Hello Heavy Bloggers! Welcome to Doomsday, our new column that seeks to compile a monthly roundup of all things doom. Standing alongside the likes of Death’s Door and Kvlt Kolvmn, Doomsday will highlight a few releases every month that, for whatever reason, may not warrant a full-fledged review on Heavy Blog but we still think deserve a recommendation out to you, oh faithful readers. There’s a lot of music that can fit under the Doom umbrella and we’ll try to keep an “open ear” policy: Drone, Stoner, Groove, Ambient, Funeral Doom, and good ol’ Death-Doom. We’ll take all comers. If it’s slow and low, it’s Doomsday.
And without further ado, here’s some of the heaviest tunes August had to offer.
M.S.W. – Hell
After releasing multiple EPs under the “Hell” moniker over the past near-decade, MSW has finally released a proper full length of blackened doom, fittingly and simply titled Hell. A mysterious but prolific session musician based in Oregon, MSW uses Hell not to compile a greatest-hits of the previously-released Hell releases, but instead as a culmination of the project so far and, hopefully, also as a template for what’s to come with future releases. Using the vaguely low-fi aesthetic of one-man metal to his advantage, MSW has created a surprisingly palatable album: a project that is firmly rooted in traditional riff-doom metal, but borrows liberally from the black metal palate as well.
Tracks like the opener, “Helmzmen” and “Victus” highlight the albums strengths: lengthy, stretched-out passages of distortion-drench guitars and heavy riffing over plodding tempos. But the blown-out, wailing vocals that call to mind the most punishing parts of Anaal Nathrakh and Indian are the icing on the otherwise somewhat traditional cake. Shrieks like this are usually more at home on bedroom black metal records, but MSW’s delivery works to create the creepy, nightmarish atmosphere that pairs perfectly with the slightly tinny, low-fi feel of the record. The relatively relaxed tempos of doom really allow for the vocals to take center stage and preside over the album in all their horror and glory. If you’re looking for some fairly straight-forward, head-banging doom with a little taste of the apocalypse on the side, Hell is a ton of fun.
Warrior Pope – Anchorite
Unwilling to let electronic music monopolize drum and bass without a fight, Warrior Pope are here to drone out and worship amps with their debut full length, Anchorite. Hailing from the UK, Warrior Pope’s only two full time members are bassist Oli Foxen and drummer Katya and, although they have some friends sit in with guitars and synths to help round out the record, the bass and drums truly lead the way down a hypnotic and enchanting listening experience.
“Immurement” starts the record off by laying all the drone cards on the table: a nearly four minute intro passage of slowly-crescendoing drums that fully explode into an extended jam session only to suddenly evaporate near the seven minute mark. From there, Foxen’s bass slowly lulls listeners into a trance with a haunting a delicate solo section that transitions flawlessly into the next track.
The title track, appropriately, anchors the album. A sprawling, multifaceted 17+ minute love letter to drone, ambience, jazzy bass, and low/soft volume interplay, “Anchorite” gives Warrior Pope the canvas and space to fully display their potential. It’s a sound that basks equally in beauty and dissonance, somehow both soothing and unnerving at once. The bass warbles, the drums taunt and crash, and the track builds organically to a haunting catharsis that’s genuinely exciting to experience.
It’s easy to imagine Anchorite as a labor of love, the product of two friends jamming in the studio, using an unorthodox instrumental setup to create something new and having a blast doing it. Warrior Pope certainly represent a more ambient and slightly softer-edged corner of doom, but it’s a corner that’s unique, engaging, and definitely worth exploring.
Owlcrusher – Owlcrusher
This maelstrom of nihilistic misery was technically released in late July, but Seeing Red Records recently announced a physical pressing of the record coming soon and, either way, Owlcrusher is too punishing not to mention. Plus, I make the rules so I can break them too. So there.
Strap in for a crushing, murky, defiantly unrighteous journey into Heavy Hell. Owlcrusher are a three piece from Northern Ireland and they are here to crush souls with their blend of suffocating hate-doom, displayed in its totality on their self-titled full length. Three tracks stretching over 40+ minutes, Owlcrusher uses doom like a sledgehammer: bludgeoning listeners with layered, sludgy guitars, pummeling elephants-marching drums, and cavernous vocal wailings that sound ripped straight from some soundtrack to the apocalypse.
