Holy Moly, what a split! Black Bow Records is continuing strong in its quest to be doom’s Most Valuable Label of 2018 with a new release pairing two of the most exciting names in UK doom, Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard and Slomatics. Totems is a gift from the doom gods, full of expansive and crashing riffs delivered in a tight, digestible package. What’s not to love?
Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard take the front half of the split with two tracks that epitomize their weighty but patient approach to doom metal. “The Master and His Emissary” is a more dynamic and restless offering than the band’s normal M.O. and it consists of several distinct passages that could easily be thought of as individual movements within overarching stoner doom suite. The track begins with a slowly building, atmospheric intro before erupting into hammering, sustained riffage drenched in the band’s characteristically thick, low end distorted tone. Such head-nodding familiarity doesn’t last too long, however, as around the four-minute mark the band abruptly shifts into an ever-so-slightly up-tempo, chugging, and distinctly sludgy main portion of the song. The passage fondly recalls the sound Agoraphobic Nosebleed reaches on the Arc EP, except instead of Kat Katz’s throaty roar, Jessica Ball’s layered, airy vocals float just above the band’s sound and serve as a refreshing antidote to the crunchy sonic filth being delivered by the instruments.
Speaking of which, due attention should be paid to Ball’s vocals, both on this split and across MWWB’s entire catalogue. Is she doom’s greatest vocalist? The jury is interminably out, but surely nobody can credibly suggest that it isn’t a distinct possibility. Forgoing any sort of growl, scream, or guttural menace often found throughout doom (and all of metal), Ball confidently carves her own path with gorgeous, mesmeric, clean vocals that pair so well with amp-worshiping distortion it’s a wonder more bands don’t attempt to follow the same track. MMWB’s thunderous blend of stoner doom is so competent and sure footed that the band could get by as an instrumental act and still reign close to supreme in the modern doom landscape. But having such a uniquely talented frontperson as Ball commanding the proceedings catapults the band over the top with an embarrassment of riches.
As far as 10-plus minute doom epics go, “Eagduru” is the more straightforward of the band’s two tracks, a leisurely paced but menacingly toned effort that revolves around a limber earworm of a guitar line and ever-present, ever-reliable, ever-pummeling rhythm section. “Eagduru” represents the MMWB that fans have come to know and love, an exercise in hypnotic repetition as a means of reaching zoned out, blissful transcendence. At least, that is, until around the nine-minute mark, where the band transitions into an extended outro of lightning-strike guitar stabs and creepy spoken word audio samples. Even at their most comfortable and fan-pleasing, Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard never seem content to rest on their laurels and are constantly pushing forward to the next smoke haloed horizon.
What they may lack in band members, Slomatics more than make up for in muscular, riff-worshipping doom. Belfast’s most potent power-trio pick up the second half of this split and fans familiar with their 2016 opus Future Echo Returns may be surprised to find the band straying ever-so-slightly from the relatively straightforward, if psychedelic, riff blasting on their previous efforts. Have no fear, Slomatics aren’t drastically changing their sound, but the tunes that make up the second half of Totem reflect more stretched out and experimental tendencies than the workmanlike focus traditionally displayed on Slomatics records.
Divided by a tranquil (turned somewhat foreboding) piano-based interlude, the two proper tracks are both massive, droning, and atmospherically ambitious while still being distinctively Slomatics. “Ancient Architects” is a lumbering, bottom-heavy stomper than accents singer/drummer Marty’s power behind the kit as he guides the band through a doom swampland replete with mountainous guitar walls and some type of layered wailing vocal instrumentation (are those synths?). The power is ratcheted up even further halfway through the track, when the vocals largely give way to a pure guitar and drum assault of monolithic, punishing riffage. “Master’s Descent” dismisses the need for any mood-establishing intro and instead bursts immediately into a hammering mid-tempo doom track full of crunch tone, dynamic drum fills, and, again, droning atmospherics. But, yet again, things take a turn in the second half of the song and a narcotic, proggy atmosphere infiltrates as layered choral and synth tones overtake the more aggressive riffing that began the track. To be sure, Slomatics have never shied away from sonic experimentation and even as they jam away in the doom gutters, their collective eyes have always been looking toward the stars. But the two main tracks that make up the band’s contribution to Totems may represent their most confident exploration yet.
Folks, for any fan of doom this thing is a no brainer. Totems collects two of the genre’s modern day masters at the top of their games and neither band disappoints. Top to bottom riffs, tone, atmosphere, and attitude, this split is a must have for anybody still reading this review. Enough words, go forth and doom.
Totems is out this month and can be ordered via Black Bow Records here.