A most thankful of all days, fellow Heaviest of Bloggers! May your Thanksgiving dinner be much like a stoner doom song: tasty, big, and seemingly unending! For my part, I have brought a smorgasbord of riffs, low tunings, bass beats, and slow tempos for the feast. Indeed, we will “wrap up” 2019 (more on that in a minute) with this great meal of fuzzy goodness.
While this won’t be the absolute final Doomsday post of new music this year, November does become that month where we all transition from talking about new media to focusing on the entirety of the year. Much to the chagrin of friend of the column Nick Cusworth, we neglect to involve December releases in these kinds of articles. There’s just not enough time to really digest those records, so they just kind of lose out. Though to be fair, I can’t think of a single time where a record came out in December and we all think, “Damn, we screwed up when we didn’t include Record X.” That being said, you can all look forward to a double dose of your main man next month to both (quickly) summarize the month of December and to deeply discuss the albums and trends of 2019 that we can look back on fondly and look forward to seeing more of in the future.
But that’s for next month. We’ve got a few records to go through first. To the riffs!
Year of the Cobra – Ash and Dust
There’s always something special about a duo. On the face of it, you’d think they were probably lacking in some way. But bands who do this right always find a way to not only fill up the space but really impress you while they’re doing it. That’s how I feel about Year of the Cobra and specifically about Ash and Dust. The bassy goodness really fills you up with its slow grooves and low-end hooks. It’s full of those aspects that make records really special to listeners.
The thing that gets me about this record is how this duo can make the layered music that they do. You really aren’t missing anything by not having a guitarist or a pianist or any other member in that vein. The pair is able to easily load up the space with pure sound and energy. They’re great at both slowed-down psychedelic doom and amped-up stoner rock. In some ways, only having 2 members is quite liberating as it lets them define what these sounds can be. If creativity is what’s borne out of limited resources, then Year of the Cobra is one of the most uniquely creative bands in 2019.
Any other way you slice it, this is an awesome record. There’s a unique approach to songwriting and song structure that takes advantage of their relative instrumental simplicity. Amy Tung’s vocals add the spooky mystery require of any doom record. Tung’s big synth bass riffs and Jon Barrysmith’s spaced out drum beats really build up the psychedelic doom. It combines for something any fan of the slow and low can get on board with and does it in a masterful way that you just want more and more music from the duo. Never stop what you’re doing, Year of the Cobra.
Have a Nice Life – Sea of Worry
Doom music isn’t always about big fuzzy riffs or the absolute slowest possible tempo. Sometimes, it’s really about translating an emotion of ennui and sorrow. Some bands embrace that idea more than others, and Have a Nice Life is just such a band. Even their name embraces the true sense of doom this kind of music can sometimes create. It’s about the heaviness of an emotion and the inevitable feeling of giving up. Embracing that feeling can take doom in a whole new direction.
Sea of Worry, the newest from the band, is all about the depressive feelings in life. The music ebbs and flows between seemingly upbeat tracks and percussive negativity. Each version of this sound delivers its own emotion and tone, conveying deep sadness or frustrated depression. Those may seem like 2 different ways to describe the same thing, but they really are quite different in subtle ways. A deeper set sadness has the feeling of hope that the narrator knows will be dashed in the end (“Science Beat”). Frustrated depression feels more like a constant repetition of dark thoughts embracing a similar feeling of inevitability (“Dracula Bells”). The true art is in the translation to the listener to interpret.
The more I listen to this record, the more I’m having a deeper understanding of what this kind of music can be. After an introductory listen, most Doomsday readers might question my thoughts in including it in the monthly column. Those who invest more time than a single playthrough might see why I would do such a thing. Doom is more than just a name for a subgenre; it’s a descriptor of a feeling you can have. We must be open-minded when considering this notion, and Have a Nice Life is a great band to do that. Sea of Worry is quite the eye-opener for anyone looking to embrace these other aspects.
