Tagged: doom

Absolution: good heavy doom sludge / melodic rock fusion debut needs a few tweaks

Khemmis, Absolution, United States, 20 Buck Spin, SPIN075 (2015)

The debut album from Denver band Khemmis (cool name!), which the guys released in 2015 on trusty doom label 20 Buck Spin, “Absolution” isn’t quite my cup of coffee for various reasons so I’ll try to be brief. Khemmis deal in a style of heavy gritty doom sludge mixed with classic melodic rock riffs and tunes: plenty of lead guitar soloing is to be found throughout the album. Song lyrics have an apocalyptic edge to them and there are visions of an unyielding God enforcing His pitiless law on imperfect humans.

First track “Torn Asunder” is a lively and energetic song with jagged riffing and crunchy fuzz-guitar tones. From then on, the songs settle into a slower pace and it’s from this point on that I must admit the album has lost me. I’m not sure why every time I try listening to “Absolution”, my enthusiasm starts to flag. I have to say the clean vocals, wherever they appear, seem very out of place in music that’s heavy and grinding with riffs the size and weight of tombstones. At the same time, the more gruff and raspy voices, acting as counterpoint to the clean choirboy singing, are shouty and come off as pretentiously macho in a way not intended by the band. Sorry guys but that’s how the singing, whether clean or harsh, comes across. There’s a one-dimensional quality to both sets of vocals and it seems that the singing tries too hard to compete with the music and needs to concentrate more on bringing the emotion and the vision out of the lyrics to listeners.

Apart from the gripes that I have regarding the vocals, the music hits a sweet spot between deep grinding concrete doom sludge miasma and a more melodic and commercially accessible hard rock style. Khemmis need to take care not to fill every moment of the album with epic melodic doom sludge bombast. Some quiet passages of ambience or acoustic guitar music would help vary the music and maintain listener attention and interest. I’d suggest that the band should concentrate either on the clean heroic vocal style or the shouting rasp, or another style entirely – a deeper clean baritone might suit – and also look at playing more all-instrumental tracks with plenty of jamming and improvisation.

As it is, the album showcases a band with good technical skills and songwriting ability in abundance. I see no reason why Khemmis shouldn’t go far with a few tweaks to their brand of doom sludge / melodic rock fusion for a more individual and distinct style.

Brunt (self-titled): a good debut of instrumental psych doom fusion work-outs

Brunt, self-titled, Hevisike Records, vinyl edition HVSK-1201 (2014)

Since I heard this Channel Islands doom stoner trio’s “Blackbeard” EP, I’ve been looking for other stuff of theirs and found this self-titled album. Most tracks on the album are sprawling instrumental pieces of riff-dominated mood psychedelic doom sludge fusion and the fun starts right away with an extended sonorous drone tone riff, around which percussion weaves a constantly changing beat and rhythm structure, on the first half of “St Felix of Nola” – the second half being a more brooding wander in dark murky space out of which emerge a drum beat loop and then a whining steel-edged rhythm guitar churn topped with an oily high-pitched wobble lead guitar solo. We’re in for a very interesting ride through fields and valleys of atmospheric psych doom stoner melange if this first track is any guide.

With its distinctively playful rhythm loops, “The Tale of the Hideous Tricorn” sounds almost tongue-in-cheek though the lyrics about the origin of Satan and humanity might possibly be more serious than they read. Whatever you think of the lyrics, the music certainly is an enjoyable ride with long lead guitar improvisations and bouncy percussion. “Rabbit of Cannabong” – for a moment I thought this might be a homage to the killer bunny in that old Monty Python flick about King Arthur and his knights in search of the Holy Grail – is just as good to listen to, mixing a smart-n-sassy rhythm section run with a slower, more concrete-slab passage of booming bass and hard-slapping drumwork. The bass work-outs here might just be the best parts of the song, which is really saying something as the whole track smoulders with crunch and crumble guitar textures.

The album gets better and better with “A Concise Cosmic History Of The Swob Monster Pt1 (The Birth Of Fuzz)” which elbows everything that’s gone before with spiky angular riffs that continue to elaborate throughout the track. There’s more of that molten-lava lead guitar attack before the whole piece morphs into a huge doom sluggernaut monster making its sedate way down the Milky Way.

