I swear, I just can’t get enough of the outpouring of fantastic content from progressive doom and stoner these past few years. I think the secret of its appeal, for me at least, is that the genres seem to have woken up to the fact that the guitar-work is probably what made the greats of the genre great to begin with. When you look back at Cirith Ungol for example, or if you go back even further and tap Wishbone Ash as one of the progressive rock bands whose sound would later infect stoner metal, the diversity of the guitar is what really tied the whole thing together. We, of course, don’t mean that that’s the only thing that’s needed for a good progressive doom/stoner album but it might just be the one fact you can’t do without; if the guitars are just chugging along, they drag the whole album down.
Craneium is an excellent example of how you can make an album inside this aesthetic that’s not genre-defying or experimental but still manages to do a good job because it has great guitar playing and writing. Their latest album, The Narrow Line, keeps things on that front both varied and well made, delivering the backbone the album needs to be enjoyable. Take “I’m Your Demon” for example, the second track from the album. It has a great mix of groovy chords and heartfelt leads, justifying that Wishbone Ash reference we made above. Drawing on that kind of progressive rock vibe, the entire track benefits from this air of wanderlust and nostalgia that that genre did best. The interchanging roles between chords and leads also keep the track moving forward, making sure that its energy stays alive.
The vocals, with and without effects, feed into this effect by creating a large and moving companion to the chords when needed and filling in the blanks left by the “thinner” leads when that’s called for. So too the bass and drums, who paint the groove when the leads leave space for it and take a supporting role on choruses, when the guitars go big again. Elsewhere, this balance is tilted towards the more fully-fleshed guitar roles, creating the explosive “Redemption” for example; here, comparisons to band like Sahg and Witchcraft become useful as the stoner and doom elements of the mix and composition become more prominent. This is also true for the last track, “Man’s Ruin”, probably the grooviest track on the record and the most trippy, dipping fully into psychedelic rock and its tones.
When all of this comes together, both tracks more filled with penchant and longing and bigger, more “rock n’ roll” tracks, The Narrow Line emerges as an enjoyable and fully realized entity. Craneium have managed to form an identity and sound for themselves within the confines of a genre known for repetition not by breaking the mold and going insanely off-field but rather by giving their composition and execution some though and a whole lot of passion. The directions in which they take their tracks might not be surprising, but the degree to which they execute and deliver on those directions are more than enough to make this a fantastic addition to the torrents of stoner and doom metal that have washed over us these past few years. Blessed be the Maker and his waters; may his passing cleanse the world.