Greetings heaviest of Heavy Bloggers! Welcome to Doomsday, our monthly roundup of all things slow, low, and otherwise doom related. 2018 is truly picking up steam and I’m (not at all) embarrassed to admit that I’ve already begun thinking about my year-end sludge pile and what records might make it onto my AOTY lists. With the raft of super high-quality releases already available this year, I can only imagine how stout the final list will end up being. And it’s only May! True to form, this month has provided an incredible glut of noteworthy doom-centric releases. Below are some of my favorites that I think deserve special recognition; sound off in the comments with your favorites and stuff we may have missed. Enough chatter! Grab your earplugs; it’s doomsday.
Bong – Thought and Existence
The drone gurus of Bong are back with their first full length since 2015 and, as the title suggests, Thought and Existence continues along the same earnest, transcendent path Bong have been traversing for some time now. Blending extended drone, fuzzed out doom, stoner sensibilities, and a healthy dose of psychedelia into their own unique, purposefully mind-altering sound, Bong is a band to be felt rather than simply heard. Some bands use “amp worship” as a marketing slogan; Bong use amp worship as means of achieving transcendence.
Thought and Existence’s two tracks – each extending well beyond the fifteen-minute mark – could easily be thought of as one proper piece of music. Indeed, my ears may well be broken, but it sure sounds like both “The Golden Fields” and “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” offer variations on the same theme, tone, and even micro-chord changes. That’s no criticism: both tracks, taken separately or together, make for an incredibly soothing, fuzz-drenched exercise in drone and Bong offer wave after wave of distortion to warmly wash over listeners. Sparse but insentient, nudging percussion keeps the distorted waves moving forward and the trancelike vocals that occasionally appear only further bolster the solemn, yearningly meditative atmosphere the band conjures. Beginning with Stoner Doom, Bong’s past few releases have seen the band steadily rounding out their rougher edges, emphasizing slightly smoother soundscapes that ebb and flow with psychedelic effects and clean guitar passages. Thought and Existence notches the volume back up just a tad, fully bringing distortion back into the fold and reinserting the doom back into their brand of drone doom.
These extended passages represent drone at its most unapologetic, but also at its most impactful: Thought and Existence is stunningly gorgeous and a perfect introduction to the world of tranquilizing drone for those coming from a more traditional doom background. Quite an achievement for a band well in its second decade.
Garganjua – Through the Void
It’s no secret that we here at Heavy Blog are big fans of Holy Roar records. And while I usually cede the spotlight to my fellow office-mates when it comes to hoisting the Holy Roar flag, sometimes there are records that are so strong they deserve a second mention. Enter Garganjua, who have recently released their sophomore full-length Through the Void, a surprisingly poignant doom record that prioritizes songcraft and emotional catharsis while never skimping on the gut-level heaviness.
Let’s get it out of the way from the top: ever since Sorrow and Extinction marked the beginning of their well-deserved critical and commercial ascent, Pallbearer has cast a long shadow over doom that isn’t afraid to be thoughtful, sonically diverse, and openly emotional. But, truly, anything other than a passing mention of the Arkansas crew when discussing a band like Garganjua is overstating the comparison. Doom is a big ass tent and, although they may share some of the grounded-yet-still-able-to-soar characteristics of their forebearers, Garganjua brings a confident and uniquely appetizing approach that stretches the genre’s sound and incorporates more sonic diverse than is usually heard by their doom compatriots. After all, with a sound this powerful, who doesn’t want a few more bands banging around with the template?
The tracklist on Through the Void is short and universally sweet, so highlighting standout tracks is no easy task. But there’s probably a no better place to start than with opener “Crushed Beneath the Tide,” a masterclass in doom fluency that ably blends funeral doom dirges, muscular and infectiously tuneful chug riffs, and gorgeous, spaced-out clean ephemera into an incredibly united and emotional listening experience. The diversity displayed on the track is a microcosm of the album’s strengths writ large: Through the Void is rarely standing still for long and perhaps its greatest accomplishment is its cohesiveness even while traveling over so many doom terrains. Vocals range from burly, forceful bellows to tear-jerking soaring cleans, the guitars are at times sprightly, bright, and shimmering before plunging into cavernous, hulking eruptions of distortion, all of this frequently within a single track. The listening experience, as a result, is as exhilarating as it is emotionally affecting. Which, given the potency of the songwriting here, is truly saying something.