All tracks are well composed and tend to consist of two sometimes very different parts with the second part a bit slower and heavier than the first. There’s an emphasis on a few distinct riffs repeating over and over on tracks and I suppose as long as they’re fairly short they won’t be too monotonous for most listeners. The songs probably could be a bit longer and feature more variation and development of melodies and riffs than they do. Most tracks suffer a little from not having a vocalist (even if that vocalist does nothing more than howl or chant nonsense gibberish) and a couple of lines of poetry. While the clean production gives the music a very contemporary sound and all instruments can be heard (and enjoyed) clearly, at the same time the music gives the impression of being a bit flat and almost one-dimensional, and needing an extra layer of sound to give it depth.

Even so, with all its faults this self-titled album is a great way to become acquainted with psych doom fusion music and Brunt in particular.

Keef Mountain (self-titled): a powerful start to a retro-70s doom stoner band’s career

Keef Mountain, self-titled, United States, The Company, THECO-001 CD digipak (2016)

Hard to believe that this is Keef Mountain’s debut album and all the music is the work of just two musicians: this is really massive and powerful, a very confident and self-assured recording with a definite message that celebrates transcendence and the various modes of achieving it. The band manages to be retro-1970s stoner doom in style and sheer heaviness yet the music sounds fresh and up-to-date due to a good balance between a distorted fuzzy guitar sound and a clean production that gives the songs a minimal and spacious quality. The songs are short and straight to the point in their delivery, with strong tough riffing that defines the tracks’ identities. While the singing is shouty, it’s very clear and isn’t overwhelmed by the music.

Opener “Green Wizard” might clock under five minutes but it has three quite distinct parts: a slow instrumental introduction followed by a speedy middle section where the best riffs and singing are bunched together, and a silly finale featuring a spoken-word recording about the worth of taking drugs over organised religion. Fortunately the found sound recording is the only hokey part of the album so if listeners can hang on, they’ll be well rewarded. “Psilocybin Queen” is a better indicator of what listeners can expect: focused songs stressing good solid doom riffing, plenty of jamming and no unnecessary meandering or filler material. If anything, the songs could afford to be a bit longer so listeners can savour the more doomy and abrasive rhythm guitar crunching – some of those riffs are sledgehammer- heavy – or the more spaced-out trippy ambient parts where they exist.

Surprisingly the album’s best moments come after the halfway point when we think the band can’t possibly keep up the standard anymore and we start expecting the inevitable slide into filler-zone territory: “Resin Lung” introduces a light psychedelic or sci-fi influence with treated vocal leading into a frenzy of bass grind riffing. “Hendog” is much slower and sludgier with eerily treated vocals that sound as if their owner was stuck in a space capsule high above Earth; the song later collapses into a series of powerful crashing riffs. “Higher Realms” is a gritty and sometimes darkly brooding resolution of the album’s themes and ideas in just over six compact minutes.

All the songs are good as they are, though they probably could do with more atmosphere than they have, and different atmospheres at that so they are more distinctive from one another. Keef Mountain have a powerful and bass-heavy style that could be even more so if they let fly on longer songs with more instrumental and improvised music. I’d be keen on the duo following up with a longer  album with themes and ideas going beyond dope-smoking and rituals of transcendence – these guys seem more than capable of taking their listeners on long extended journeys through vistas of inner time and space.

Farewell to the Sun: a disappointing debut for a promising doom / post-BM band

vow-of-thorns

Vow of Thorns, Farewell to the Sun, Canada, Forest Dweller Inc., CD digipak (2016)

Although the foursome from southern Ontario have been playing together for some 8 years, Vow of Thorns haven’t had an impressive discography so far and only this year (2016) did they release their first album “Farewell to the Sun”. From the sound of it – and I’ve played it a few times already – I’m wondering if maybe even releasing it this year was a bit premature for VoT. There’s some very good atmospheric post-BM music here but taken as a whole the album lacks direction and focus, and much of it seems circular, repetitive and lacking in energy. I’m sure the members worked hard and long on this recording so I’m disappointed for them that it hasn’t turned out the way it could have done.

