Greetings, heaviest of Heavy Bloggers! It’s that time of the month once again where we delve into the deepest of fuzzy riffs and slowest of bangers. I have to admit, I both love and hate this time of year when it comes to music. Everyone rushes to get their records out before Thanksgiving and the month of December tends to be the slow time where the only records that come out are Christmas/holiday albums. However, it’s also that time of year when everyone puts out their best of the year lists and we all get to review the past year’s top tracks before the next year rolls around. So next month will be a little different as we will be discussing the doomiest of records and fuzziest of trends.
But not this month! We’ve still got some really epic records to talk about now. Fall really is the best time for doom. The chill outside begins to cut through your bones, the sun goes down before you get off work, and the trees have that spooky bare look as they begin to rest before the rebirth of spring. Perfect time for extremely loud drone riffs to remind you of the inevitable suffering of all things! Even our good friend Scott Murphy agrees! November’s in the books now, so let’s take a look at what we were given this month.
Evoken – Hypnagogia
While some bands’ album-to-album gaps can be excruciating, each of Evoken‘s recent funeral doom monoliths has warranted extensive dissection. The genre legends proved that when they celebrated their 20-year anniversary with Atra Mors (2012), yet another expansive, textured monolith of funeral doom excellence. Six years later, the band have returned with a slightly updated formula on the equally excellent Hypnagogia. It’s an hour-plus affair accented with precise, subtle details that make for one of the strongest doom efforts of the year.
If I may, I’d like to ruminate on the word “hypnagogic” for a moment. The term describes the psychological state immediately before falling asleep, and it’s a perfect encapsulation of funeral doom’s core ethos. The ethereal yet crushing atmospheres of the style pull from a concoction of blackened death doom and a keen focus on mood, expression and pace. All of this leads to the cusp of a dream-like state; this isn’t doomgaze or post-metal, but even still, there’s a sense of mysticism and majesty at play that conjures dreary daydreams. Yet, the core grit and pummeling heaviness of funeral doom make it a highly tangible, physical style of music. The dichotomy is a perfect sonic representation of having both feet planted firmly but separately in the worlds of consciousness and imagination.
Evoken understand this perfectly on the aptly-titled Hypnagogia. From perfectly arranged strings to perfectly placed synths and keys, the band knows exactly how to strike the balance between minor flourishes and that crushing doom that helped propel them to the pantheon of the genre. The use of what sound like cello and viola, in particular, are particularly potent. They add to the depth of the tracks they appear on and make for a layered listening experience that’s never devoid of action and intrigue. Metal bands don’t always add orchestration effectively, but here, it’s used with a perfect ratio to the flattening doom at hand. Just listen to “Too Feign Ebullience,” where strings weave effortlessly amid the murk and thunder before providing a gorgeous, somber outro to cap off the proceedings.
Another key aspect of Hypnagogia‘s success is its pacing and structure. Newcomers to funeral doom will think that the genre is dominated by overwhelming length and magnitude, what with modern torchbearers like Bell Witch and Lycus crafting increasingly ambitious epics with every release. But pioneers like Thergothon laid the foundation of the genre with the classic Streams from Heaven, which was structured like a normal doom release and accomplished much with a moderate framework. In the same way, Evoken never overstay their welcome with any of the tracks on Hypnagogia. The title track and “Hypnopompic” offer brief moments of respite, but each of the main, substantive songs are so impressively composed and airtight that there’s nary a lapse in engagement.
As much as we love praising young, upcoming acts, veterans are still more than capable of earning well-deserved praise around these parts. Hypnagogia is a shining example of a band well-within their prime, and hopefully, after their next five-plus year hiatus, we’ll receive yet another triumphant creation from their capable hands.
OHHMS – Exist
It’s nice that post-doom bands are getting a fair shake. If any kind of band is ready for the spacier vibes of post-rock stylings, it would be a doom band. OHHMS fits the bill indeed. They create a very sludgy version of post-doom that speaks to a lot of what folks might want from an amalgam of such various influences. They can scream and shout as much as any hardcore influenced band could and do it at a slower pace that makes you wonder how they could muster such intense aggression. At the same time, they have the songwriting chops that requires a lot more space than your average 1:30-3 minute hardcore sludge track. They have to breathe a little.
Two tracks to point out: the extended journey of an intro track “Subjects” and the relatively quick sludgy doom track “Calves”. “Subjects” is the standout lengthwise and spans the breadth of the band’s abilities. It’s a slow burner of thoughts and music, both plodding and bombastic. By the end of “Subjects,” you really should be an entirely different person.
