of the Dark” finds Bretus further exploring horror and the macabre seemingly with ease and with great success. As much as I loved the band’s debut, ‘In Onirica,’ their current excursions are just as satisfying. Black Capricorn’s “The Hound of Harbinger God” is a dark trip that, at eight-and-a-half minutes, ends far too soon. Highly recommended split from these excellent, on-the-rise Italian doom acts…

Bretus Homepage

Bretus Facebook

Black Capricorn Homepage

Black Capricorn Facebook

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

…open your eyes: MANGOG – ‘Daydreams Within Nightmares’

It’s unfortunate that Baltimore, Maryland’s influential progressive doom pioneers Revelation have gone on an indefinite hiatus, but from Revelation’s slumber arises the mighty Mangog. Initially conceived by former Revelation and Against Nature members Bert Hall Jr. and Steve Branagan, Mangog admirably continues the tradition and legacy of the Maryland doom scene. Sadly, Branagan has since departed Mangog, but he has been ably replaced by former Iron Man heavy-hitter Mike Rix. Though the band has only been together for a short while they have managed to put together the three song EP entitled ‘Daydreams Within Nightmares,’ and the results are impressive to say the least. Wisely, Mangog doesn’t try to tread the same somber path that Revelation had blazed, but instead they seek their own route through doomed landscapes populated with woes such as loss, despair, and unrest.

The EP opener “Ab Intra” is easily the standout track of the three and probably best illuminates the musical prowess of each and every one of the players. Of note is that Bert Hall Jr., with Mangog, has forgone bass duties in favor of guitar and the man conjures up some heavy riffs and coaxes out some amazing leads. Vocalist Myke Wells exhibits both range and power—the perfect complement to Mangog’s musicianship and hard rocking style. Rix and bassist Darby Cox are completely locked in sync and are the driving force behind the track. “Ab Intra” is characterized by a reeling main riff rounded out by the rhythm section and Wells’ admonitions. While much of the track is blasted out at a doom crawl the band doesn’t hesitate to display their chops by shifting gears and blasting into an up-tempo, frenzied groove. “Ab Intra’ is straight-up one of the finest doom tracks of the year.

The two remaining tunes, “Daydreams Within Nightmares” and “Of Your Deceit,” slightly pale in comparison to the EP opener, but that’s what happens when the bar is set so high from the get go. “Daydreams Within Nightmares,” the shortest track of the three at four minutes, is a straight forward, up-tempo rocker chock-full of everything that seemingly make Mangog a great act—heavy riffs, engaging basslines, and some truly standout drumming. “Of Your Deceit,” on the other hand, is the most morose track of the lot with its plodding pace and Wells’ tortured wails recalling tales of deception and loss. The bass definitely sets the mood and the pace, but Hall’s riffs add a suffocating weight.

Though Mangog is in its infancy the veteran musicians have really come together quite quickly as a cohesive whole. The band is a welcome addition to the Maryland doom scene and should appeal to fans of hard rockin’ doom. The ‘Daydreams Within Nightmares’ EP is an excellent debut and should, based on this initial effort and the experience and output of the band members, herald even greater things to come. Mangog may not necessarily scratch the itch left by the absence of Revelation and Against Nature, but they sure have risen to the occasion by releasing a solid debut with its fair-share of twists and turns.



Tuesday, July 7, 2015

…Doomraiser – ‘Reverse (Passaggio Inverso)’

Over the past decade Italy’s Doomraiser have released nothing but the finest doom metal that the genre has to offer and it seemed as if each successive release was an improvement or refinement of what had come before. Not to discount any of the band’s discography, but 2009’s melancholic masterpiece ‘Erasing the Remembrance’ and 2011’s moodier and mellower follow-up, ‘Mountains of Madness,’ should be considered doom metal classics. Despite Doomraiser’s dubious mantra of “heavy drunken doom” or “slower, harder, drunker” the band has actually been releasing finely crafted and emotionally charged albums with no shortage of heavy riffs complemented with subtle psychedelic atmospherics. With ‘Reverse (Passagio Inverso),’ the band’s fourth full-length, changes behind the scenes and to the band’s lineup have definitely impacted Doomraiser’s overall sound. ‘Reverse (Passaggio Inverso)’ is the first album to be written and recorded with the “Drunken Mark III” lineup and also finds the band straying away from sound engineer Danilo Silvestri, among others, in favor of the services provided by “Engine Ear” Billy Anderson.

Perhaps the most noticeable change to be heard on ‘Reverse (Passagio Inverso)’ is the lack of slow, atmospheric build-ups that would smolder and smoke, eventually erupting with cataclysmic intensity due in no small part to the emotional release of Nicola “Cynar” Rossi’s soaring vocals and tortured vocal melodies. It is no surprise that the “Drunken Mark III” lineup has altered the sound of the band considering that longtime guitarist Drugo and more recent guitar player Willer Donadoni have been replaced by the twin axe attack of Giulio Marini and Marco Montagna. The album is almost completely bereft of the quieter moments that left an indelible impression upon the listener. It is the absence of tracks similar to “Another Black Day Under the Sun” or “Phoenix” that ultimately undermines Doomraiser’s newest effort as the mysticism and appeal found on earlier albums is greatly diminished. The gentle streams of feedback that eventually intensify into distant, siren-like wails accompanied by a slothful bassline during the intro to “Dio Inverso” or the brief, yet mournful violin opening of “Mirror of Pain” are the closest things to the former magic once wielded by Doomraiser.

