Doom metal royalty and the most promising new ‘old school’ death metal band of the moment. Getintothis’ Nedim Hassan unearths the latest metallic gems headbangers will want to get their hands on.
At last the nights have started to draw in and here, in the catacombs of our offices, the onset of autumn means we don’t have to worry any longer about the heat smudging our gleaming corpse paint.
While you have been scurrying around preparing for harvest or collecting conkers for your offspring’s school projects, we have been tending to the latest batch of records that have been deemed worthy of an audience with our stereos.
The Skull – The Endless Road Turns Dark (Tee Pee Records)
The title track of The Skull’s sophomore album starts with a sombre religious sermon and sets the tone for what is to come. Humanity’s demise is approaching and The Skull reflect upon this fact with a thoughtful record that conveys a yearning for an afterlife.
Former Trouble frontman, Eric Wagner, is surely doom metal’s greatest vocalist. Wagner’s voice is deeper and noticeably lower pitched than in his early days, but this imbues the record with a weathered sense of resignation ideally suited to the subject matter. The less sombre and elegiac Ravenswood picks up the pace and featuring some satisfyingly chugging guitar riffs that are effectively undercut by the dreamier chorus sections.
Breathing Underwater is an interesting departure from The Skull’s classic melodic doom metal sound. The song is reminiscent of the progressive leaning alt rock of Kings X in parts, particularly in its use of guitar melodies. Yet, the track retains an undercurrent of monotonous doomier Candlemass / early Trouble style riffing. From Myself Depart features the sorts of psychedelic flourishes that adorned Wagner’s later work with Trouble but even with this song the chorus plunges us once again into doomier territory.
Striking a delicate balance between virtuosic soaring guitar work and sombre doom riffing, Witch Mountain guitarist Rob Wrong is the ideal foil for Wagner’s vocals. He is seemingly able to mirror Wagner’s capacity to both plunder the depths of despair but also lift us from the misery and fill us with a renewed sense of hope. The Endless Road Turns Dark sees The Skull confirm their status as doom metal royalty and it is highly recommended.
Zealot Cult – Spiritual Sickness (Blood Harvest)
Ireland’s Zealot Cult have crafted a satisfyingly old school sounding death metal record on their debut album. Their debt to the Florida sound is revealed from the outset, particularly through the agonised John Tardy style vocal timbre from guitarist / vocalist Jaye.
The savage opener and title track epitomizes their sound. Frenetic and slightly ragged riffing, thick with distortion, Spiritual Sickness is punctuated by dramatic guitar soloing that reveals a dynamic, often shred-based, sound.
Sea of Suffering has an overall churning quality, almost to match the crashing, undulating waves of the cruel sea that they are depicting. Wailing, despairing guitar calls out amidst a background fog of distortion. Tracks like Repent in Flames are compelling due their promise to take the listener on a journey.
They start out with Bloodbath style buzz saw riffing and are bold enough to build in extensive guitar passages in which the riffing increases in intensity, almost replacing the vocals in their purpose. At times the guitar work is stunning, especially on Left to Rot, which features a superb solo that momentarily elevates the listener and provides temporary relief from the oppressive atmosphere the song constructs.
In places, the combination of bludgeoning slower guitar sections with frenzied technical death metal is somewhat jarring and threatens to blunt the impact of tracks such as Blades of Jihad and Servi ad deum.
Yet, Shadow of the Beast regains the momentum and is an epic way to close an engaging debut from a hugely promising band. As this lengthy track progresses, wailing guitar and anguished vocals unify.
The vocals become very much an extension of the guitar timbre, not so much rising above the distortion but wallowing in it. Altogether, an impressive album and the best old school sounding death metal album we have heard this year.
Alunah – Amber & Gold (self-released)
Their first record with new vocalist Sian Greenaway, this EP sees doom merchants Alunah adopting a slightly more accessible sound than that evident on previous albums such as Awakening the Forest (2014) and last year’s Solennial. Greenaway is an intriguing replacement for previous vocalist/guitarist Sophie Day. While still imbuing Alunah’s sound with a gothic, hypnotic quality, the newcomer’s resonant tones are both bewitching and soulful. This is particularly the case on the title track where her almost sultry voice lingers over each note in the chorus.
Even more impressive is Awn, which features a haunting chorus that allows Greenaway to cut loose with her exquisite vocal tones and bring warmth and harmony to the band’s overall aesthetic.
Although they aren’t the first metal band to cover Chris Isaac’s Wicked Game, this track closes proceedings in a suitable fashion and once again allows Greenaway to demonstrate her ability to complement the band’s slightly more rock-oriented aesthetic. With an impending UK tour in support of this EP, it will be interesting to see whether Alunah can both still appeal to their existing fan base and attract new audiences. On the evidence of Amber & Gold, the band are certainly in a strong position to do just that.
Before we depart to continue the search for more metallic gems (and wait with baited breath for the new Bloodbath album), we just have time to tell you about some upcoming events you will want to save your pennies for.
First up those miscreants at Peste Promotions and Deathwave Entertainment have teamed up to bring the cream of British black metal to Liverpool later this week. This Friday 19 October EBGBs will host Inconcessus Lux Lucis, who will be ably supported by Funeral Throne, Deitus and Bellum Romanum.
If that doesn’t satisfy your thirst for noise, then the week after sees the debut of documentary film Slave to the Grind: a film about grindcore. This is being screened at Drop the Dumbulls on Thursday 25 October. As if that wasn’t enough to get your little hearts fluttering, Emissaries of Syn, Gorehead and Liverpool Grindpunks DAD will be performing on the night.
So, to paraphrase what Mickey said to Rocky when Adrian woke up from her coma in Rocky II, ‘What are you waiting for?”
Go and support your scene. See you in the pit (if you’re lucky).