For a start there are three tracks that form a “Farewell to the Sun” trilogy within the album of the same name so listeners might query whether these songs, totalling 23 minutes altogether, couldn’t have been hived off as a separate album or EP release from the other tracks. For all that, there’s no great difference between those songs and the rest of the album, and the entire recording could have been an overarching work of six connected chapters. At least three tracks on the album, none of them related to one another, are 10+ minutes in length and listeners are hard-pressed to figure out why any one of these should be as long as it is, given that the music often wanders from one set of riffs or melodies to the next without anything being resolved within the song.

Opening track “Meeting on the Astral Plane” seems promising enough as it features some blistering BM energy mixed with passages of emotive doom filtered through a BM sheen along with some solid heavy metal melodic crunch and moments of quiet acoustic meditation within its 10-minute limit. The level of playing is solid throughout and the musicians pour their hearts and souls into the music. Can it be possible that they’re a bit too swept away by the music to the point of overplaying and the song ends up overstaying its welcome? There are moments where it seems there are other songs within “Meeting …” struggling to emerge and the musicians’ attention is diverted to indulging these within the original song and losing sight of what they should be doing. This is a problem that recurs on other tracks later, especially on the album’s other long songs.

You’d expect the “Farewell to the Sun” tracks to form a self-contained set in which a definite musical narrative can be heard. Part I at least starts off as a long instrumental intro. Part II takes up the baton and some of the musical themes but then starts falling apart during its fifth to sixth minutes with pauses that deflate the music’s momentum. From then on there’s a long, long haul back up to where we started. Perhaps the agony and anguish are intended but, jeez, the journey is excruciating. Part III similarly is an endurance test through doomy post-BM. At the end of this set, I don’t get the feeling that whatever crises were brought up during its 20-plus minutes have been resolved and what we’ve had to undergo is an extended wallow in depression and misery.

Much of the music actually isn’t bad, the album could have junked out a lot of the more repetitive sections and been a much tighter and more focused work. The production, while good, doesn’t serve the music too well, not allowing the more contemplative and atmospheric parts to be what they should be (that is, contemplative and atmospheric) or giving the heavier, more crunching riffs the three-dimensional solidity they need. The main problem is that too many songs try to pack too much in, trying to be all things to all people, and they end up sounding very similar.

For all that, VoT have some good melodies and riffs, and the guys play very well together; they just need better song composition skills and to reconsider how they want to sound and what they want to get out of it to provide a better experience for their fans.

776: a monumental doom-sludge psychedelic re-imagining of the United States

Phantom Glue, 776, United States, Negative Fun Records, CD NF-025 (2016)

Being a typical dumb Australian, I thought “776” might have been a reference to when the Ancient Greek Olympic Games were first held. Heh-heh, is that ever a weird guess!!! Truth though is stranger than the imagination: “776” is a metonym for US band Phantom Glue’s re-imagining of the United States as having existed for over a thousand years in an alternative though parallel universe, a United States where the Declaration of Independence had not yet been signed. Appropriately the album “776” is a mix of the mythical and mystical, and the uncompromising and hard-hitting, perhaps as much a commentary on the current nation as it is an exploration of a fantasy alternative.

Opening track “Ion Cloud” and follow-up “Hundred Hand” capture both sides of the album’s concept, at once screeching hardcore, sludge, doom and psychedelic, with the music bordering on overwhelming and monstrous in parts. The vocal seems as much disembodied as distant – the Phantom Glue singer doesn’t even try to compete with the full-on bludgeon attack – as if it really is a messenger from the parallel universe of 776 come to warn us of doom. Once PG have our full attention and concentration, the band dives further into its alternate reality with “Somatic”, a slower, more sludge juggernaut track with thundering percussion, steely rhythm guitars and a squalling lead guitar snaking around the edges of the song. So concrete-crunching is this song that it’s easy to forget that it’s only five minutes long. “Somatic” pairs well with “A Worker-less Mill”, an equally monumental song and staggering in its structuring where the thumping drums take centre stage building up a tower of thudding beats. Guitars stutter or howl around the percussion and the vocals almost shrink to raspy screams. The song is crowned with a corrosive acid ambience that burns and etches deeper-than-deep holes in your consciousness.

