Doomsday // April 2018

Greetings, heaviest of Heavy Bloggers! Welcome to Doomsday, our monthly roundup of some of the most noteworthy releases in the doom world released over the past month. April was a true sleeper month for doom as some of the most titanic releases were saved for the month’s back half. Who knows? Maybe there was even a surprise release last week you heard about perhaps? With this much to bang our heads to, we better get straight to it. Enough chatter! Grab your earplugs, it’s doomsday.

Foehammer – Second Sight

Ah, yes. There’s a certain strain of doom metal that hits a personal sweet spot of mine. Defined mostly by weight – that sticky hybrid combination of tone and tempo – some doom seems made to be felt rather than heard. Seeking only to pulverize bystanders into unholy pulp, this strain of doom largely dispenses with melody and, instead, finds its raison d’etre in sledgehammer after sledgehammer of deeply down-tuned distortion, glacial tempos, and lead-footed, anchoring percussion. Heaviness can be defined a thousand different ways, but surely no serious objection can be made to the claim that the sound Foehammer traffic in represents heaviness in one of its purest forms, a punishing onslaught of down-tempo sludge that leaves listeners punch drunk and doom dizzy.

Second Sight is the debut full length from the Virginian three-piece and, my fellow doomheads, it’s a doozy. Foehammer offers something of an orphan sound: straddling the line between oppressive funeral doom and the riff-hungry caveman battle sirens of Conan, Second Sight borrows liberally from both camps and presents a brutal cross strain that is more austere, punishing, and earth-bound than either parent genre. The four tracks that make up the album are more percussive than melodic; the guitars offer never-ending slabs of distortion more than actual riffs; and the band’s sound is rounded out by bassist Jay C.’s ground-gravel vocal delivery. It all adds up to a brutal, nightmarishly heavy doom soundscape that epitomizes slow and low.

Although the vast majority of the record operates in a massive, monolithic wall-of-sound mode, there are bits and pieces of more technical instrumentation that add diversity to the 40 or so minutes of run time. “Recurring Grave” is a titanic, ringing-chords dirge that morphs into an atonal, riff-led mysterious head trip for the track’s back half. And “Axis Mundi” is bookended by a delicate, acoustic fingerpicked intro and a searing, bright solo outro that highlight, by sheer sonic juxtaposition, the merciless doom gravity on display elsewhere across Second Sight.

Lyrically, Foehammer focuses on the violent, bleak, and primitive with a strong affinity for the fantastic, especially evident on the Middle-earth inhabiting opener, “Black Númenórean.” Elsewhere, images of old fires being extinguished, weathered peaks of distant mountains, and sledgehammers raining down further serve the old-school, singularly “doom” focus of Second Sight. This is an album for true doom believers, those who think it can always go slower, lower, and heaver. Forget banging your head, Foehammer is here to crush your skull into dust. Bless them.

 

Monje – Monje

There’s a reason stoner doom is one of the most ubiquitous, long-lived subgenres in the doom arena. The genre, generally speaking, knows which side of its bread is buttered and it sticks to those fundamentals: fuzzy tone, sinister smoky atmospherics, and, most importantly, a reverence for the almighty riff. Where detractors may see simplicity, scene apologists see an accessible universality to the genre’s sound. Crushing, hazy riffs know no borders and, as we’ve seen already this year, regardless of where one might find themselves on this great blue orb, the trappings of stoner doom can transcend culture, geography, and even metal apathy to appeal to die-hard metalheads and newcomers alike. It’s in this vast, universal stoner tradition that I’m pleased to recommend the debut self-titled record by Monje.

Monje is eight tracks of riff-soaked, horror-tinged stoner doom that skews decidedly toward the energetic and fun end of the sound’s spectrum.  Hailing from Buenos Aires, the band delivers their message entirely in Spanish but that doesn’t lessen the record’s impact for any of us monolinguists. After all, the underlying key here is universality and the retro-horror cover art, Sebastian Rolón’s demonically raspy vocal delivery, and the mid-tempo, head slamming riff wave on display throughout do more to accurately carry the band’s aesthetic mission than any set of lyrics can be expected to do. Monje is a modern stoner doom record through and through, but there is an undercurrent of back-to-basics nostalgia in their stripped down, no frills delivery that places a premium on tight song structures and well-rounded warm production instead of experimentation and overwhelming atmospherics. With riffs this potent, why not lean on them?

That’s not to say that the record’s sound is so uniform as to be an indistinguishable blur of slow and low. As Monje progresses, the band lets loose more and more, allowing notes of aggression to creep into the normally tranquil and hypnotic riff riding. “Punto Omega” gamely blends blackened elements of traditional heavy metal into the stoner soup and, notably, “Paisaje del Horror” incorporates speedy influences from punk and d-beat into the already energetic soundscape. Rolón is a talented and versatile vocalist and, depending on the setting, varies his delivery from raspy growls, baritone cleans, and tortured bellows to match the song’s palate. But these are only variations on Monje’s fundamental stoner doom theme; sonically speaking, the album is perfectly served by its bookends. “Río de decepción” begins the album proper with a bouncy riff so infectious its hard to shake out of your head after hearing it. And that may be intentional: closer “Nefasta evolución” offers a reprise of sorts with its slightly-altered resurrection of what seems to be nearly the same riff as the opening track. It’s a subtle, confident move by a band that knows the power of a golden goose guitar lead.

