Doom metal, in its purest form, is Sisyphian, forever attempting to move its great weight over a seemingly unreachable peak. That that mythical figure was, well, doomed to his task for cheating death is an apt metaphor for the bleak artistry of this genre of metal. In attempting to establish where this particular scene lies in the greater schema of music right now we can look to this ancient myth as an apt metaphor. Taking into account the plethora of new releases, new Sisyphuses, pushing their own respective boulder-esque projects it’s easy to see that doom is in a bit of a renaissance, currently, as crucial (relatively) new bands such as Elder, Pallbearer, Dreadnought, and SubRosa have raised the bar for longtime practitioners.
Enter: Low Flying Hawks who arrive with their second album, Genkaku (which roughly translates from Japanese as “illusion” or “hallucination”), featuring guests Dale Crover and King Buzzo from the Melvins, if this tells you anything about pedigree. Not enough for you? How about Trevor Dunn from Mr. Bungle lending his talents alongside main songwriters and multi-instrumentalists EHA and AAL to deliver a slab of psychedelic doom that has moments rivaling some of the best currently out there.
One of the things that immediately captures attention on this album are the spindly barbs of fuzz layered onto the tones of each instrument. On a lot of records one can become completely numb to its use but here the immediacy of it is such that it never fades away. “Smile” as an individual song and album opener, featuring King Buzzo’s vocals at one point, provides a dizzying view into the world of this band. The opening interplay between the bass and guitars is reminiscent of what Pallbearer do when at their best, sending the audience on a descent into the cavernous sound of this band, left to gaze upwards at the rapidly fading light. The Hawks also manage to go a little deeper with lyrics that are deeply personal and, relatively, hopeless in nature which takes their audience to new depths for a format that normally trades in obscured personal or ethereal subject matter.
One necessity for a good doom album, though, is finding a way to maintain interest. This is something we’ve hammered on here before about the better offerings of the genre because it is so true and extremely vital to holding the form to a modicum of responsibility beyond being the soundtrack to your nightly bong rips. As is the case with the bands mentioned at the outset, Low Flying Hawks manage to insert enough moments throughout this album to mostly hold that interest. Some tracks achieve this from the outset whereas others require the long, slow, torturous build of that boulder rolling uphill.
“Space Wizard” along with lead track, “Smile”, are probably the best two songs here that grab one by the ears from the be . Other tracks stand out for certain sections. The long build to a payoff around three minutes into “Virgin Witch” is worthwhile in an effort that pales somewhat in comparison to others on the album. But the band shine again on the closing piece, “Sinister Waves”, as it envelopes one in wave after wave of unleashed psychedelic madness through the layering of literally everything. Every guitar and vocal line is somewhat off-kilter or folded on top of another which, not only allows the listener to lose themselves in the track but, actually invites you to do so.
Overall, Genkaku might be one of the less heralded entries into the doom game at this time but it slots right in alongside the more monumental efforts that we’ve already seen this year from Elder and Pallbearer which is a very good thing for metal. This particular style seems to be going from strength to strength over the course of the past few years and if Low Flying Hawks can come onto the scene with their second full-length with this kind of fervor, yet little fanfare, it says something about the riches that fans of the genre can currently enjoy. That they manage to employ, yet not rely on, the guest appearances means even more about where we are and what may, with any luck, lie in store for the stoner-doom audience than merely just another excellent album. It points to a healthy and thriving scene. This band deserves to be held in the same high regard as their contemporaries and we are much richer for it.
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Genkaku is available 8/25 via Magnetic Eye Records.