The pile-driving psychedelia punishment continues all the way to the end; the band seems to lose a bit of momentum with “Suttungr” which starts off slowly and lethargically but recovers energy and speeds up in its second half. “Hocheim’s War” is a definite head-banging grooving rocker with as much noisy hardcore crispness and crunch as creepy acid-bleached lead guitar flurry. Closing track “Gog is Dead” is the most atmospheric song, though not necessarily in a benign way: the doom is dark, sinister and haunted-house menacing. The song builds up in overpowering intensity and immersive blackness that literally leave folks hanging on the edge of a cliff descending into a bottomless abyss.

This music is so huge, monstrous and at times terrifying that listeners might well be glad it doesn’t last long (it’s about 36 minutes in length) and the more sensitive among you might need another 36 minutes to get the band’s music and terrifying dystopian visions out of your heads. I’m almost grateful that the production on this album is less than what the music deserves – the music (especially the drumming) does have a tinny sort of sound and doesn’t feel as three-dimensional solid as it should – or I might have been sent deranged. This is one album to be heard at least once, if only so you can tell your friends you survived the experience – but just barely. Definitely an experience not to be passed up!

Attalla: sturdy introduction into fusion Sabbath doom and crushing hardcore

Attalla, self-titled, United States, Shadow Kingdom Records, CD / cassette (2016)

After two years existing only as an independent self-release on vinyl, Attalla’s self-titled first album is finally available in CD, cassette and digital format through Shadow Kingdom Records. The band’s fans may well be asking what took so long for a label to finally notice Attalla, and after hearing the album myself I’m asking the same question too. With one foot deep in punk and hardcore and the other foot in Black Sabbath / retro-1970s hard rock territory, this recording blisters with power, steel and aggression.

The album isn’t long and the songs don’t go much beyond five minutes each with maybe one exception. The one-word song titles are very cryptic and might describe stages of being during a drug trip – or a trip through this album if heard loudly enough that listeners are all but engulfed in the music. The music is hard-hitting with chunky, crunchy riffs and punching skins work that could chop through several wooden boards at once. Much of the music is instrumental with great oily and sinister lead guitar melodies unfurling and undulating over the growling, booming bass drones and stuttery drums. An early highlight is the mostly instrumental “Haze” which appropriately befuddles the mind with riffs and rhythms that crush all resistance and lead guitar that’s truly on fire. Attalla (the band) leave no time for us travellers to recover before launching into the even heavier “Lust” and the Sabbath-influenced doomster “Thorn” which features some really sinuous riffing. “Veil” starts as a straight-out rock’n’roller which can be a little jarring after the previous two monster-truck tracks but once it finds its true sludge doom identity, it settles down and coasts steadily along.

The only major problem I have with this album, and which I think most other listeners will agree with, is that lead vocalist Cody Stieg can be a bit lost in this massive monstrous music with his high-pitched shouty singing. Since most normal human singers will have trouble competing with the music anyway, I’d suggest a vocal style that’s more spoken or chanted than sung, and given a moment or two to shine on its own, a cappella style, on future work should the band wish to continue the same way as on “Attalla”. Listen to a track like “Thorn” where Stieg has a lot to get off his chest and you can hear he’s really straining at the high end of his vocal range. Apart from the singing, I can’t find much to fault with the music though perhaps on some songs the drumming sounds more tinny and clacky than it should.

On the whole “Attalla” is a solid effort with lots of catchy hooks, the phattest of phat riffs and more bass-heavy crusherama than a concrete building waiting to be hit by a wrecking ball. Every song sounds just about right for its length, neither too short nor too long though some listeners might wish that “Haze” and “Thorn” were a bit (or even a lot!) longer. Short though it is, this album is a very satisfying crunchy breakfast introduction to a band who we should all hope will have a long and successful future with its fusion of retro hard rock and doom with a hardcore edge.

