At long last, new year’s greetings unto thee, O Heaviest of All Bloggers! I hope your 2021 has gotten off to a good enough start. I sincerely hope nobody thought things would get magically better just because the calendar has a different number on it, but all the same it would be nice to have a good start to the year. As we’ve been discussing amongst ourselves, 2021 musically couldn’t have started off better. I already have at least 5 records I know I’ll be thinking about at the end of the year, so that’s a fantastic sign of things to come for me!
Before we get to the riffs, I think I need to get back up on my personal soapbox. I live in Denver, CO where people have nearly universally gotten the message about masks. Very rarely when I venture out to the grocery store or some other errand I will see someone refusing to wear a mask. However, these interactions are few and far between. Recently, I road tripped across America to my hometown of Dalton, GA, and it didn’t take that long to find the heart of maskless America. Driving through Kansas was alright, but upon reaching Kansas City, MO, I was thoroughly disheartened that people were openly refusing to wear masks. I was actually denied service in a restaurant due to my mask (fine by me, I didn’t want to sit at a crowded bar with maskless customers and waitstaff anyway). It only got worse as I went further south, even having a coughing gas station attendant give me a weird look when I took back my debit card with my shirt sleeve instead of my hand. It was disappointing to see though not all that surprising.
I know we’re all tired of being stuck at home and not being able to hang out with friends in a bar or coffee shop. As much as I am an introverted indoor kid who personally likes my solo time at home, I found myself feeling relieved by getting out of my house and on the road. Vaccines are getting produced and distributed, so the potential end of quarantining is at hand. But until we all get the vaccine and achieve that herd immunity we so desperately crave, we all need to stay vigilant. Keep wearing your masks, keep a safe social distance, and wash those hands as often as you can, and we’ll all be enjoying riffs in person together soon.
Returning the soapbox to its position, let’s get some riffs. We’ve got some big names returning early this year and some lesser known qualities bringing the fuzz to your faces. Being stuck inside with icy wastes outside means it’s time to embrace the doom within. DIG ON IT, KIDS.
Tribulation – Where the Gloom Becomes Sound (gothic doom)
For the last few years, I’ve been watching Tribulation with great interest. Their specific brand of gothic metal has always been very engaging, but there always felt like some little piece was missing. I personally love all their records thus far, but I can see why not everyone agrees with me. However, that pattern has changed with Where the Gloom Becomes Sound. I believe the band has found that extremely subtle missing piece they needed to make a great record.
The Swedish quartet has always had the panache and songwriting talent for a great record, but the production quality on Where the Gloom is so far beyond what they’ve put together before. The whole record sounds bigger and more dramatic than previous outings. As I heard the lead single, “Leviathans,” I knew this record was going to be special just because of the mixing of parts on the track. The bridge section with the sampled spoken word is very emblematic of the entire record. The band has learned the value of subtlety in their songs. Just because a lead lick is playing doesn’t mean it always has to be front and center every time it comes up. You can dramatically use the sounds to send home a message.
Other tracks on the record show off how this production style can really benefit the songs. The band has stuck to their gothic metal ideas but allowed the style to open a little. “Hour of the Wolf” is a prime example of this. The upbeat yet dour style of the melodies is their bread and butter, but not having everything in your face all the time is just what the doctor ordered. Letting all the other instruments have their own space instead of making all the tracks share the volume together helps the gothic image they have created. It’s the pinnacle of what their sound needs to be, and I’ll be returning to Gloom as often as possible as a result.
Ultra Void – Ultra Void (stoner doom)
Skewing to the bluesier side of stoner metal, Brooklyn’s Ultra Void deliver a unique measure of beefy fuzz, trippy effects, and catchy hooks. What hit me immediately were these, for lack of a better descriptor, porny guitar tones. They’re dirty. They’re greasy. The wah’s are well-worn and begging for mercy. Tone-wise, it’s probable to end up amongst the nastiest fuzzified shit this year, and what’s more is how it’s backed by this intriguing Rob Zombie-type horror campiness. Vocalist FlipMan’s delivery has that distinctive Zombie flavor and affectation, borderline harsh yet easily discernible, rhythmically bouncy and punchy.
The package offers a kind of dive bar flavor, “HellFire” churns on a gritty shuffle, “Tsunami” hits like groovy Monster Magnet covering an Eyehategod song, while centerpiece “Swamp of Doom” is a theatrical Alice Cooper-esque spin on a seven-minute doom standard. The cover of Thin Lizzy’s “Gonna Creep Up On You” is totally fucking choice, complementary to their dark lyrical content, bass-forward funkiness, and retro flair. I can’t emphasize how refreshing it is to hear a lesser known Thin Lizzy cover, too (no more “Emerald” please). I’ve been spending quite a bit of time with this one primarily because it’s got some nice groove, but also because it’s just a weirdly fun doom record. I just can’t put it down.
The Body – I’ve Seen All I Need to See (experimental sludge)
No discussion of the month in doom would be complete without talking about The Body. The Portland, OR duo constantly redefine what makes heavy music, and I’ve Seen All I Need to See keeps their doom noise revolution streak alive. The savage noise and punishing drone of the new record shows that band is perfectly capable of constantly outdoing themselves and striving for the new peak in redefining heavy music and what music can be.
