Hail to thee, Heaviest of All Bloggers! Welcome once again to the column of doom and gloom and riffs and licks and fuzz and bass and all sorts of other good stuff. As always, it is truly a wondrous pleasure to be sharing the music we find with the likes of you all who are of equally refined tastes. Isn’t it nice to be among like-minded people? I’ll try to keep my personal soapbox stored for this month, but 2 thoughts very recently occurred to me. And yes, they’re related to COVID. Or at least adjacent to it.
Like probably a whole hell of a lot of people, Ol’ Pete put on a few extra pounds while being homebound during this pandemic. My wife and I decided now that we’ve had our first shot of the vaccine that we need to get back to the gym and try to be more active. So yesterday, I went to the gym for the first time in quite a while (unfortunately since way before the pandemic began, but let’s leave that aside for now). Apart from understanding how horribly out of shape I am, the sudden realization that things are getting to the new normal came upon me. I relished the moment: the feeling of soreness in my butt while using the elliptical machine; the boredom of daytime TV; the smell of slightly sterilized sweat and body odor that only a gym can have. That kind of thing. Obviously, I was still wearing a mask and aggressively cleaning all the machines I was using, but I think both of those things are probably here to stay for a while longer. And it was really nice. No better way of describing it than just nice.
But then a second thought came upon me. After noticing how out of shape I’m in, my next thought was, “Oh damn, I hope no fancy events happen any time soon because there’s no way I can fit into a suit.” And later, a good friend also had the same thought. So I’m wondering if maybe there’s a way we can all agree that, for the immediate future, everything is just super casual dress for awhile so we can all work off this extra weight we have all put on. Like if you’re going to a wedding, just ask your guests to keep it casual with a t-shirt and jeans (though let’s stay away from shirts with prints). Going to a funeral? As long as you’re wearing plain black then come on down. And if you’re really worried about how much weight you’ve put on, then let’s invest in some tasteful dashikis and muumuus. I think this is a reasonable compromise we can all get on board with.
Anyway, y’all came here for tunes, right? Boy howdy, do we have some. This is about the right time of year for the mega cool stuff to start coming out. Summer is closing in, and that means it’s time for the big “blockbuster” releases. Even in a pandemic, summer entertainment keeps its schedule. The march of the riff cannot be contained! We’ve got a pretty solid variety of stuff this month, so dig in y’all. GET TO THE RIFFS ALREADY.
BIG | BRAVE – Vital (sludge, post-metal)
Some bands take a long time to simmer; they’re like a good broth or [insert other appropriate dish here]. They slowly build their reputation, and their sound, until enough people take notice or until they’ve honed their craft to such a degree that none can resist. This was somewhat the case for BIG | BRAVE; their 2019 release was their third, so you can say they were lying under the surface when A Gaze Among Them finally unleashed their name on the broader scene. But unleash it it did and once they were out there, everyone was talking about them. Vital feels like a second release then, where listeners wait with baited breath to see if the promise of the band’s previous release can be expanded upon.
The answer is hell yes. “Expanded” is actually the perfect adjective here; Vital feels like BIG | BRAVE going, well, bigger and braver. From the outset, the absolutely monstrous “Abating the Incarnation of Matter” announces the hefty guitars, trippy, expansive vocals, and sharp and precise drums. These elements are brought forth not “just” in tone but also in composition; the track isn’t afraid to slow things down even more than its already slow main riff, dipping into the territories of funeral doom and even drone at times. The vocals are the same but in a different way; they’re constantly scrapping the upper registers but they’re not afraid to push into that area, crossing into places that are best described as “harrowed” or perhaps “flayed”.
The greatest thing is that Vital keeps up this act, constantly pushing its own boundaries. The album just swallows you whole, channeling an energy and an immediacy that’s very rare to see in the doomier side of our scene. Like A Gaze Among Them, Vital is not just about the punch of thick tones and walls of amps (not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind you) but also about the carry-through, the follow-up, the staying power. By virtue of its eclectic and agile structure and the way in which the band are set to push everything further than they have before, Vital will ring through your ears well past its runtime.
Howling Giant – Alteration (stoner metal)
I’d have to check my files but I think we’re all in need of some solid stoner metal instrumentals. Bless you Howling Giant for bringing the ultimate spacey ruckus with Alteration. I can’t help but think of flying into the face of the unknown with the opening notes of Luring Alluring Rings, and that’s exactly how I want my instrumental stoner music. To me, a great stoner record shoves so much psychedelic ideas into your face that your brain has to create a scene that fits the music. That’s exactly what Alteration does for me, so therefore it is a damn great record.
I wasn’t familiar with Howling Giant prior to turning on Alteration, but I’ve been going back through their catalog because I had to see where this band was coming from. I was surprised to find out there’s usually far more singing going on than Alteration would lead one to think. While I’m certainly not knocking their vocals (check out “Comet Rider” on The Space Between Worlds for perfect vocals for this style), I think it’s a boon for the instrumentation that there are no vocals on this record. It helps you focus more on the actual playing and the song construction because holy damn are these riffs and melodies just tasty. You want some good lines with your psychedelia? Then you’ve come to the right place on Alteration.