Production-wise ‘Reverse (Passaggio Inverso)’ is, for what it’s worth, grittier, heavier, and angrier than any other Doomraiser album. Even Rossi’s vocals are often spat forth with an acerbic venom that was only hinted at on earlier releases. The aforementioned “Dio Inverso” may initially recall some of the quiet tension that Doomraiser effectively utilized in the past, but it also tips the scale in the other direction with double-bass drum kicks punctuating the throat-shredding, hellish howls frequently issued forth by Rossi. The album opener, “Addiction,” sets the stage for the rest of the album. Doomraiser, from the outset, burn with a fiery intensity and virtually do not let up until the album’s conclusion. Anderson’s touch has yielded an album that is dense and heavy, but, unfortunately, ignores the emptiness that made previous albums so moving.

Despite the changes, this is still an admirable doom album and it could not be confused as a release from any other band, mostly due to the vocals of “Cynar” Rossi. While there are no tracks that quite attain the emotive, doomed splendor of “Another Black Day Under the Sun” or “Phoenix” the album’s longest track, “Ascension 6 to 7,” stands out as an epic highlight. At nearly twelve minutes in length “Ascension 6 to 7” gives Doomraiser an opportunity to spread their wings and cover a giant swath of stylistic ground. Here, Anderson’ touch serves the band best when they lock into a chugging, staggered groove. The Doomraiser of old rears its head midway through the track as spacey keyboards jump to the fore for one of the most satisfying moments of the album.

I would hesitate to call Doomraiser’s ‘Reverse (Passagio Inverso)’ a disappointment, but I would be lying if I said expectations were not dashed. The loss and subsequent replacement of two guitarists—particularly Drugo’s “slow hand of doom”—have expectedly and understandably altered the band’s sound. Still, ‘Reverse (Passagio Inverso)’ is a strong album that exhibits nary a weak track and only has the strength of its predecessors to blame for any perceived shortcomings.

(Originally published at Heathen Harvest Periodical, edited by Sage Weatherford)



BloodRock Records Bandcamp

Monday, July 6, 2015


Criminally underrated and underexposed French progressive doom band Northwinds have teamed-up with up-and-coming fellow countrymen Marble Chariot for an impressive split album that plays to both bands respective strengths. For two and a half decades Northwinds have been crafting some of the most fantastical compositions in the metal scene by incorporating elements of folk, progressive rock, and doom into a uniquely singular style that sonically embodies strange lands and wistful dreamscapes. Marble Chariot, on the other hand, may not be quite as progressive or as expansive as their compatriots, but they make excellent companions on this split release with their downtrodden, mournful take on traditional doom.

The wait for Northwinds’ follow-up to 2012’s ‘Winter’ (review HERE) has been wrought with anticipation, especially since their forthcoming fifth album, ‘Eternal Winter,’ was conceived and recorded during the ‘Winter’ sessions. Though a release date has yet to be announced for ‘Eternal Winter’ the band has remained busy and their ‘Demo 1995’ is about to be released on vinyl and their split with Marble Chariot has yielded the excellent track “Witchcoven.” Flute and acoustic guitar—Northwinds staples—follow a brief, blustering wind that initially carries the listener to a desolate faraway land. A bell tolls and the lull eventually gives way to heavier, mid-tempo riffs that are supported with keyboards and sporadically accented with organ and piano. What really brings “Witchcoven” to life is the brilliant lead guitar playing that dominates the second half of the track. The playing is slow and fluid and the tone is melodic—one of the most sublime moments to be found in Northwinds’ discography.

Marble Chariot’s contribution, “Darkness Descends,” builds upon their debut EP, ‘The Burden Is So Heavy…,’ and continues the band’s explorations of heartrending, emotive doom. It’s a shame that it has taken Marble Chariot three years to follow their excellent debut, but the wait is well worth it. “Darkness Descends” is a dreary, crawling slab of melancholia. Marble Chariot’s rhythm section carry much of the burden and, similar to Northwinds’ side of the split, the lead guitar playing takes the track to the next level. As the bass and drums lock into a down-tempo stumble tortured wah-pedal lead guitar cuts a swath through the din. The vocals were great on ‘The Burden Is So Heavy…’ EP, but are even better here. Sebastien Fanton has a soaring, resonate quality to his vocals and with “Darkness Descends” he has further developed a commanding presence.

It goes without saying that a full-length from both bands is far overdue, but in lieu of new albums this split should briefly satiate initiates of either act. Two of France’s finest have released some of their strongest offerings on a perfectly complementary split album. 2015 has not produced many split albums thus far, but it would be hard to fathom that there will be any released quite on par with this one.

Northwinds Facebook

Marble Chariot Facebook

Marble Chariot Bandcamp