A thousand warmest greetings unto thee, Heaviest of Heavy Bloggers! I hope everyone is continuing to stay safe and sane during this mega weird ass time and despite the allure of the warming weather outside. Yes, I know this column is supposed to be about the soundtrack of doom and gloom, but I will readily admit that I enjoy a nice sunny day walk in my neighborhood and the occasional jaunt through the wilderness. I’m going to get on a quick soapbox here and say PLEASE BE SAFE, KEEP SOCIAL DISTANCE, LISTEN TO YOUR LOCAL ELECTED OFFICIALS, AND WEAR A GODDAMNED MASK. While I work in politics, typically at the state or federal level, I’m becoming more and more convinced that local leaders are the real leaders during this time. Please listen to their advice, encourage your neighbors and friends to do the same, and remember that for the foreseeable future, we really are all safer at home. And the next asshole I see openly ignoring signs and warnings is getting my boot up his ass (I have absolutely no illusions that it will definitely be a straight white man. We really are the worst sometimes.)
This time is not about losing some undefinable civil liberty. Just like you don’t have the right to shout “Fire” in a crowded theater, you also don’t have the right to flaunt the warnings of local leaders, scientists, and medical professionals. No, you’re not losing your freedom of speech just because you refused to wear a mask to Costco and got kicked out. Costco has the right to give your dumb ass the boot for not wearing a mask just like most people in the US have the right to shoot somebody for trespassing in their home. I personally don’t have any immune-compromised people or individuals in certain age brackets living at my house, but I wear a mask because other people do. If we learn nothing else from all this, I hope some of us learn/remember that we aren’t as isolated and ruggedly individual as a society as some of us want and hope.
Besides, if you’re one of those self-righteous dipshits going around talking about individual liberties, there is a less than zero percent chance you could even come up with a remotely salient argument in favor of not wearing a mask. Rant over.
Sorry, had to get that out of my system and Doomsday is my platform. But this is a music column, so let’s get back to that. As I’ve said for a few years running, spring into summer is a weird time for doom metal. The conflict between the increasingly inviting weather outside and the general aura of doom metal makes it really difficult to be in the mood for it. At the same time, spring into summer is a great time for music releases. In a normal time, this would be getting everybody hyped up for the summer concert season. While we won’t get any of those concerts this year, I’m still comforted by the fact that this continues to be an awesome time for record releases. With that, let’s get to some R I F F S.
Mountaineer – Bloodletting
Sometimes when I’m writing Doomsday, I feel like I adopt Bill Hader’s Stefon character. “This record’s got everything: witchy female vocals, fuzzy riffs from the underworld, and the inescapable feeling that Danny DeVito is either the savior of the universe or like a really lazy Antichrist.” Or whatever it is. To be honest, I have a catalog in my head of subgenre hallmarks and just want to hear them in certain combinations. So now I have to speak of the post-metal/doomgaze sextet Mountaineer and their brilliant new record, Bloodletting.
I still have to say it despite the self-deprecation above. This record’s got everything: emotional weight, guitars that sail straight to your unconscious, mature songwriting, and the ability to awaken everyone’s inner aggro-emo kid. Clearly the thing to note on Bloodletting is the emotional weight of it all. The tracks are very intricately written and constructed in order to maximize the mental heaviness of the music. Carefully arranged guitar parts blend together to create a deep connection with the listener. I wish I could speak to the lyrical content of the songs, but despite not having a reference guide I was still able to conjure my own images based solely upon the music and songwriting.
While songwriting and construction is the heart of Bloodletting, I would be extremely remiss to not mention the guitars on this record. The record wouldn’t have the weight it does if it wasn’t for delicately created guitar parts and tones. The slow-going of the guitar-driven tracks gives the guitars space and time to play with, often weaving in together with very different but complimentary parts. The arranging of the songs helps let the emotional weight of the songs land. It’s a beautiful record from a band still in its infancy. Y’all need to check this out ASAP.