Estron: a fun and enjoyable album of sci-fi sludge doom

Slomatics, Estron, Head of Crom Records, CROM7 12″ red vinyl (limited edition) (2014)

Flush from reviewing their most recent album “Future Echo Returns”, I decided to back-track through Slomatics’ past recordings to see what other juicy low-hanging fruit the Belfast blasters had on offer and stopped by “Estron”. Originally available in vinyl format as a limited edition release by Head of Crom Records in 2014, this album presents the trio as a Melvins-style sludge doom metal band, no more and no less, with experimental and psychedelic tendencies. Now “Estron” may be the band’s fourth release but it’s also its first with vocalist / drummer Marty Harvey so listeners can expect a second beginning for Slomatics here. If you’re not familiar with Slomatics but want an entry into the band’s work, you can start with this album and either go forwards or back into the guys’ back catalogue.

The album starts strongly with two tracks: first up is “Troglorite”, featuring a high-pitched wailing vocal (it’s a bit reedy to be honest), solid booming guitars and lots of crashing cymbals and sturdy solid drumming; then the band swings straight into the next song “Tunnel Dragger” without pause for rest, at least until halfway through where the music breaks off for a short space-ambient interlude of synthesiser-theremin interplay. This is the first indication that the band is dipping into space psychedelic territory and it fits in well with the musicians’ bludgeoning tactics.The band continues with the sludge doom punishment and the futuristic sci-fi themes with tracks like “Futurian” and “Lost Punisher” – at least the songs on the first half of the album are fairly short for music of this genre and don’t overstay their head-bashing welcome. While the musicians don’t depart much from the template set with “Troglorite”, the music moves fast and there’s enough variety in the melodies and riffs that listeners are rarely bored. You’d think that the thin vocals, far back in the mix, might be fighting hard to be heard but the production (courtesy of James Plotkin, without whose studio engineering abilities entire music industries simply would grind to a halt) is clean enough that the singing is clear and not too shouty.

Songs in the album’s second half are more varied – they start to feature lead guitar solos – and apart from one short instrumental are much longer than earlier songs. “And Yet It Moves” is a sinister, oily track, very unsettling and nauseous, and with a very claustrophobic feel as the heavy riffs close in on your ears and head. In its later moments it becomes lethargic and sluggish as the very alien atmosphere surrounding it infiltrates your senses through those hellish liquid metal lead guitar licks. The very brief, all space-ambient “Red Dawn” provides a bit of light delicate rest and relief before the band launches into the 10-minute “The Carpenter” whose title I sometimes wonder might be a reference to the film director John Carpenter who made a number of sci-fi / horror films in the 1970s and 80s that are now regarded as cult classics. This last track plays like a mini-soundtrack to an imaginary sci-fi / horror short and shows a side of Slomatics that until now has rarely been glimpsed: an ability to weld atmosphere, mood and music into a definite drama, where death-dealing doom sludge and space-ambient electronics combine into a monster that commands your attention and compels you to follow it to the very bitter end.

As a whole work and as a set of songs, the album demonstrates a high level of thought and care that went into its creation. There is a real sense of listeners being softened up in the album’s first half for its later, more atmospheric and complex tracks. All songs are well crafted and there’s hardly any filler in any of them. Slomatics don’t just hammer away with huge chunks of doom riffing for the sheer hell of it (though you do sense they love punishing their fans) but whatever they do, it’s always with intent and knowledge of the effects left behind. The result is a very satisfying work of art that’s as much fun to hear as it must have been fun for Slomatics to create and record.

Future Echo Returns: heavy doom with hard iron sludge, atmospherics and psychedelia is a winner

slomatics-future-echo-return

Slomatics, Future Echo Returns, United Kingdom, Black Bow Records, CD (2016)

In the liner notes of a past album of theirs, Belfast-based Slomatics proclaim themselves middle-class professionals by day and aggro-sludge losers by night; on the strength of their most recent release “Future Echo Returns”, I wish that (at least in their corner of the UK anyway) there be more night, 24 hours of it in fact all … night long each day … or night. But that would probably require my part of the world, at the opposite end from where Slomatics reside, to be continuous daylight and I definitely would be most dissatisfied at being forced to be a middle-class professional myself 24/7.

One great thing about “Future Echo Returns” is that all the songs run from one into the next so that the album presents as a continuously flowing work that starts with thick crumbly doom metal riff slabs that transform into hard iron sludge and later into more atmospheric and mellow heavy rock, all of it with a strong psychedelic / sci-fi fantasy edge thanks to synth melody trimmings placed strategically around the heavy doom sluggernaut riff machine. At first the vocals, riding high on the doom beast, seem a bit lost – this music really suits a more guttural death metal vocal style but never mind – but they are clear and I don’t have the impression that the singing is fighting too hard for attention. Keyboards are used sparingly and to add atmospheric nuance to the grinding music.