If I could piggyback on Eden’s comments, Alteration similarly sounds bigger like the new BIG|BRAVE. As much as I have loved going through Howling Giant’s previous output, Alteration feels like a more complete record, and you can almost exclusively point to the subtly better production quality and the depth of the bass. I certainly understand the desire for metal bands to focus on their guitars, but you don’t have a whole lot if you don’t promote your bass lines. By upping the bass a bit, Howling Giant made a demonstrably better record. It’s fuller than previous entries in the discography, and that makes it better in my eyes. If you feel like you need your mind blown just a bit, I can think of no better record than Alteration.
Shores of Null – Beyond the Shores (On Death and Dying) (death doom, funeral doom)
Our 2020 in review post from earlier this year made good on many underappreciated big ‘n’ heavies, but as it goes, we missed out on this gem from Italy’s Shores of Null, a doom entity whose latest features an impressive list of guest vocals from Mikko Kotamäki (Swallow the Sun), Thomas A.G. Jensen (Saturnus) and Elisabetta Marchetti (Inno). Beyond the Shores is a significant step forward from their prior albums, condensing their broad range of emotions and energy into a tidy 38-minute one-track funeral/death doom package. It’s not as daunting of a listen as say, Mirror Reaper, so readers of this column should have no problem voraciously plowing through this record.
The vocal variety is a huge reason for this, and it lends a lot to the concept which explores the Kübler-Ross model of grief, breaking the song up into five distinct (yet not so distinct as to feel cobbled together) sections: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Primary vocalist Davide Straccione has an impressive skill set unto himself with fantastic growls and a commanding and evocative singing timbre, but when paired with these guests, Shores of Null find even more impactful and impressive depths. The instrumentation is equally as rich, conjuring moments like the sunny, borderline uplifting (well, for a doom album) intro, the eruption of the anger movement (interestingly reminiscent of Killswitch Engage), and the beautiful apex of sorrow and depleted minimalism in bargaining movement, amongst other significant waypoints. Shores of Null maintain incredible power in each movement, and consistently find ways to dial it back to ensure each moment carries the weight it should.
Further, the structure and arrangement of the record is really compelling, culminating in a truly organic and utterly stunning doom journey. With a pace and energy largely guided by the concept, listeners glide through each stage with no shortage of propulsive chugs, devastating eruptions (oh man, the way the depression movement hits? OOF), delicate piano breaks, and frequent layers of strings weaving in and out almost as to maintain a persistent sense of voice when the leads or vocals take a step back. It’s an enthralling listen that should put Shores of Null at the tippy-top of doomsters’ radars, because Beyond the Shores is simply masterful, S-tier doom. Plus, there’s a music video which is awesome, truly worth syncing up Dark Side of the Moon-style to experience with a good pair of headphones or speakers.
Oryx – Lamenting a Dead World (blackened sludge)
Alright, it’s about damn time for a way-too-early best of the year blurb! I’m not just saying that either. Oryx has put out one hell of a record with Lamenting a Dead World. It is by far their most shining moment yet as a band, and that’s saying a lot because their previous work is damn fine stuff, too! Blackened sludge is becoming more common these days, and I think that Oryx is swiftly becoming the example of what this sound can be thanks to Lamenting a Dead World.
First thing’s first: Lamenting a Dead World is heavy as fuck. I can’t even come up with a clever simile here. It’s just really fucking heavy. As I’ve mulled this over, I can only point to production quality and style. On previous records, there was this tinny distorted quality that held them back. There could’ve been a lot of reasons for those previous choices, but it doesn’t matter because it’s gone now. Now that it’s gone, everything has a clarity it didn’t have before. You can hear the more subtle guitar lines that you might’ve missed on previous outings. What’s more is that the bass gets to shine and adds a lot of depth and substance to the band’s music. Altogether, higher production qualities have made this an incredible record.
Related to that thought is how the songwriting has…improved, I guess? I don’t even know if that’s the right term really, but I noticed I was able to appreciate the songwriting more on Lamenting a Dead World than I was on their previous records. The songs get a little larger in scope on Lamenting, and you can get it a little better because you’re not having to try to hear it through the extra fuzziness of the recordings. I even marvelled at the band’s ability to get a little more melodic and cerebral on tracks like “Last Breath” and “Oblivion”. There’s a sense of drama and gravity in these five tracks that the band hadn’t dipped their toes into before, and you can sense it so much better now than you could previously.
Just to quickly wrap this up: I feel like Lamenting a Dead World is the record Oryx was destined to make. It is their moment of self-actualization recorded for your listening pleasure. This is the kind of record you hope every band makes. I’m thankful I live in Denver and have seen this band live several times opening for amazing acts like Sleep and Electric Wizard, and I’m just so proud of them for making Lamenting a Dead World. It’s a brilliant record I know I’ll be returning to a lot in the future.