Instrumental doom is exciting but sparingly travelled terrain in the metal landscape. And fair enough: operating on an instrumental basis by definition removes an intuitive connection point for listeners in both the actual lyrical/narrative content as well the natural draw a frontperson has with an audience. Bands that dare to venture into instrumental space often veer toward the drone (Sunn O)))) or marathonian stoner doom side of things (Bongripper), and even then, occasional lyrical content frequently pops up. Which, to be sure, is great. There’s nothing inherently more virtuous about playing instrumental music, just as there’s certainly no shame in employing lyrics. It’s simply worth noting that the path of the instrumental doom band is often a challenging and lonely one and it’s exhilarating to see it done as well as Hawkmoth pull it off on their second full length release, Godless Summit.
Hawkmoth are an Australian four piece and although Godless Summit isn’t the band’s debut, it feels like a fresh rebirth for the band after a four year dormant period since their previous record. Billed as part one of a two-part opus, Godless Summit is a fantastic exploration of concise, catchy post-tinged doom that leaves the drone behind and, instead, offers four heavy tracks of punchy, to-the-point atmospheric sludge. The entire exercise is over in under forty minutes and seems deliberately calculated to keep fans thirsty for more until part two drops, even while offering nearly unlimited replay value in the meantime.
The album kicks off with the title track, an ostensible statement of purpose that immediately establishes the band’s soaring sound and the sense of weightless adventure infused into the record. Sometimes doom can feel divided into two camps: earth-bound vs ethereal. It’s an imperfect and unnecessary genre division, but Hawkmoth definitely traffic in an unchained ethereal sound that seeks to ascend into the untamed sky rather than burrow down in the mud and filth. The first half of “Godless Summit” is filled with unhurried passages of shimmering guitar leads and ascending melody that work to establish a meditative atmosphere of introspection. The adventure continues into the second, more aggressive half of the track as the muscular guitar leads complement the churning, combustible drums to create a swirling, ominous environment perfectly suited to an arduous, summit-climbing experience.
The album’s midsection is composed of “Ibex” and “Mala Fide,” two heavy-hitting bangers that ratchet up the atmosphere without ever losing the thread of focus. “Ibex” bubbles and brews with a heaping dose of low-end menace fermenting over indefatigable drum fills and sinister washes of atmospheric guitar. “Mala Fide” continues to expand the album’s vast terrain, deftly mixing percussive, dynamic passages with more relaxed, melodic sections of haunting beauty. Which leads to what must be acknowledged: every member of Hawkmoth does indispensable heavy musical lifting, but Brendan Mackay’s drumming is the secret weapon that keeps this record completely engaging from start to finish. Just like The National’s Boxer and Intronaut’s Prehistoricisms, Godless Summit is a drummer’s album, infested top to bottom with nimble yet aggressive, ever-present percussion that not only anchors the band’s sound, but also propels the songs forward in a way that keeps things engaging and spirited for the entirety. That’s not meant to take anything away from the other performers, but the drums on each of these four tracks take on an outsized importance in the instrumental framework and, on a more visceral level, perfectly balance tasteful jazzy spryness with hammering, gargantuan power.
Album closer “Charnel Grounds” puts a perfect cap on the track list with the most soaring, anthemic soundscape on the record. Over nearly fifteen minutes, the band builds from a sparse, tranquil intro to a mammoth, goosebump-inspring climax that makes use of every weapon at the band’s disposal and peaks with a soaring, melodic finale that perfectly matches the ethos of the album’s name and cover art. It is truly a gorgeous and emotionally stirring musical achievement that simply must be heard to be properly experienced.
And, candidly, that can be said of the entire album. With Godless Summit, Hawkmoth seem to have mastered the art of instrumental doom, creating moving and gripping songs that have no need for lyrical accompaniment to help deliver a potent emotional wallop. For all you procrastinators still assembling your 2017 album of the year list, Hawkmoth have thrown a late-inning curveball into the mix with one of the most accomplished and well-rounded doom releases of the year, instrumental or otherwise. Godless Summit is highly recommended without reservation and this author, for one, will be anxiously awaiting part two (hopefully) early next year.
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Godless Summit is out on December 14, 2017 via the band directly.