King Witch – Body of Light
When our heads aren’t in the clouds and hearing the “lighter” side of doom metal, we ALL want and need something with some pace. We need something with drive and drama. Music that gets the blood pumping and your focus narrowed. Gimme riffs, gimme pipes, and gimme a beat. And thankfully, we have Scotland’s King Witch to bring us the aggression we sometimes crave. Their latest, Body of Light, brings out all the little details of doom and sludge that we all really need sometimes.
The really cool thing about Body of Light is how it’s kind of like history book of heavy metal, doom, and sludge. It presents itself as like a connection between the old and the new. Guitarist Jamie Gilchrist comes up with some monumental riffs and blurring solo lines and licks that sound like very modern examples of doom and sludge hallmarks, but they also combine very well with vocalist Laura Donnelly’s high-flying vocal style. It’s interesting just because of how well the amalgamation works. Neither thing overpowers the other opting to instead compliment each other to create something new that isn’t just recycling the same tropes over and over again.
The record opener, “Body of Light,” sets your expectations of the rest of the record quite high. The slow fade-in of the instrument tracks leading into a huge dramatic lines of high metal melody and leading in to a very modern sludge chug. When Donnelly’s vocals kick in, you’ll start wondering whether it’s 2020 or 1980. What makes it better is just how well done and tactful the vocals are. They’re not showy for the sake of it. They blend with the song and create a unique style that few could replicate. So it sounds extremely natural to the point where you wonder why everybody doesn’t do it this way. If you need some sludge with a flair for the dramatic, I strongly recommend Body of Light.
Paradise Lost – Obsidian
I am always extremely supportive of artistic experimentation. It doesn’t matter how great the outcome is or isn’t. Even if it’s totally strange and out of left field, I will always be the first to applaud and encourage such behavior. In the moment of its release, an experimental album doesn’t usually get the acclaim it might deserve. But in retrospect of an artist’s career, they always seem like fresh air even if it ain’t great. While Paradise Lost’s most recent isn’t exactly a wild and crazy lark, Obsidian does represent a subtle change in their sound that makes them artists willing to try new things.
Though the gothic doom band has experimented with some different sounds before, they haven’t committed to a change as fully as they have on Obsidian. This version of the band sees them in a much more traditional doom sound, keeping the BPMs on the slow side and letting their music have a much harsher and harder edge to it than in previous outings. The gothic overtones are gone as a front-facing unit and are reserved for slight flairs here and there, like chorused chords on “Ghosts” or the short organ interlude on “The Devil Embraced”. The subtle change suits them extremely well. If you haven’t checked in on the band in a while, it’s definitely time you should.
In the Company of Serpents – Lux
Do you ever have one of those bands that you just never know what to expect? Every listen is a complete and utter surprise. Even if you’ve listened to it a hundred times, you’re still surprised. That is precisely how I feel about In the Company of Serpents. For absolutely no reason whatsoever and despite the fact that I know and listen to this band, I am always expecting blackened death metal. It just has that imagery to me. And when I started Lux for the first time, for no reason I expected it again. I am very glad I was wrong, and boy, was I ever wrong about a band and a record.
Putting aside my irrational and nonsensical expectation of this band, I am absolutely in love with this sound. The best way I can think of to describe them is if Queens of the Stone Age got into sludge metal at the same time as poetry, theology, philosophy, and maybe also some ancient alchemy. There is a lot to unpack on Lux just like their previous records, but this somehow seems a bit more accessible. The riffs are a little off-kilter, giving sludge metal a sort of quirky quality which may be the only time ever one could describe underground metal as quirky. Quirky isn’t even the best word as it is more of a blue-collar noir soundtrack.
The conflicting themes and riffs are what make this record so absolutely fascinating and compelling. The mystery is in your mind of simply trying to figure out how these ideas all work together. How are “The Fool’s Journey,” “Scales of Maat,” and “The Chasm at the Mouth of the All” on the same record? And why do I now think it would be weird if they weren’t? So many questions, but no answer is really relevant to how much you’ll love Lux. I know what’s going on my end of the year list already!
So last week, there were several really good releases I wanted to highlight for y’all. They’re pretty fun listens and are definitely worth your time if you’re into very particular stuff. Enjoy!