“Calves,” on the other hand, is a much more direct song. Or it’s at least as direct as a song could be where the shortest track on the album is still over 6 minutes long. Whereas “Subjects” had more fast-paced and aggressive sections, “Calves” is much more about a slow and cerebral build up to a big payoff. Still, they infuse the doomier sections of their album with enough attitude to make you ask who turned down the speed on this hardcore band.
Vouna – Vouna
Blackened doom is such a unique thing in metal to me. Ostensibly you’re slamming together two subgenres that require differences in both tone and atmosphere. Black metal requires a sense of impending evil and dread combined with very tinny and treble-heavy guitars while doom needs a lot of space and bass to breathe and create a more dour environment. Vouna picks and chooses what they want for their self-titled debut on Wolves in the Throne Room’s Artemisia Records.
On top of combining fairly disparate climates, Vouna also invokes some folk elements via strategic use of acoustic instruments. There is something about the subtle echo of plucked acoustic strings that make things seem ominous. It’s all over Vouna in order to continue building up their atmosphere. The more stunning aspect is that Vouna is a solo project from Yianna Bekris. On top of some serious musical chops, she has an absolutely haunting voice that might only be capable of singing songs of defeat, loss, and abject failure. I’m not even going to name a standout track. They’re all standouts since the standout thing about this album is just how incredibly put together it is both in terms of sound and themes. If you’ve got wide-ranging tastes outside of doom (I won’t hold it against you), get on this post-haste.
Ursa – Abyss Between the Stars
Maybe there’s some mindless self-indulgence in metal sometimes, but that’s alright! Metal is about sounding huge, indulging in some sensory overload, and sounding super badass as heck. Bless you, Ursa, for allowing us to enjoy big fuzzy heavy metal riffs mixed in with some fantasy. Heavy metal has always had a fascination with fantasy themes, and Ursa really leans into those images on Abyss Between the Stars. They also make the stories they create sound huge and epic with tons of fuzz on their guitars, copious amounts of bass, and enough reverb and echo to drown a hobbit.
Boy, do these guys bring the doom, too. You hear that word and you have to think there should be some atmosphere to bring with it. We all know that black metal is almost exclusively about creating an atmosphere of evil, but you can do it with doom, too. These stories Ursa creates on this record feel very nihilistic and pointless, as if fighting against the evil they create is an inevitable march to failure. But they do it in such a bombastic, riffy way that it doesn’t feel quite so oppressive. It’s doom and gloom, sure, but it’s also super fun! It hits those nostalgic parts of your brain that call back to your (my) days of reading fantasy novels without feeling toxic at all. Plus, no one can deny that they wouldn’t love to shout “ALL HAIL THE MOUNTAIN DRAGON” at the top of their lungs. That just goes without saying. Anyway, this is an awesome record. GET IT.
The Wall Redux
Sure, Pink Floyd might not seem like the most metal thing in the world, any fan worth their weight will tell you that the band was the genesis for a lot of ideas we now regularly use in metal, especially in doom. Floyd taught us you don’t have to be tearing down the walls with fast-paced songs and soaring vocals, though it’s fine to do that. You can slow things down and be just as memorable. You can cover everything in a fine echo that makes your song sound bigger, and it’s alright to rely on studio effects to make your album great.
But how do you summarize the sound of an album featuring multiple artists? I wouldn’t. It’s more about how the album changes as a result of all these folks being included. Redux Records has done this sort of thing before, so they know what they’re doing when it comes to a cover album and play to artists’ strengths. For instance, The Melvins help kick off the album with “In the Flesh?” which is a song that requires big guitars with lots of bass but also has a lot of Melvin kitsch to it. Spaceslug performs “Don’t Leave Me Now,” a song that requires a lot of psychedelic sadness and melancholy that only Spaceslug can do.
The real standout, though, is Pallbearer’s rendition of “Run Like Hell.” For a Pink Floyd track, it’s a real banger. Pallbearer takes that skeleton of a classic rock song and hones in on what makes a great classic rock song. There’s far more percussion and heft to Pallbearer’s version of the Pink Floyd classic as the band decided to pick up the pace a little and make it seem as though the song is a much faster burner of a track. This version also has a lot more bass to it so it seems even more imposing than the original. This track, along with pretty much all the others, proves that you’re not really an informed listener of doom until you’ve really grasped Pink Floyd.