An early highlight is the booming “In the Grip of Fausto” which brings in a hardcore edge in the shouty singing. With emphatic pounding martial drums and stentorian riffs that demand your full attention, this song might well become Slomatics’ anthem in years to come. After this track and the preceding two songs which crush all resistance to the doom sludge approach, the album takes an unexpected turn into airy silver mellowness with “Ritual Beginnings”, albeit with the same uncompromising attitude that never lets go of your senses but insists on absorbing them fully. The ambience is still alien and otherworldly thanks to swirling keyboard silver filigree tones.

“Rat Chariot” brings us back to serious ritual riff worship – and boy, are there plenty of stern riff structures to keep your ears and brains in thrall. The vocals can get a little strained and probably a more multi-tracked vocal approach or several different voices singing the “lord and master” chorus would have suited the song better. After this track the band stumbles a bit on “Supernothing” with ill-advised choirboy singing but the trio recovers for “Into the Eternal”, a long cruising piece taking in booming doom drone guitar tones, bleached-out ghost voices high in an acid sky and a wobbly background tone – a fitting journey into another plane of existence. Shrill solo lead guitar takes over high priest duties when the singing stops temporarily. The heavy doom procession pulls the congregation (meaning all you listening to the album) behind. None can resist following even when the music tails off into a lone bass coda.

On the whole this album is very strong, even with one weak(ish) track in its second half: while the Slomatics men love their doom metal sound and riffs, they also know that their sound and riffs deserve the very best songwriting skills and production. The result is a recording full of memorable songs that just seem to zip by in spite of their gastropod pace. The album is put together so well that it really flies like a breeze and each song shows evidence of care, thought and craft. Aggro-sludgenauts Slomatics may be but these fellas are definitely no losers!

The Sontaran Experiment (self-titled): immersion into a world of dissolution with no chance of renewal

 

The Sontaran Experiment, self-titled, United Kingdom, Undergroove, UGCD054 (2008)

Sadly whatever ambrosia juice the Time Lords used to drink on Planet Gallifrey was not shared with the British experimental doom / electronics band The Sontaran Experiment who released one album and a split with another band in just six or seven years of existence before ending their experiment in 2013. Once upon a time, those Time Lords had been a sophisticated bunch who could appreciate twisted humour in mortal humans when they saw it but I guess after those interminable Time Wars against the Daleks which nearly wiped out the entire universe, the Time Lords are now just as culturally impoverished and dumbed down as we humans are. The band was a foursome, two of whose members, vocalist Paul Catten and guitarist Mark Seddon, I’d previously come across years ago when I reviewed an album here at The Sound Projector from Lazarus Blackstar, a band they had played with before joining TSE. Well I suppose just like every man and woman, every band – even a band like The Sontaran Experiment – has its black star trailing not far behind and must live life to the full.

“The Sontaran Experiment” is an interesting work, mostly instrumental and featuring three very long songs lasting between 16 and 23 minutes, each of which emphasise long instrumental jams of near-hypnotic quavering vibrato guitar tone drones, hard-edged percussion beat tattoos that just seem to go on and on forever, and power electronics effects. The album divides into three tracks corresponding to three acts that turn on parallel themes of mental fragmentation and social breakdown. (Whichever comes first first, in a scenario similar to the chicken and the egg, is up to the individual listener to decide.) Opening track “Dawning of the Black Summer” alone lurches from near-sludge doom guitar attacks, blackened tremolo roars, jazzy drumming improvisation and machine-gun blast-beat death metal attacks to white noise and piercing power electronics assaults, all presided over at critical points in the music by vocalist Paul Catten whose shouty delivery over the sprawling music recalls Alan Dubin fronting Khanate. The song is an endurance test – it’s slow and meandering, its mood is very bleak, and it has an uncompromising attitude verging on unbearable – but its single-minded focus, however challenging it may be, holds the whole track together.

“Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures” isn’t much different from “Dawning …” in style and structure, but listeners need to keep the album’s theme in mind as an influence on this and the other songs. As the track develops, it acquires an epic though tragic grandeur with the addition of synthesiser orchestral backing and Catten’s multi-tracked vocals. The last track likewise offers little that’s new or very different from what’s gone before but its starkly anguished mood and the feeling of impending and unavoidable doom hold the listener spellbound. There are more electronics effects on this track, especially towards the end, that suggest a final breakdown in whatever structures or order (mental, social and political) exist.

Some listeners will find the album monotonous in parts, especially in the percussion-only sections where all you’ll hear might be just a steady beat going tick-tock, and an argument could be made that these parts could have been edited without affecting the songs’ aim or the music’s integrity.. The album is intended as much to immerse listeners into a state of experiencing dissolution resulting in utter emptiness, as to express a world in breakdown, chaos and ultimately empty space. The detail in the music and its presentation come across as very considered and exact, and the quality of the sound is faultless.

I really like this album and the music, even with all its shortcomings, and I think it’s a pity that TSE didn’t follow up with another recording in the time they existed. While there may be no hope for those individuals who’ve already met their black stars, surely there’s a hope in the future that the day of execution may be reversed and the band might resurrect?

Sistere: an epic debut of fusion post-rock / doom / sludge metal

Izah, Sistere, Sweden, Nordvis Produktion, digipak CD NVP028 (2015)

For a debut album, “Sistere” is a whopper at 72 minutes with the title track alone clocking in at 31 minutes. You’d expect Izah to have plenty to say to keep you all interested and for the most part they keep you busy and tuned in with their mix of dark urban blues ambient, sludge metal, hardcore and post-rock. Combined with a range of moods, mostly in the dark brooding end of the emotional spectrum which could spill into sudden anger and violence, this particular musical fusion makes for a recording of quite complicated soundscapes.

Opening track “Indefinite Instinct” is a gentle introduction into “Sistere” with post-rock melodies that steadily descend into a heavier, more monstrous sludge metal demon complete with distorted shouting voices and effects suggestive of mental and emotional fragmentation and breakdown. This leads into the aggressive death metal of “Duality” delving into passages of deep cavernous atmosphere and jangling guitars, or field recordings of multi-voiced speeches, and eventually turns into an epic post-rock sludge drama of despair and heartbreak. Yet threaded through this song is a tiny sliver of hope and light which keeps the whole track together and focused. “Finite Horizon” follows in a similar vein as the two preceding tracks: mixing melodic post-rock, hardcore and hard-driving, grinding sludge with clean vocals and spoken voice recordings into another anthem of giant proportions. While the music itself is very impressive as it builds towards its climax, the clean-toned choirboy-like singing is rather weak and its style is embarrassingly reminiscent of old 1970s hard rock US bands like Kansas and Styx. If there’s a song in the first half of the album that needs pruning, “Finite Horizon” most needs the secateurs.

At this point, most bands might consider that 41 minutes of music would be more than enough to introduce them to new audiences but Izah cruise ahead with a fourth song that’s three-quarters as long as the rest of the album.  The title piece is a melange of sorrowful post-rock, black metal, anguished rasping vocal, brooding atmospheres, spoken voice and other field recordings, epic doom rock, screechy noise and symphonic rock all united by a pessimistic vision and a relentless trudge towards what must be an apocalyptic climax. It could have been a long rambling mess but the song is very focused and concentrated and that along with the steady pace keeps it united if loose. There’s still scope to reduce some of the length of the song especially in the last five minutes without affecting its integrity.

While the album is long and has passages of heavy grinding music, it’s not exhausting and it’s less of an endurance test than would be expected for epic doom / sludge / post-rock fusion music. Izah do have some pop sensibility and know what will appeal and how much to dole out. The album easily lends itself to separate hearings – you could treat tracks 1 to 3 as a unit separate from the title track if you wish or if you feel brave, hear everything in one go. “Sistere” (the album) is actually consistent musically all the way through even though the temptation to range far and wide and eccentrically with the style and songs Izah have must have been strong. The result is an album that is well balanced between single-minded direction and experimentation that goes far enough without falling over completely into messy self-indulgence.