Welcome to November to all ye doomy and gloomy who enter here. Since Pete was out of the Doomsday office doing important shit like, oh, I don’t know, promoting democracy in the states by making sure people were voting. As he said back in February, “The more folks who make their voices heard, the better our country is and the harder we all work to compromise and get along.” So, you’re stuck with me for this month’s debriefing (don’t worry, I’ll keep this very short and simple).
If you’re stateside, I (and I’m sure Pete along with everyone else here at Heavy Blog as well) would simply like to thank you for voting. WE. FLUSHED. THAT. ORANGE. TURD. This doesn’t immediately solve anything or change our fortunes, but it’s the first of many steps we all need to take to make real improvements in this world. As the year winds down and everyone has become fatigued with, well, just about everything (dang, 2020, you suck), it’s important that we stay motivated, active, and driven.
Now that we’re securely amidst doom and gloom season, this will no doubt become more difficult for us all. So, I ask that you practice self-care. Go for a hike. Send a postcard to a loved one. Try a new recipe. Adopt a pet. Whatever you do, keep that ember glowing, as we have a long way to go. If you need to drown out the sound of this crazy world we’re living in… we suggest starting with these choice cuts.
Empress – Premonition
Given the rangy nature of their latest, Premonition, Vancouver’s Empress could very well find themselves just about anywhere in this month’s missive. I’m consistently intrigued by how this trio bounds between styles and pulls from so many disparate wells of inspiration without the hodgepodgerie often associated with trying to do too much. “A Pale Wanderer” sets the stage with a spacious post-rock jaunt that is curiously tinged with Mastodonian prog-sludge, but it’s not until follow up “Sepulchre” hits do these inklings begin to blossom into something much more direct than the opener would lead you to believe, approaching an almost Red Fang rock-type hook that’s pleasantly invigorating and hints at the riffage to follow.
The prog-sludge is but a mere starting point for Empress, a foundation on which the other colors of their sound are free and fleeting. Tracks like “Hiraeth” and “Lion’s Blood” are tomes that will satisfy those with a Neurosis or YOB itch, but the adjuncts in these tracks lend a phantasmal air to them, bridging them to diverging styles found on Premonition’s other songs. For example, “Passage” opens with an unmistakably Elder-like glimmer but yields to crunchy stoner rock in bouts that shouldn’t really work, but just feel so right. “Trost,” on the other hand, works their proggy angle with jammy passages that resonate with the psychedelic beats hit elsewhere on the record. They do a hell of a job tackling a wide variety of sounds while keeping a cohesive, focused vision.
Premonition escapes easy classification as Empress often operate on the fringes of these genres rather than hammering away with their conventional features. It keeps the record sounding fresh and gives listeners some interesting dots to connect and juxtapositions to reconcile. The breadth of styles and emotions can make this one a hurdle initially, but once you begin to jibe with the strings that tie these elements together, Premonition is certain to ensnare you in it’s web.
Pallbearer – Forgotten Days
There are few bands in the doom metal world that have had as outsized an impact as Pallbearer. Since the release of their utterly spellbinding, thoroughly depressing debut record back in 2012, the doom community has waited with bated breath for each new release from the band to unfurl its monolithic wings. The band’s fourth full-length record, Forgotten Days, graces an abysmal year with more than enough quality songwriting and heavy duty riffage to placate those who’ve awaited the return of the band’s heaviest side. It’s a real treat, gang.
