Doom metal using only electric bass and percussion is not a new idea – Californian band Om were well known for years (2003 – 2018) operating on drums and bass until the duo added a keyboard player in 2018 – and there have been other bands that swore off the six-stringed instrument as well, though they often found substituting keyboards and effects for guitars necessary. As far as I know, Arvalastra might be the first one-man doom metal act to forgo using guitars; moreover the project has been doing this since forming in 2016, releasing four albums (“The Key …” being the fourth), four singles and some other recordings including a compilation. Based in the Basque Country in north-western Spain, Arvalastra (headed by Dusk) is one of a number of bands in that area that are part of the Ignis Fatuus Collective through which they release recordings.
Various things make this particular brand of minimal drums-and-bass atmospheric black / doom work: the slurpy amphibian swamp-monster vocals dominate throughout the album, detailing a strange and occult fertility ritual, the technical aspects of which seem overly fussy and exacting and which result in the birth of a child after an unusual five-month pregnancy; the dark, foetid ambience, laden with dank swamp smell, behind all the songs; and the use of reverb which doesn’t do much for the instruments but makes the vocals sound much bigger and nastier than they would be otherwise. The theme of the occult ritual occupies the whole album and so by necessity the music plays second fiddle as a background soundtrack. This soundtrack doesn’t vary much across much of the album (the last couple of songs on the album are very different from the rest) and if tracks weren’t separated by the usual customary breaks of silence, it could just flow from one track to the next with no change in music composition structure apart from changes in pace. The most interesting music is in brief, almost experimental parts where the bass guitar goes into droning feedback, as in the introduction to “Astral Veins”, or in the quiet acoustic guitar sections where the music really does come into its own as an atmospheric soundtrack to a horror film.
Even though the music can be monotonous, it has a very compelling hypnotic quality, and even the ugly, disgusting monster vocals pull you into their dark kingdom and the ritual that occupies the attention of all in that world.