(DOLCH) – Feuer
With the Have a Nice Life intro, it’s much less of a leap to discuss Germany’s (DOLCH). Their latest record, Feuer, definitely leans into Have a Nice Life’s side of depressive thoughts while staying well within recognizable territories of doom metal. The band gives its sound even more dark nuance with more industrial aspects that blacken everything they do. It’s a wall of sound approach that gives the industrial side of their sound a nice flavor and sets them apart.
While listening to Feuer the first time through, I was strongly reminded of Author & Punisher. There are these moments of heavily dark synths and overwhelming percussion. There’s also that similar drone over excessively echo-y refrains. It just adds to that sense of despair like the recording will inevitably haunt you forever. Each track on Feuer really sticks with you after the final notes drone off, both for the music and for the conveyed emotions.
Feuer sends this style of music in a new direction. As much as I love this subgenre, it can very frequently get a little stale and repetitive. That’s more a function of a seeming lack of creativity and originality from doom musicians who seek to be seen and known as doom guys instead of stylized musicians. (DOLCH) don’t seem particularly interested in being a part of some scene as much as they are interested in making their own music that can stand on its own two feet. Feuer is the culmination of that idea and is a truly unique expression of music and feeling.
Left Behind – No One Goes to Heaven
Now that we’ve taken a trip through the depressing and dour, let’s get back to some riffs and brutality with Left Behind. The punishing sludge band is back with No One Goes to Heaven and continues their combo of dirty metalcore and brutal hardcore-infused sludge that makes your eardrums their personal rage room. It slams; it breaks down; it riffs; and it all around gets the groovy metal parts of your brain turning.
Writing this now, I’m truly impressed by how hard these guys are willing to go. Sure, every metal band is perfectly fine with absolutely obliterating listeners with heavy sound, but this is something different entirely. Every single note is designed to be as hard as possible. Vocalist Zach Hatfield’s lyrics and delivery hit even harder, if that’s even possible. Who knew there was this kind of anger and fuzz living in the mountains of West Virginia? Makes sense though since this is about as coal black as you can get before you’re basically blackened.
The duality of their sound is equally engaging. One second, you think this is just a really dirty metalcore band. They’re as comfortable with a good breakdown as they are with sludgy riffing. The next minute, this is the hardest doom record you’ve ever heard. I suppose in a way that’s just the nature of sludge. Sludge is still a relatively young subgenre, so there’s still some development to do while it’s also being influenced by everything around them in a way. Left Behind is doing the best they can to forge their own path while also embracing newer thoughts in metal. I’d say it’s a damn fine job so far.
Avatarium – The Fire I Long For
Frequently when I think on just the phrase “doom metal,” my mind usually reverts to slower music that’s over the top big. Like it’s almost excessively cheesy but it doesn’t quite reach that level. If that’s true, then Avatarium might be the exemplar of all doom metal bands. And they damn well should be given their founding member Leif Edling also formed a little band called Candlemass back in the day. While he no longer performs with the band, he does contribute more than a little songwriting, but the rest of the heavy blues and progressive sensibilities belong to the five regular members.
Avatarium, and their newest record The Fire I Long For in particular, has created this occult witch rock version of doom metal. There’s the huge fuzzy riffs and a ton of bass accentuated by some slamming cymbals, but there’s also that signature songwriting style of witch rock bands that make everything very spooky without being scary per se. It becomes more than palatable for the vast majority of music consumers in a way that seems introductory to a lot of other underground sounds.
While the riffs and songwriting are all part of the show, singer Jennie-Ann Smith’s voice is what gives it its mystery. It’s very inviting and engaging but there’s such power behind her singing. No matter what she’s singing about, you’re drawn in to what’s she describing. While every part of this band and record is infinitely interesting, Smith’s voice is what keeps you with it. I’m glad that I’m hearing about this band just now as there’s quite a back catalog to churn through now.