I’ve Seen All I Need to See sees the band redefine the phrase “more of the same.” Normally such a phrase would seem like a criticism at best and an insult at worse, but it means something altogether different for the Body. More of the same means they have once again redefined what music is. The band has said they abandoned a lot of their more modern technology for this record to prove they could make heavy sounds regardless of their tools. They knocked it out of the park here. Some of the band’s weightiest tracks to date are shown off here, so it’s a pretty impressive feat that they’re able to achieve their standard with limited means.
Speaking more directly to the music, I’ve Seen All I Need to See has The Body showing off some of their darkest and grimiest rhythms and melodies to date. There’s always a sense of overwhelming and impending doom to their music, but the songs on this record are even more foreboding than their previous material. I got the sense the record was a soundtrack to a larger story, like a single person’s viewpoint of a city under siege. It’s dark, brooding, and at times very aggressive. As always, the Body is a unique listening experience for anyone interested in the darker side of extreme music and automatically one of the most interesting records of the year.
Battle Hag – Celestial Tyrant (funeral doom)
Funeral doom isn’t usually where I expect to find some ear-turning heady kind of shit, but Battle Hag aren’t a usual funeral doom band. Celestial Tyrant has a distinguishing spacey element that pervades their sound, spanning many varietals of doom for a one stop shop of seismic heavy. The dynamism here gives each of these three humongous tomes interesting trajectories and changes of scenery, lending movement to the Greek mythological narrative driving this record. To be perfectly honest, I’ve just been here for the ride and haven’t yet delved into it, but it seems like a cool concept should you be into that kinda thing.
The guitars are appropriately huge, leads are expressive, and forays into the psych-end of the spectrum delicate and unforced – these dudes are compositionally as well as tonally grounded. The rhythm section is equally superb. The drums have some real finesse in addition to the expected shots and labored crashes, and the syncopated beats and tempo pushing/pulling give the group a sense of energy and potential even when they’re at their most sluggish moments. The shift midway through “Talus” navigates through huge funeral riffing and protracted leads to folky melodic leads with some real pep behind them; it’s not that this kind of thing doesn’t ever happen in funeral doom, but there’s a tangibly different essence in this context.
There are a few atmospheric elements over the course of Celestial Tyrant that take this another step beyond your standard doom faire, but closer “Red Giant” is really what it all comes down to. It’s one heckuva adventure and takes the early lead for best huge song of the year (at 19-plus minutes), culminating in an auditory gravity collapse from the supernova of riffs and chaos that precede it. Super good stuff.
The Ruins of Beverast – The Thule Grimoires (blackened doom)
Out of all of the subgenres and sounds we cover on Doomsday, I think blackened doom is by far the most interesting and least covered here. It’s a difficult needle to thread since there’s a lot about both black and doom metal that are contradictory. When you’re able to see through those contradictions and put together the parts that do work, it can be truly amazing work. The Ruins of Beverast is an artist who is consistently able to thread that needle and put out some awesomely original music like The Thule Grimoires.
Much like The Body, “more of the same” means something very different for The Ruins of Beverast. It means the same brooding aggression and blackened psychedelia that is really rare. On top of that, there are some really cool groovy sections of The Thule Grimoires that I wasn’t expecting even on a Ruins record. “Anchoress in Furs” has a brilliantly groovy section that I find irresistible and absolutely must bob my head to. The conflicting images of dark melodies and enrapturing rhythms is unique to this artist and makes everything he does absolutely incredible.
Everything about The Thule Grimoires makes it an absolute treat to listen to and gives it legs to last you awhile. This is a record you have to listen to multiple times to get everything out of it. There are so many intricately written sections with well-crafted melodies that you can’t appreciate them at all in a single playthrough. Blackened doom is a lot like funeral doom in that there’s too much content to devour in a single bite. The Thule Grimoires demands all of you attention, and close listeners will be immensely rewarded for their time investment. I know this is a record I’ll be talking about in December, so we’ll check back in at the end of the year about how Thule grew on me.
THROTH – Each in our own way we suffer… (doomgaze)
Bristol’s THROTH is uniquely heavy. Taking the sterile industrial cues from Godflesh and meshing them with the distorted fog of Planning For Burial, THROTH’s sludgy doomgaze is relatively noisy and ever so slightly pop-forward. Bespeckled with tinges of Deadsy and Type O Negative dark melodicism (“I saw you leaving,” “Parasitic children“) as well as Cloakroom and Nothing’s 90s style hooks (“Hypothermia,” “Poison seed,” “Your useless words”), Each in our own way we suffer… makes unexpectedly powerful impacts with their catchy facets in spite of the economical runtime. It doesn’t feel like there’s enough time for them to sink in as most of the tracks hover around the 2:30 mark, but they’re kinda quirky and certainly effective.
These vignettes pack quite a wallop not only through the unconventional refrains, but also instrumentally. Anyone who found Mindkult’s 2017 spin on doomgaze to be a little ruminative or heavy on the occult doom side of things should settle in nicely with THROTH’s well-portioned daydreams of downtrodden, crushing fuckery. The hooks alone will bring you back, but it’s the moments where the riffs draw focus where I find THROTH develop their points of interest. The culmination of mechanical rhythms, screens of heavily distorted guitars, and sedate vocal melodies create a curious blend that can have some headbang-worthy crunch (“Your useless words” goes unnecessarily hard, damn…). This is a great change of pace record as I haven’t come across much doomgaze in general as of late, much less one that’s not beholden to the extremes of the spectrum. Here’s to hoping this project has a few more on the way, I’m really interested to see where this can go.