Let’s start off by detailing what this album is not. Mainly, a retread of the band’s most controversial release, Heartless. Where that album dove headlong into the most progressive elements of the doom metal sound, Forgotten Days feels more in line with some of the band’s earlier work in regards to songwriting structure. The record’s title track is proof of this, opening the record with a monolithic assault of riffs that are reminiscent of grueling passages from Foundations of Burden. Subsequent track “Riverbed” follows a similar trajectory, offering heavy and propulsive drum work wrapped around melodic and melancholy riffs. If you were looking for another definitive step in a more progressive direction, Forgotten Days may disappoint. But that isn’t to say that there aren’t vestiges of Heartless’ achingly beautiful prog rock musings present here. “Silver Wings” and “Rite of Passage” contain echoes of the band’s previous outing, lacing titanic riffs with some adventurous sonic directions. Overall, it’s a culmination of the band’s work to date, with a few new and juicy tidbits thrown in, and that’s perfectly alright by me.
If you have enjoyed any release in Pallbearer’s storied career, there’s something for you in Forgotten Days. Destined to eventually be the band’s most divisive release, it cements the band’s reputation among the best in the genre, while reaffirming to their longtime fans that they have in no way forgotten how to rock, pummel, and punish in the midst of the beautiful sadness they create. A fantastic release that I highly recommend.
Spirit Adrift – Enlightened In Eternity
The rise of Spirit Adrift is most fortunate for any red-blooded metalhead (i.e. you …probably). I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to say that in their brief lifespan, they’ve put together one of the best discographies in modern metal (not to mention, at a nearly an album-a-year clip). Nate Garrett (guitars, vocals, bass) and Marcus Bryant (drums) have steadily built upon the doomy foundation laid on 2016’s debut Chained to Oblivion, and with subsequent releases, they’ve shifted gears toward a more traditional heavy metal sound with 80s sensibilities and stadium-filling anthems of heavy metal’s heyday. With Enlightened In Eternity, they’re all in, smashing the gas and whippin’ some cheerios in a dirty-ass Firebird.
The skinny is that this duo really seem to have cracked the code on this facet of their sound by keeping things energetic, empowering, and uplifting. In doing so, Enlightened In Eternity plays like a heavy metal greatest hits that pulls from all eras. You’ll hear echoes of Iron Maiden in “Astral Levitation,” a Pantera-esque groove tucked into “Cosmic Conquest,” some wafts of Metallica on “Stronger Than Your Pain,” and some seedlings of classic Ozzy, Judas Priest, and Trouble sprouting up time and time again. There is a hard rock backbone that keeps this record brimming with possibility and malleable in ways that they haven’t been before. It’s not as plainly “doom” or “trad” as previous iterations have been, but rather something a little more modernized and hybridized in ways that assure it’s timelessness.
You know there have been TONS of great heavy metal released this year, and Enlightened In Eternity is no exception other than how exceptional this record is. It’s a celebration of metal’s history that isn’t stuck reminiscing about the good ol’ days, but instead seeks to recreate those feelings for a new generation of listeners. It’s the iconic raised fist in album form. If you’ve somehow missed out or glossed over this one, make a quick fix for your own sake.
Hexer – Realm Of The Feathered Serpent
This German three piece’s take on blackened doom caught my ear in a way that others in this specific subgenre rarely do. Hexer has a goddamn deathgrip on this meditative, cosmic kind of atmosphere that’s incredibly (and peculiarly) comforting, but also soul-crushingly heavy. I absolutely love the dialed back attack of the guitars, these cleaner tones nicely match the softer, ethereal influences of the synths and warm, low drone tones. Without a dedicated bass player, the guitars and synths do a wonderful job of filling the low-end needs with an abundance of layers that make the slower, robust moments weighty (oft with a booming stoner bend a la High On Fire) and the spacy moments sublime. There’s also a unique bit of almost dulcimer-like ring that bridges to the blackened moments in ways that will make Botanist fans feel right at home (dig “Jaguar Knight” or “Celestial War Command”).
