You walk through a forceful gale, each step a laborious, nigh unassailable struggle. Sand and dirt fly toward your face and body like nature’s knives, cutting into your skin with wild abandon. You raise your arm to your face in a feeble attempt to stave the onslaught. It is a useless gesture. You cannot remember from whence you came or why you are here. All is pain. The landscape through which you trudge is a barren wasteland. Shattered hulls of long-dead trees clutter the ground in what you can only imagine was once a forest, teeming with life. You trip and stumble your way through this maze of former glory, feet leaving a trail of blood, visible for a brief moment, only to be consumed by the churning sand and dirt that snakes its way across the dry ground. You fall, unable to move another step, and cover your head with your arms, praying for relief.
As sudden as it was fierce, the wind ceases its perpetual bombardment. Your breath comes heavy, eyes caked in grime and lips sealed by the same. You slowly lift your head. Sand particles hang gently in the air, moonbeams slicing through them to create an earthbound universe of the geologic. You wipe your face with your cowl, attempting to rid your visage of all remnants of the now past storm. That is, until he begins his approach. You feel his presence immediately, an ice cold tremor running through your veins. All stands still as his silent footsteps glide across the desolate earth. You are frozen in place, unable to do anything but slowly lift your eyes toward the approaching figure: robed, steps light as snowfall, eyes gleaming gold beneath a jet black hood. He reaches you, glowers over you with the crooked menace of a defeated, vengeful god. He leans toward your terror-stricken face, whispers… “You’re in my lands now, wanderer. Press on, friend, and die.”
Then he is gone. The sand and dirt once again obeys gravity, falling to the earth as a gentle wave. You stare into the dark, those gold eyes taunting you. In this newfound visibility the ground, drenched in moonlight, is covered with the skulls of those who came before. And a voice…
That’s what listening to Bereft’s exceptional new album Lands felt like. Best prepare yourself for a harrowing trip through one of the best doom metal albums to be released this year. You’re in their world now. It’s heavy. It’s cinematic. It’s awesome.
Bereft hails from Madison, Wisconsin. Which is noteworthy mainly because the state is not known as a doom metal haven. But geography doesn’t mean a whole lot when it comes to talent, and Bereft thankfully have that in spades. With only one previous full length record to their name, 2014’s excellent Lost Ages, the band had the difficult task of following up a very good blackened doom metal record with something at least as powerful and engaging. They have succeeded in this endeavor, as Lands proves itself to be an absolutely mesmerizing journey through a darkened abyss of black and doom metal goodness.
The “blackened” portion of Bereft’s subgenre classification is important here. As has been stated by myself and others a great many times, metal tends to fall into a bit of subgenre malaise, with monikers being tossed about with reckless abandon, leaving listeners with little idea as to what to actually expect when approaching an album. The term blackened doom could not be more fitting in the case of Bereft, however, as their music seamlessly melds heavy, chugging doom metal with frantic black metal passages that are as fierce as they are excellent. Album opener “We Wept” displays this amalgamation of sound brilliantly. The track opens with some deep, atmospheric doom metal riffing reminiscent of Unearthly Trance or Inverloch. Plodding guitars, played with masterful restraint and power by Alex Linden and Zach Johnson, rage and plow through a solid seven-minutes of doom-laden aggression. Then Michael Kadnar’s drums pick up their pace, breaking into a full-blown mini-solo before crashing into a black metal blast beat that propels the guitars into an entirely new realm of tremolo-picked speed. Johnson’s vocals shift from deep roars and soaring cleans to frantic screams in an absolutely manic display of vocal dexterity. It is a perfect transition, and fits without a hitch into the track’s overall arc. This is not an uncommon theme, as the remaining three tracks on the album follow suit, each presenting their own distinct take on the mixing of black and doom metal technically and atmospherically.
Subsequent tracks “The Ritual” and “In Filth” deal more heavily in atmosphere. One of Lands’ principal strengths is its ability to create a deeply engaging world of sound, language and atmosphere that grabs the listener from the opening riffs of the album. It has a nearly cinematic quality that encourages epic visions of journeys through darkness and violence, and is a thoroughly engaging listen. Which for a forty-minute album with only four tracks is no small feat. Because let’s be real: sitting through songs that average over ten-minutes in length is not an inherently easy task or good time. Bereft buck the trend by creating soundscapes drenched in diverse sounds and an overwhelming sense of atmosphere. One need look no further than the six-minute mark of “In Filth”, when the riff-laden track breaks completely from its propulsive trajectory and lurches into a menacing, occult-like chant passage that is as eerie and menacing as it is unexpected. The album’s absolutely epic conclusion, the fourteen-minute monster “Waning Light”, caps off the album in a brilliant mix of every element that makes the album a unique firebrand in the world of doom.
Lands is excellent. It is evocative, brilliantly executed, thoroughly engaging, and a masterclass of effective subgenre melding. Elements of Inter Arma, Gloson, Oceanwake, and Thou are all present here. It is a fantastic album that will find its way onto many a year-end list. Outstanding work.
Lands was released on March 31st via Prosthetic Records. Head on over to the band’s Bandcamp above to get it!