Let’s face it; the specter of Black Sabbath also has and always will haunt metal and rock n’ roll. I use “haunt” here in the full Deleuzian sense. To quote the great philosopher, “the time is out of joint”. What better example is there of this then the insistence of music to often not move forward, revisiting again and again points in time to which their relationship seems tenuous at best? Nonetheless, the results of such “haunting” can often be admirable and enjoyable to listen, provided that the “haunted” band meet the ghosts of the past with enough personality to make their trappings their own. With Black Sabbath, it seems as if Sweden is the place to go if you’d like to see what that means.
Bands like Witchcraft and Ghost seem to prove that point and, as famous bands often do, hint at a deeper underground from which their power stems. Such a more underground band is Alastor, only now releasing their debut full length album, Slave to the Grave, chock full of fuzzy riffs, occult imagery, and an overall dedication to the Black Sabbath sound that’s surely admirable for its fidelity to the source material, if nothing else. However, gladly, there’s much more at play here than just imitation. Slave to the Grave is a fun little album, fully cognizant of the breadth of its ambition and the genre in which it plays. It won’t scorch your ears with originality but there’s a lot of personality on it which ends up carrying the day.
That personality can already be seen in droves on the opening track, “Your Lives Are Worthless”. Beyond the swagger on the main riff, a riff which returns for a classically slower outro at the very end, the vocals are the greatest source of pleasure here. They are both powerful and well written, interacting in interesting ways with the rest of the instruments. The lyrics don’t hurt either, setting the stage for the kind of irreverent rock n’ roll perspective that works so well with this style of music with lines like: “If God could cry, we all would drown”. Their timbre is what you would expect from the style but that’s not necessarily a bad thing; there’s a reason that kind of tremble-y sound works so well with fuzzed out guitars and drawn out solos.
There are plenty of those on the album by the way and they kick ass. Like the rest of Slave to the Grave, they won’t be doing anything too unexpected but they’ll be doing all of that very well; their tone is crisp and present, drawing on the sound of yore but with all the advantages of modern production and recording. In general, that’s another strong suite of the album: it sounds like it was written in the 60’s but recorded in 2018, which is a great combo. The bass and drums are redolent and present in the mix, creating a thick screen over which the shimmering guitars can express themselves to the fullest extent. This might end up being the largest selling point of this album: do you want to hear occult rock (with just a smattering of doom metal) done in the tried and true style but given the love, attention, and craft of modern production? Then Slaves to the Grave is the album for you in 2018.
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Slave to the Grave sees release on October 31st via Riding Easy Records (an apt name if there ever was one). Head on over to the Bandcamp link above to pre-order it.