Moreover, Realm Of The Feathered Serpent is an evocative journey with a winding sonic narrative that hits drastic highs and lows. It’s just an adventure, dude. Though Hexer really knows how to set the atmosphere, they don’t fuck around when it comes to delivering some brain-sloshing riffage and turbulent rhythms, either. “Ethereal Blitz” takes thundering war drums and ebbs and flows them with labored riffing into something nearly suited for a Giant Squid record. The tremolos around the 5:00 mark of “River Of Blood” are loaded with pangs of strain and exhaustion that are enough to kick you right in the feelings, while the aggressive fevers of blasts on “Typhon” catch the group at their most temperamental and incensed. I hadn’t been hip to these guys from their prior releases, but this is a name I won’t be forgetting anytime soon. Realm… is a thoroughly impressive and complete listen, here’s to hoping for a vinyl release in the near future.
Fuzz – III
Fuzz. The name says it all …well, sort of. Ty Segall’s stoner rock project is as straightforward as you could probably expect, and there’s beauty in this simplicity. Fuzz isn’t trying to be anything radical or new, so what’s here is pure: abso-fucking-lutely born-to-be-played-loud hard rock. With Steve Albini behind the boards to make the most of it, III is as close as most of us will ever get to having our eyebrows blasted off via soundwaves, and lemme tell ya, you’re gonna need some tape or something to get those suckers back on because you’ll look like a weirdo mannequin without ‘em.
Of course there’s flecks of garage rock and glam that sparkle through every once in a while, but what drives Fuzz is a no-nonsense penchant for ass kickin’ guitar-driven rock ‘n’ roll. There’s attitude, cool factor, and bingeable hooks galore across III, making it really, really hard not to press play as it closes with a reprise of the albums’ opening ear-turning riff. “Nothing People” is nothing if not a perfectly Stooges-ified version of “War Pigs.” “Spit” and “Close Your Eyes” have that Queens of the Stone Age give-no-shits swagger, but Fuzz’s livewire energy propels them beyond the stoner rock standard, where “Blind to Vines” sees a retro-tinged psych rock number get doused by a Thin Lizzy rock vibe and punky, noisey enthusiasm. The premise is simple: press play, turn it up to an unreasonable volume, and enjoy.
Thou and Emma Ruth Rundle – May Our Chambers Be Full
Louisiana sludge masters Thou are nothing if not enigmatic. Their full-length efforts, spanning nearly two decades of material at this juncture, are monolithic and arguably classic manifestations of the most philosophical and heavy corners of the sludge and doom metal worlds, rivaling the work of bands like Eyehategod when it comes to all-time sludge supremacy. But what separates Thou from the rest of the pack is their willingness to experiment with and expand their sound in whiplash-inducing ways. Their collaborative releases with The Body, Black September, Leech, Moloch, Hell, and literal host of others has shown the band stretching musical muscles that most sludge bands don’t even know they have, while their work in cover songs has netted them both delighted praise and a decent amount of scoffing. Thou are one of metal’s most adventurous and open-minded bands, and their latest collaborative project with Emma Ruth Rundle does nothing to tarnish this reputation.
While I am particularly fond of the band’s truly monumental collaboration with The Body, after giving May Our Chambers Be Full a few intent listens I might say I like it even more. Rundle’s vocals add a dark folk, gothic rock tinge to the band’s sludge assault that fits like a rotting, well-worn glove. The vacillation between clean and harsh vocals on “Out of Existence” is otherworldly good, allowing both artists to highlight their particular skill sets without ever overwhelming one another. The symbiotic songwriting here is truly impressive, with nary a moment that feels disjointed or ill-advised. There is clearly a deep understanding of the core of one another’s sound, which makes for a universally consistent and compelling listening experience. “Ancestral Recall” is among the best tracks that either entity has written, and is a shining example of what makes this partnership work so well.
I don’t have anything negative to say about May Our Chambers Be Full. It’s a wonderful, intense, inventive record that combines the powers of two very different artistic bodies into something that feels cohesive, natural, and constantly interesting. That’s a feat in and of itself, but when the listening experience is this easy it’s not hard to turn off the analytical side of your brain and just sink into a beautiful oblivion. Strongly recommended.