Season’s greetings unto thee, O Heaviest of all Bloggers! I have returned once again from campaign season to bring riffs and fuzz unto thee!
It’s closing in on the end of the year, and this is the time that the heavy hitters get their content out. It’s a great way to end what has been a most miserable, stressful, and depressing year. I hope all of you have done what you can to maintain your grounding in reality. With the holiday season in full swing, I know I’m having a tough time feeling festive or excited. But I’m doing my best to try to give myself a break where possible, like stuffing my gaping maw with as much food as possible on very specific days. We’ll all have to be safe and distant from each other for a bit longer which certainly affects many people’s holidays. I know my mother gave me the business when my wife and I said we weren’t traveling for the holidays. I’m definitely not happy that I was right about another prolonged spike in infections, but I am at least grateful that, in the words of a US public health expert, I’ll be celebrating a distant holiday season instead of an ICU Christmas. Please everybody, stay safe and distant out there. We know we have multiple vaccines on the way, and it feels like a light at the end of the tunnel. Stay distant, wear a mask, and we’ll all be together again soon.
However, y’all came for riffs and not my soapbox. This month brought the heat with some straight bangers and some contemplative doom. Our recurring guest star Eden has even joined in this month to add in his two cents on this month with a particularly intriguing and possibly indescribable sound. Guess you’ll just have to read the rest of the post to find out! Let’s get some riffs already!
Ilsa – Preyer
BLAM! Start us off with a bang, Ilsa. The DC sludge/death-doom band returns from 2018’s delightful Corpse Fortress with Preyer. While the new record is clearly an Ilsa record, there are some new aspects of their sound that make this new release the best yet in their career. It keeps a lot of the old hallmarks of their brutally pummeling sludge sound while adding in several different little flairs here and there to make it more than “just another sludge band record.”
While Preyer still has the patented pounding sludge sound, Ilsa has used the studio like a good tool to add little dramatic flairs here and there. Melodic licks throughout tracks like “Poor Devil” and “Moonflower” show the band isn’t tied down to any established sound. All of these little things are what Ilsa has been missing out on. I’ve personally love their records and sound, but musicians need to do little extra things to separate themselves from the pack. I think Ilsa has achieved that with Preyer.
Apart from that very noticeable and needed addition to what they do, Preyer is more of the jarring heaviness and riffs from Ilsa. If you wanted more of that deafening power, then you’re very much in luck! There’s great example of their more plodding riffs like “Scavengers” along with the more punk and hardcore influenced sludge in songs like “Shibboleth,” “Behind the Veil,” and the title track. Not enough punishing sludge records come out generally (with the gigantic exception of bands like Primitive Man), and this is a fun sound that still has a lot of growth potential. Keep up the good work, Ilsa
Eternal Champion – Ravening Iron
The hype is real. Ravening Iron is the new standard every epic metal band seeks to achieve. It’s an alloy of the finest aspects of its influences. It’s everything you want from the steely Texans: triumphant, passionate, and unforgiving. Eternal Champion may have thrown some for a loop with their dungeon synth TERMINUS EST EP from earlier this year, but Ravening Iron is hard proof that the vertebrae-eroding riffs, fire breathing solos, and vocal gales aren’t going away anytime soon (thank goodness).
Improved production has the group sounding bigger and better than ever. The vocals are crisp and gleaming, the drum sound is a massive step up from The Armor of Ire’s “giant warehouse” aesthetics, and the guitars are bigger, tighter, and punchier – it’s like these guys got the Metallica/Bob Rock treatment (without all the, y’know… shit) for a classic Manilla Road album. Ravening Iron plays like a love letter to everything heavy metal, and for that alone you should give it a spin. Marching mid-tempo anthems (“A Face in the Glare,” “Skullseeker,” “Banners of Arhai”) clash with deft and dexterous power- and thrash-tinged trad metal (“Ravening Iron,” “Worms of the Earth”); it’s adrenaline-pumping, goosebump-inducing, and evocative. The leads are always fucking lit, the riffs are creative and addicting, unleashed with a mechanical (but not soulless) efficiency.
As if that wasn’t enough, Jason Tarpey’s vocals are better than ever, and he wields his hooks with an improved confidence. Ravening Iron is about as catchy a metal album as one can imagine, and he surmounts the near-impossible task of upping the ante of the instrumentation’s destined-for-metal-immortality foundation. The songwriting alone hits Black Album-levels of power and catchiness, but Tarpey makes it so nearly every track compels you to wail along. (After only a couple days of listening, I was blindsided by my wife singing “In the glare of my steel / I see the face of a god!” Like, WHAT?!).
So yeah, it’s incredibly memorable, but more importantly, it’s ridiculously consistent and fun. Nobody has business stacking so much exquisite classic heavy metal together like this, but here we are. Is it kinda corny? Sure, but it’s a fucking heavy metal album, get over yourself. Flip it on and fucking ride this tiger.
