Greetings, heaviest of Heavy Bloggers! Welcome to Doomsday, our monthly roundup of doom-centric releases from the last month that deserve some extra praise. March has been a particularly hellish (in a good way) month for the greater doom landscape, so be sure to go back and check out some of Heavy Blog’s full reviews of the choicer cuts of the month’s offerings. As always, Doomsday is my chance to highlight some of my personal favorite releases that may have slipped under the radar over the past few weeks. What did I miss? What were your favorite doom releases from March? What is Mueller waiting on? Sound off in the comments. But for now, enough chatter! Grab your earplugs; it’s Doomsday.
Sixes – Methistopheles
Black Bow Records does it again! Continuing a winning streak that simply must be heard to be believed, the label recently released the absolutely punishing debut from Sixes, a California four piece who specialize in hateful, anguished sludge with a decidedly stoner bent. Methistopheles isn’t some half-baked debut by a band still finding its sound. Rather, Sixes come to the table with a well-defined and surprisingly varied vision for the band’s aesthetic and the result is six tracks that are both sweltering and invigorating, crushing but also tons of demented fun.
Sixes sound is firmly characterized by Hate Doom’s traditional glacial tempos, molasses-thick guitar tones, and torturous, blackened vocals. But whereas some bands with similar sounds tend to get lost in the hate and atmospherics, Sixes never forget the riff. Throughout Methistopheles, even as the band regularly stretches across the ten-minute mark and tackles weighty lyrical themes like childhood abuse (“Motherless”) and humanity’s ill-reasoned faith in higher powers (“Acid God”), the band’s anchor remains the crunchy, sweetly downtuned riff. By keeping the stoner in Stoner Hate Sludge, Sixes go a long way toward carving their own unique space in the subgenre and keep a veneer of head banging accessibility on the nihilistic, swampy foundation of the band’s sound.
Because, for sure, this is heavy stuff. Sixes self-describe as “aggressively depressing sludge” and anybody familiar with Indian, Owlcrusher, or Primitive Man will, broadly speaking, understand the suffocating terrain Sixes travel on their debut. But, as I mentioned above, there’s also plenty of fun to be had in Methistopheles, particularly for the grime-inclined stoner doom fans among us. Mid-album ripper “Fogbreather” deserves special recognition for its punchy, elephants-marching musicality and it’s glorious, mission-statement declarations that “WE WORSHIP AMPS AND DRUGS AND SATAN” that is pure catnip for any fun-loving, self-aware metalhead. Sixes also aren’t afraid to stretch their sound outside the cavernous realms of sludge: “Methistopheles” has furious passages of speedy black metal and album closer “Voidkiller” spends a large chunk of its 10-minute runtime in funeral doom mode: clean, mournful vocals backed by shimmering guitars and sparse percussion that makes the track’s inevitable collapse back into scorched sludge all the more impactful.
As is to be expected from a Black Bow release, the tones throughout the record are sickeningly thick and the riffs that insistently worm themselves across the hour-long runtime are larger than life. A bedroom stoner jam this ain’t: the production is top notch and the focus on genre fundamentals (read: DON’T FORGET THE RIFF) make for a potently self-assured combo rarely found on a debut. If you’ve got the strong stomach for some nasty and brutish sludge with a strong side of stoner doom, Methistopheles is an incredibly strong debut and a more than worthy addition to the Black Bow roster.
Deathbell – With the Beyond
Coming in hot with a February release that fell through the Doomsday cracks is French four piece Deathbell. Their debut full length, With the Beyond, is a sure-footed slab of traditional doom metal, full of languid riffs, fuzzy tones, a heaping dose of psychedelic flair, and a powerhouse performance by vocalist Lauren Gaynor.
Deathbell’s sound is confidently rooted in the past when doom comfortably straddled the line between blues-based heavy rock and outright metal. Instrumental opener “With the Beyond” immediately brings to mind Electric Wizard and, of course, Black Sabbath, but the extended solos that anchor both the opener and the hazy fadeout in “Emerald Eyes Shine” also pledge allegiance to the more psychedelic tendencies of Blue Öyster Cult and Janis Joplin. This is in no small part thanks to vocalist and keyboardist Lauren Gaynor’s trance-like delivery across the entire album. Her powerful alto weaves and winds throughout these tracks, perfectly matching the meandering style of the riffs and providing an intoxicating, cultish sheen across the group’s sound.
It doesn’t hurt that these songs are easily intoxicating. Placing a premium on mood and groove over aggression, Deathbell are never in a hurry and are more than content to led a track slowly build and snake its way to a natural conclusion, whether that be via a punchy four minutes and change (“Over the Rim”) or the nearly ten-minute album centerpiece “Come to Trouble.” The latter contains some of the heaviest instrumentals on the entire album: thunderous, ringing guitar chords rain down over crashing percussion, Gaynor’s mesmerizing wails, and some killer Hammond-style organ atmospherics. The video for the track amps up the cultish atmosphere considerably, a washed-out, ’70’s-style horror short film complete with satanic rituals, voodoo dolls, and undead cemetery set pieces. What more could you ask for?