Fister – No Spirit Within
A band long overdue to get their fair share of the sludgy spotlight, Fister has returned with No Spirit Within, their most recent opus of malignant hate sludge. Much like their spiritual death metal counterparts Immolation, Fister may well be the most underappreciated band in their respective scene. Since their formation in 2009, the St. Louis trio have been reliably releasing some of the most consistent (and soul-witheringly nihilistic) blackened sludge at a pace that would make the crew in King Gizzard take notice. No Spirit Within is technically only the group’s fourth full length, but a plethora of splits, Eps, and live releases actually make it the band’s seventeenth (!) official release. No rest for the weary and, as it turns out, Fister is very, very weary.
No Spirit Within continues to develop Fister’s blend of scorched-earth, heavily down-tuned hatred-by-way-of blackened doom/sludge while also offering up enough unique developments to the sound to warrant the full-length release presentation. The album’s introductory track opens on some serious southwestern desert vibes before collapsing into “Disgraced Possession” with its more familiar shrieking atmospherics, bludgeoning percussion, and terrorizing vocal maelstrom courtesy of Kenny Snarzyk. “Cazador” and the title track both display some of the speediest work by Fister yet as long dormant elements of hardcore and even filthy thrash rear their galloping heads and forcefully butt up against the earth-swallowing heaviness on display all around them. Introducing these somewhat unfamiliar elements to their sound allows Fister to maximize the already sky-high tension levels of No Spirit Within and highlights the dichotomy of haunted sparseness vs. unrestrained fury they do so well.
If it’s not already obvious, this is unhinged stuff: hateful and nihilistic, music that takes no prisoners. Also, just like the offerings of their sonic counterparts, deeply cathartic and, at times, bruisingly beautiful. Even though they operate a bit too far under the radar for this author’s liking, Fister’s impact hasn’t gone unnoticed by their scene peers and it’s no wonder they’ve released splits with the likes of Primitive Man, Chrch, and Norska. If you aren’t previously unfamiliar, this release serves as a perfect introduction to Fister’s blend of hate sludge. For longtime fans, No Spirit Within confirms what we’ve known all along: Fister belong at the top of the filth pile.
Chrch – Light Will Consume Us All
Speaking of Fister splitmates, Chrch released their second full length of immense, intoxicating, impossibly weighty doom this month. Light Will Consume Us All picks up where 2015’s Unanswered Hymns left off, a massive tome of patient, long-form doom that prioritizes haunting ambiance and occult atmospherics while still retaining enough melodic elements and crunchy riffs to keep the doom heads nodding.
Light Will Consume Us All’s sheer magnitude is belied by its relatively spare track listing: three songs make up the entirety of the 45-minute runtime but all three are doozies in their own unique way. Album opener and ostensible artistic mission statement “Infinite Return” serves as the album’s anchor and displays nearly all of Chrch’s collective powers within one marathon 20-minute song. Broken into four distinct five-minute(ish) movements, “Infinite Return” begins with Eva Rose’s ghostly, ethereal vocals weaving in and out of her bandmate’s epic instrumental slow build. The song cascades into its next passage with slabs of monstrously down tuned guitars, churning drums, and Rose’s vocals becoming rawer and more scorched as the instrumentation mounts. The track’s retreat into near-silence around the halfway mark feels like the dangerous trap that it is: the respite is spring-loaded and soon explodes into the final furious passage that ratchets up both the volume and the melody. Soaring guitar leads and a titanic rhythm section underneath highlight the loud/soft, beauty/menace symbiosis that is Chrch’s expertise. This is an incredibly ambitious track expertly pulled off: Chrch are masters of slow building, hauntingly melodic yet still punishingly crushing doom and “Infinite Return” may well be their most accomplished single track yet.
What could have been a career-defining single is developed into a masterful full length by the next two tracks. “Portals” is a mid-paced roaring riff machine that finds the sweet spot between hypnotic drone territory and rollicking, crunchy amp-worshiping doom. Rose’s throaty contralto seems to inevitably invite comparisons to Dorthia Cottrell (which, it need hardly be said, is a high compliment) and the blackened wails courtesy of Chris Lemosadd a welcome wrinkle to the band’s sonic texture. Closing track “Aether” is the most concise and perhaps most immediately impactful song of the bunch. A mournful air is established from the opening chords and the glacial tempo, plaintive vocal delivery, and repetitive instrumentation lend to the overwhelming funereal feel of the track. Emotive in a way traditionally reserved for black metal, in “Aether” Chrch sounds broken yet somehow triumphant, haunted yet determined and resilient. And speaking of black metal, be sure to stick around for the track’s furious, affecting finale.
This is the real deal, folks. For newcomers, there is no better time to hop on board the Chrch train. For those of us who were happily caught off guard by Chrch’s debut, Light Will Consume Us All is an incredible step forward and full realization of the power and torment the band can muster. Doomers, do this.