Völur – Death Cult
There’s a holy grail in the world of doom and unlike the fabled chalice, it doesn’t take ages to explain what it is. It’s simple, really: good doom metal with violins. There’s just something so satisfying about the mournful notes of a stringed instrument fluttering above the stolid and earthen tones of a fuzzy guitar that just get the heart going. Unfortunately, this holy grail is just as rare as the storied receptacle of Christ’s blood because of that problematic adjective at its start: good. Many doom bands make the mistake that violin, or the incorporation of any “non-standard” instruments really, can turn what is otherwise mediocre music into the pinnacle of human art. This is not the case; first, you must have solid music and then you can try and add in Ingredient X.
For Völur though, this is absolutely no problem. On their third release, Death Cult, the trio prove that they belong up there with the greats of the current movement in doom, a movement more wholly embracing of folk, jazz, and avant-garde elements into their music. As if anyone still had any doubt? The band’s debut effort, Veiled City, is as storied in the relevant circles as Perceval’s quest for the cup. But Death Cult cements the promise of their previous releases by more deeply delving a groovy, monstrous sound for their doom metal.
Just listen to the opening track, “Inviolate Grove”, to see what I’m talking about here. The main riff that surrounds the track’s core like so much smoke rising in the wind has enchanting lilt that’s hard to resist. This groove is further articulated by the aforementioned violin, weaving in and out of the guitar’s composition to augment it here, counterpoint it there and, in general, further elucidate its ideas. The drums appear to, at first, play a simple support role but as the track works itself up to the fervor of its middle passage, the drums assert their own presence. Their clever us during the climax of that build up (which crashes, finally, upon the cliffs of the track’s harsh vocals) and the long road down from it, is nothing short of brilliant.
The entire album contains these progressions, compositions winding around themselves in a progressive, enchanting structure. This is probably Völur’s heaviest release to date so the fact that it manages to also maintain the band’s intricate approach to structure is infinitely admirable. Anyway, I have written too much already about an album that’s all about visceral experience. Go and spin it for yourself, perhaps fixing in your mind the images of ritualistic sacrifice that the band are attempting to conjure here. Listen to the lows of the guitar and the shivering heights of the violin, as well as the other stringed instruments which grace the album from time to time. Immerse yourself in the story the vocals are telling you; you’ll find a world as deep and wrapped in fog as Völur has grown used to leading us through.
Ecclesia – De Ecclesiae Universalis
I’m pretty pleased that Jordan agreed with me that Doomsday is where we can talk about more traditional sounding metal. It makes sense to me since some of the earliest forms of our beloved genre can be found in the slower and riffier side of life. And I’m also quite pleased that good friend of the column Jonathan Adams introduced me to Ecclesia because D A Y U M N. Hopefully that comes across as my extreme excitement about this record.
Ecclesia have been kicking it since 2016, which I was stunned to learn after listening to De Ecclesiae Universalis because of just how highly professional it sounds. Prior to this, the band haad only put out a demo EP, 2017’s Witchfinding Metal of Doom, that sounded as rough as any band’s initial EP can sound. This record sounds more like an established band recording their fifth record in a major studio. I’m absolutely blown away by just how good this sounds for a band’s first full-length record. It’s possibly the biggest reason I love this record, but got-DAMN is it not the only one.
More to the point, I should probably describe what this band sounds like. Ecclesia sounds like a more serious version of Ghost. It has the same “is this doom?” sort of quality to it where it’s not necessarily the slow and low we love but it feels like it’s the closest thing to it. Their sound completely envelops you and draws you in with its environment. Personally, I never discount a band willing to add in organ parts in their songs. Loads of organ moments all over De Ecclisiae Universalis, and I look forward to what Ecclesia does in the future. This is an amazing sound that I simply can’t get enough of.
Slift – Ummon
You might not know it but there’s a serious psychedelic/stoner rock scene in France. Bands like Fuck the Sun and Bright Curse have been featured on the blog before but they’re just a fragment of the ever-exploding, ever-fuzzy sound that’s constantly bubbling out of that area. Case in point, Slift. That’s right, SLIFT. Even the name alone evokes feedback and tripped out soundscapes and that’s exactly what you get when you listen to Ummon, the band’s latest release. While the many tracks on the album feature vocals, a lot of the charm of Ummon is this unspooling, radiating instrumental behemoth, perhaps most drawing a comparison to the legendary Samsara Blues Experiment.
Like that band, Slift are all about layers allowing their music to slowly unfold from a million different configurations of feedback and echoing guitars. But the beauty of Slift is that they also mix that core sound up with a lot of groove. Just listen to “Thousand Helmets of Gold”, the third track on the album and definitely one of the best on it. The track starts with this almost progressive rock sort of expansiveness sounding, perhaps evoking the slightly sci-fi trappings of the album’s cover art. The track builds from those beginnings, allowing the instruments to become more and more layered as it goes on, building up on the basic riff. But listen to the drums; they flirt with blast-beats at times and even when they don’t, they are fast, breakneck, and inherently groovy. They don’t paint the kind of dreamy, lazy vibe you might expect from other bands of the genre. The bass is right there alongside them, the entire groove section again reminding us more of early progressive rock and even krautrock rather than psychedelic or stoner.