It’s nice to be reminded that doom, and metal generally, doesn’t necessarily need to be abrasive in order to be sufficiently heavy. Deathbell’s brand of doom is rifftastic and crushing, but it’s also quite palatable and, at times, curiously relaxing. The low-end crunch that guides the ample riffs act as a soothing balm for world-weary stoner doomheads and it’s easy to get lost in the haze of the band’s music. More than anything, With the Beyond has a universality that could help propel the young band to larger recognition: there’s truly something here for everybody and the edges are rounded just enough to keep Deathbell’s tent big enough to hold a wide audience. Doom for all!
Nest – Metempsychosis
Sludgelord Records is officially two for two with the release of SLR002, the unholy southern fried nightmare that is Metempsychosis. Nest hail from Lexington, Kentucky, and the duo cook up a stew of blackened sludge that’s flavored with a liberal dose of nihilism, heresy, and good old-fashioned hatred. Their latest release is their most concise and fully-realized release to date and its auditory assault can stand toe to toe with any of the high-quality hate sludge releases we’ve seen over the past year.
Nest’s full sound belies the two-piece nature of the group, especially when band members Kyle Keener and Corey Stringer rely strictly on the traditional guitar, drums, and vocals setup to convey their hellish sound. There’s earworm melodies, soft ambient atmospherics, and pummeling low end riffing, sometimes all within the same song. Metemphyschosis has its fingers in a lot of pies sonically, but the touchstone I keep coming back to as I listen is Gin-era Cobalt. Nest ostensibly root their sound in a black metal aesthetic, but, like their brothers in Colorado, the music on the record display prominent elements of sludge, doom, crust, extreme metal, and other various sundries that serve at the pleasure of inspiration, not genre restrictions. And, like Cobalt, by prioritizing sonic diversity over genre purity, Nest verge on the profound: a unique sound that they can shape and define to their will.
Album highlight “Gallows of Forever” displays the band’s full arsenal as well as any other. The track begins with ominously-toned clean guitars (seriously, is this a passage from Gin?) before erupting into the lead-footed, crushing doom main section of the track. Stringer’s vocals, as on the entire record, run the gamut from withered shrieks to blustery cavernous bellows as he decries “a meaningless world without rules, without limits.” And even at a tight three minutes and change, the song remains restless: an exhilarating, galloping finale bursts forth before the song and listener are sucked back down into the murky, sludge-riddled depths. However their sound continues to shape-shift and evolve, here’s hoping we continue to hear more from Nest.
Mournful Congregation – The Incubus of Karma
Sometimes, albums aren’t a big deal. Particularly in recent times, with the continued transition into stream-based listening, there has been an attention-deficit-acknowledging focus on singles, “playlists,” and other delivery systems that seem, at times, to be more concerned with manipulating play numbers than delivering actual cohesive listening experiences. And the move away from landmark LPs isn’t always a bad thing: tight, focused 30-minute records can be exhilarating and can provide a streamlined vehicle for bands to (1) make an impactful wallop on listeners, (2) establish a sound, and (3) move on to the next release so as to keep a steady output stream. Coupled with splits, Eps, surprise releases, and various one-offs via platforms like bandcamp, sometimes it makes more sense for bands to focus on the lean and mean when releasing albums. So, yeah, not every release is a massive, paradigm-shifting statement for a band.
But sometimes albums are a big deal. Mournful Congregation have made a revered name for themselves delivering albums that are immersive, ambitious, dense, and cerebral. And really, really heavy. They play “macrocosmic Doom for microcosmic beings” and their newest release, like all of their previous full-lengths, is, in the immortal words of Joseph Robinette Biden Jr., a big fucking deal.
The Incubus of Karma is a towering and gorgeous achievement by a band whose entire discography is filled with genre-defining mission statements. Karma’s palate is both lush and unforgiving, haunting yet uplifting, filled with crushing weight and also soaring, brightly shimmering passages. The tracks are deliberately composed, unhurried and concerned, first and foremost, with artistic impact. And what an impact they make. Over marathon song lengths, the sonic landscape shifts between hulking and muscular glacial doom to spiraling dual guitar passages that, incredibly, invoke power metal and melodic pop sensibilities. The juxtaposition of guttural vocals and spoken word passages to such lavish and surprisingly melodic musical backing may seem curious on paper, but the result is rewarding and emotional throughout. Even the shorter (read: six minutes) interlude-of-sorts track packs a punch with classical acoustic guitar married with stunning, swirling electric leads. Every member undoubtedly brings their “A game” to this record, but it’s hard to deny that The Incubus of Karma is an embarrassment of riches in the guitar game.
I’ve previously fretted about the relative dearth of high quality funeral doom in recent years. It turns out that my hand wringing may have been premature: The Incubus of Karma not only faithfully adheres to the genre but also serves as a high-water mark for what funeral doom can achieve. To be sure, this behemoth is going to take some digesting and a bit of patience to fully unfold over repeated listenings. That’s a reward, though, not a bug: records like this are meant to be savored, to be basked in, and to be explored in all their dense beauty. Enjoy at your own pace, it’s an incredible journey.