This is doom at its ugliest and most immediately brutal. This is also, as luck would have it, right in my personal doom sweet spot: largely foregoing subtleties like melody and volume dynamics, Owlcrusher uses dense atmosphere, thundering repetition, and capital H Heaviness to bring its visceral soundscapes to life. Even the very few, brief respites the album allows are crushing: there are moments in “Feeble Preacher” where the tempo dips into drone lead-footedness and the guitars echo out with the buzzing fury of bee hive set ablaze. That’s what passes for tranquil here.
But really, Owlcrusher, is a record to be experienced, not described. For those who like their doom turned up to 11 and as nasty, brutish, and heavy as possible, this is not to be missed. Make sure to pre-order your copy right here.
Smoke Wizzzard – Smoke Wizzzard
On the decidedly more laid-back and somewhat goofy end of the spectrum emerges Smoke Wizzard, a Pennsylvania three piece who specialize in fun, spaced-out stoner metal. Do you like to nod your head along to fuzzy lead guitar riffs while sharing a joint with friends, or at least a few cold brews? Perfect: Smoke Wizzzard are here to party.
Leave your frills at the door, these guys keep everything simple. The abundance of riffs, moderate but still propulsive rhythms, and sense of infectious fun can only be the byproduct of true friends hanging out and letting loose. Smoke Wizzzard is the group’s first proper release that I can find, but it comes with a straightforward sense of purpose intact. Tracks like “Astro Lord” and “The Pass” are pure stoner groove worship, giving the guitar leads plenty of time to worm their way into listener’s heads before switching things up to the next grooved-out jam section. The mostly-clean vocals are reverb soaked enough to harken back to the glory days of classic psych rock and they fit perfectly into the spaced-out, fun-loving party vibe of the record. “Reptiles” is of particular note, letting the group’s vocalist display his best Ozzy impersonation, with a little bit of Dio thrown in the mix for good measure too.
If you can’t tell from the band’s name (or the comic book monster visual aesthetic), Smoke Wizzzard don’t take themselves too seriously. But, far from making the album seem disposable, that only plays into the strength of the project. The songs are heavy and catchy, but also low-stakes in the most positively refreshing sense of the term. Simply put, the music rocks and one gets the sense that the album was as fun to create as it is to listen to. Come one, come all; put down your worries for a blissful 30 minutes or so and let the fuzzed-out party riffs wash over you. You won’t regret it.
Sunrot – Sunnata
Sunrot have been seething under the mainstream for the past few years, putting out a couple of preliminary releases, including a split with Inertia., since 2014. But, even if you haven’t heard the group’s intensely emotional take on doom prior to now, Sunnata is a great place to dive in.
Forging equal parts wall-of-sound drone, crushingly heavy doom, and a liberal dose of hardcore delivery and presence, Sunrot create punishing yet beautiful soundscapes across Sunnata’s eleven tracks. The band largely forgoes lead guitar riffing and, instead, occupies a dense atmospheric corner of the doom spectrum, letting blankets of distorted guitars and restrained yet pummeling drums envelope the listener in an abrasive haze. These songs lumber and stretch, but never tilt away from being truly immediate: vocalist Lex’s delivery is a throat-ruining scream that may initially seem more at home in hardcore or post-metal, but it marries perfectly with Sunrot’s music to create an intense, emotional listening experience.
Acting nearly as an equal partner to Lex’s vocals is the band’s generous use of spoken word samples throughout the record. Nearly half of the tracks contain extended passages of ambiguous, creepy spoken word sections that do nothing to take away from the intense drive of the record. On the contrary, they act as a pleasant counterpart to the lead vocals, further ratcheting up the sinister atmosphere and giving the tracks some sonic diversity at the exact moments the potential for listener exhaustion creeps in.
While Sunnata may not be exactly groundbreaking work, it is undoubtedly an effective combination of brute force paired with fiery emotional intensity. Sunrot has a clear vision and it’s exciting to hear the seemingly disparate elements of their sound combine to form something so successfully whole. Here’s hoping for a full tour to support the album, I can only imagine the record (impossibly) gets more intense in a hot and sweaty live setting.