As spring turns to summer, sometimes the best medicine is some killer, fun-loving, riff-heavy doom to blast loud and proud. On their debut, Monje delivers that in spades and, in the process, offer a compelling defense for a sound they obviously love. Hail stoner doom! Hail Monje!

 

Khemmis – “Isolation”

Cresting the waves of one of modern metal’s most critically lauded success stories, Denver’s own Khemmis are preparing to release their third full-length album this summer. Desolation is out via 20 Buck Spin on June 22 and, ahead of that release, the boys are chumming the doom waters with a punchy banger of an advance single. Khemmis have never been slaves to any rigid genre definitions, preferring instead to spike their doom with liberal doses of rock ‘n roll, traditional heavy metal, and ear-friendly power metal. “Isolation” continues the Colorado crew’s sonic expansion into crunchy accessibility filled with upbeat tempos, soaring vocals, and more solos than a singles cruise.

Of particular note is lead vocalist Phil Pendergast’s performance; since 2015’s Absolution Phil has quietly been morphing into one of metal’s most accomplished vocalists. Carrying the heavyweight of Khemmis’s largely clean delivery, Phil has transformed from a somewhat reluctant, slightly reserved singer into a full-throated, nearly operatic commanding front man in the vein of his apparent hero, Rob Halford. And the rest of the band follows suit: “Isolation” is kick-ass and catchy, unapologetically immediate and poppy in the best possible sense. Three albums in, Khemmis seem comfortable and confident enough to play their own brand of doom on their own terms. And if “Isolation” is any indicator of Desolation as a whole, who would wish it any other way?

 

Sleep – The Sciences

Surprise! The 4/20 fairy bestowed the best possible gift upon us all, just in time for the holy high holiday. Stoner savants Sleep have released their long, long awaited follow up to the legendary Dopesmoker. It’s been over 20 years since that storied and troubled release, more than enough time for fans to garner skepticism as to whether the boys still have what it takes to put out a worthwhile, urgent release worthy of Sleep’s legacy. I’m very happy to report that the rifftree has risen more than intact. The Sciences is a masterclass in stoner doom, a testament to billowing smoke and fuzzy tone, and – miraculously, after a twenty-year wait – it stands as Sleep’s best album.

Sleep’s place in the metal canon was well secured before last week’s surprise release. The near-religious devotion to marijuana, the landmark hour-long song/album, the label tensions, the inevitable implosion: the legend of the greatest stoner doom band of all time is already metal lore for the ages. Which makes The Sciences all the more surprising and, potentially, risky. What does Sleep have left to prove? Can a bunch of old stoners really stand toe to toe with the modern doomers they helped inspire? Worst of all, what if the record sucks?

Have no fear, friends. The Sciences contains all of the riffs, tone, crashing percussion, and marijuanautical exploits anybody could ever ask for. Shifting their focus from the dusty sands of Jerusalem to the hashteroid-filled cosmos, Sleep largely retain their characteristic sound across these six tracks and invite listeners to join them on a stoned but enlightening trip through outer space. Matt Pike’s signature tone is on full, glorious display and he deftly switches between the roaring, wall-of-sound chord hammering and some of the wiriest, hallucinatory solos he’s ever recorded (that’s including with High on Fire). Restless, propulsive drumming has always been one of Sleep’s most overlooked secret weapons and Jason Roeder continues the driving cymbal-smashing that has been the cornerstone of Sleep’s entire catalog. Perhaps the most notable sonic adjustment the band has made is in Al Cisneros’s vocal delivery. Cisneros has accumulated a lot of zen over the past twenty years with his meditative, droning work in Om and (with the exception of “Anarcticans Thawed”) he largely transplants the clean monotone vocal style he employs in Om to replace the harsher bellowing on display on Sleep’s prior catalog. Unsurprisingly, it works quite well and lends a further dose of hypnotic haze over the album’s already potent atmosphere.

It’s difficult to pick highlights out of such a strong track list so I’ll leave that unenviable task to my Heavy Blog bunkmates who will be covering the album in full. However, it’s worth noting that, once the bong sounds after the opening intro, The Sciences blasts off and doesn’t slow down for its fifty-minute runtime. The main heft of the album is carried by the menacing middle trifecta of “Sonic Titan,” “Antarcticans Thawed,” and “Giza Butler” but every proper song shines in its own immutable way. “Marijuanaut’s Theme” starts the proceedings off with an energetic and rowdy gallop into the Iommosphere and album closer “The Botanist” is some of the most beautiful and contemplative songwriting Sleep has ever penned. Pike’s searing solos are rarely ever so glimmering and listeners are left to wonder what tricks the old trio may still yet have up their collective cloak sleeves.

Because, to be sure, wonders never cease: Sleep is back and better than ever and The Sciences is a hallmark of an already distinguished career. We are grateful for the yield.