This is the engine that keeps Slift runnin, their groove section grabbing the main thrust of the music by the nose and keeping it moving. The thing is, the guitars, vocals, and synths are allowed to be a bit unhinged, at times exploring more hazy sounds and at times “sitting” right on top of that groove section and riding alongside with it. The result is an album which both goes hard and explores around, creating this sort of tripped out aggression. The main upshot from that is that, unlike many other albums in the genre, this is not an album to disconnect to, to let your mind wander to. This is an album to dance and headbang to, a moving, upbeat exploration of the power of feedback, groove, and tight compositions.
Tombs – Under Sullen Skies
This fucking album… this fucking thing is just massive in every sense of the word. With Under Sullen Skies, Tombs pull from the imperceivable depths of blackened doom (and much more), summoning some really sinister and brooding shit over an enjoyably burdening hour runtime. It’s ungodly heavy, the production has wonderful clarity, power, and grit that allows Mike Hill & Co. to worm their way into some interesting, borderline catchy headspaces – a far cry from 2009’s untamed Winter Hours. It’s also massive in scope and variety. If we’re getting nitpicky and stupid, this might be closer to a black’n’death’n’sludge’n’doom’n’roll album – it’s always kinda playful, thoughtful, and engaging. And it just goes big.
That (and much more) up there? That’s no joke, every track has a unique angle. “Void Constellation” is imposingly burly, but strewn with some magnificent melodic ideas and a pacing that seems to maximize its heaviness. Followup “Barren” is another experience altogether, a blistering Silencing Machine-era Nachtmystium-type track where ravenous blasts give way to a rapturous guitar acrobatics. “The Hunger,” on the other hand, is a sludgy pit stomper where Integrity’s Dwid Hellion does quite-possibly the best Lemmy impersonation of all time. The immense “Secrets of the Black Sun” is downright haunting with this gothic tinge and desolate atmosphere. Further, “We Move Like Phantoms” is an epic doomy breath mint of a track that’s among one of the best sub-two-minute tracks of 2020 and an ideal chaser for the scorching “Descensum” and primer for the subsequent synthed pulverizer “Mordum,” the latter of which brings to mind equal parts Fear Factory and chug-a-lug funeralcore. I could go on, but I won’t. You should be picking up on the trend… Tombs are on a fucking tear to take some [genre] names and kick some [genre] ass. This is a goddamn clinic, and it’s hard not to get caught up in the excitement; it’s a rare joy to experience a group at the peak of their craft.
Overall, the guitar work rips and is regularly engrossing (see: all those riffs, plus, there are a ton of cool, well-written solos all over this thing). The bass is a presence to be felt, too, with a slew of memorable lines and a forward presence in the mix that nicely complements the assertive and explosive drumming (not to mention, super adept and crafty, this dude is a well-schooled Swiss Army drummer). The synth parts are given ample attention and purpose, too, and the vocal variety can’t go unmentioned here, either. There’s undeniable passion and care put into this release, and it all comes together to create an unmistakable atmosphere without getting all “atmospheric,” ya feel? First and foremost, it’s a pleasure to listen to, and there is real emphasis put on the songwriting – the mix goes a long way to highlight this. But it’s also a visceral backbreaker that’s a perfectly pointed soundtrack to this shit year.
Jesu – Terminus
Jesu straddles a lot of lines, but we here at Doomsday don’t discriminate. It takes all kinds, we think, so the emotional weightiness of Jesu’s doomgaze is just the kind of branching out we support in this column. Justin Broadrick, also known for his work in Godflesh, has been putting out this dream-pop/doom (odd combo) records since Godflesh took their hiatus in 2002. This unique combination of sounds has been praised since its inception, but Broadrick’s latest release, Terminus, is absolutely blowing my mind right now. I suspect many of you might also be interested.
I love anything with the -gaze suffix at the end, but Jesu is easily the master of the sound. Not only does Terminus create its own atmosphere, it’s wholly unique among bands who do the same thing. After multiple playthroughs of the new record, I found myself staring off into the middle distance while the music just washed over me. It’s beautiful music to space out to and clear your head. You don’t always get a record on Doomsday that’s both chill and heavy at the same time, but here’s a good opportunity.
I’d highlight a single track from the record, but it’s pretty difficult to specify just one. The entire record is like a more mature version of 80s shoegaze like Slowdive and the Cure. The reverb-drenched tracks completely envelops you to the point that there’s no way to consider anything else but what you’re listening to. It dives deep in the emotion and touches you in ways I can’t really describe. But you should just listen to this and let it happen to you.