ALL HAIL THE HEAVIEST OF BLOGGERS! As our planet continues to boil us this summer due to our species’ willful negligence, I hope you all are finding good ways to stay cool. I’m trying not to go outside as much as possible. It’s hot out there, after all. And also, SOME PEOPLE still haven’t gotten the message about free COVID vaccinations and are now petri dishes for the hot new trend of developing new strains of the virus. So that’s also super fun. Hopefully, y’all haven’t gotten rid of those masks yet since I think you’re going to want them occasionally. What I mean to say here is that all of the stuff we worried about in 2020 is still here, even if there isn’t enough coverage of it on mass media. Just trying to spread the word more about taking care of the earth and each other with simple changes to our lives to make major improvements. After all, if this stuff gets worse then there are fewer people around. And if there are fewer people around, who will read about the amazing taste of us here on Doomsday? NO ONE, THAT’S WHO. IT MAKES ME SAD TO NOT GET THE LIKES, GUYS. BE SAFE, PLEASE. FOR ME AND OTHER INTERNET WRITERS.
Anyway, to the riffs! There is so much really good stuff this month. We were all glad to get back to the listening grind after our mid-year reviews, and did we ever find some real bangers this month. However, there’s also a very special birthday we’d like to mark since it’s the record that made a column like Doomsday possible. That’s right, you jabronis: we’re talking Master of Reality this month! In honor of the 50th anniversary of this landmark record, Jordan and I are going to start this edition off with some thoughts on the landmark album and generally gush about how we love it. After that, it’s business as usual with some awesome riffs of the slow and low. So what are we waiting for? TO THE RIFFS!
Master of Reality Turns 50
Black Sabbath’s inspiration on all that is metal is well-documented, so I’m not going to bother re-tracing steps from Master of Reality to well, everything that this column covers. But it is significant that 50 years ago, this small step for Sabbath veered just enough off the beaten path to become a giant leap for doom kind. As evidenced here each month, we’ve been reaping the goods from the seeds sown by the boys from Birmingham to a frankly ridiculous degree. Though we’re often covering newer branches off the doom limb like doomgaze, sludgepop, and blackened deathdoom, it’s still a wonder to hear how many “traditional” doom types are still worth a damn, proof the old formula can be just as engaging as new variants emerge and evolve.
Considering the progress that’s been made so far, where would the likes of Sleep, Trouble, or Electric Wizard be without the stoner metal seedling “Sweet Leaf”? Would Soundgarden, Thou, or Chelsea Wolfe exist in the absence of the thunderous rollicks of “Children of the Grave” or the astronomical riffitude of “Into the Void” matched with delicate, heartfelt counterparts like “Solitude”? Though Sabbath evolved far beyond the base doom realms of Master, there’s something so definitive and encapsulating about it. It’s balanced, moving, and catchy. It has rewarding depth and encourages exploration of its pitch depths. Modern production standards be damned, it’s still fucking heavy. It’s genre defining.
It’s unfathomable to think of the current metal landscape without hearing Sabbath tucked away somewhere, but Master of Reality seems to be the very point that has made so much possible. The collision of Ward’s heavy hitting drums, Geezer’s swagger and infinite groove, and Iommi’s eerie riffing and multidimensional leads are as intoxicating now as they’ve ever been, demonstrating an authority on tempo pushing and pulling and a too-wise grasp on the mechanics of heavy. It’s a masterclass on working the dynamics between slow, fast, slower and wait, what the fuck, slow-er? as Ozzy shepherds listeners through Master’s timeless tales of marijuana worship, warnings of endless war, and pioneering into the cosmos – it’s truly a spectacle and prescient artwork. Dark as it is, Master still holds hope for peace and unity, a glimmer of positivity amidst the sad state of the world – a statement that’s unfortunately every bit as relevant now as it was upon release.
Aside from the themes being timeless, the music itself has aged quite well. Metal trends have come and gone, yet Master’s OG doom has stood the test of time. Heck, “Sweet Leaf” might be even better now that Sleep have taken the concept sky high. “Children of the Grave” is unfortunately still an appropriate caution, made even sadder by the fact that the message found in the song has proven itself ineffective or fallen on deaf ears, the cycle of war and power struggles repeating themselves over and over. At other points, it’s still a pinnacle of the genre, the sinister bounce of “Lord of this World” scratches an itch that thousands of bands fail to reach, while softer, less popular cuts like “Solitude” and “Orchid” sound like they truly understood the might of their sound, offering reprieve from all that is heavy. It’s impossible to measure it’s impact or really give this record it’s due, but something tells me it has as good of a chance as anything to stick around for another fifty – should anyone be around to hear it.
If I remember right, I first heard Master of Reality when I was 13. At the time, heavy metal and thrash metal were the same thing. My familiarity with metal was the Big 4 of Thrash, specifically Metallica, along with the nu metal of the time like Korn, Deftones, and so many others. But I was also into a lot of classic rock and trying to broaden my understanding of modern music, so I spent a lot of time downloading anything I heard of from Napster or Limewire. I was aware of Black Sabbath but hadn’t listened to them at all apart from hearing “Iron Man” on the radio. So I downloaded Black Sabbath, Paranoid, and blessedly Master of Reality. I listened to the first two records and thought they were really cool, but everything was blown wide the hell open when I hit play on “Sweet Leaf”. The first two Sabbath records are incredible in their own right, of course, but Master of Reality is where the band really found their sound and it shows. And now that I have a lot more knowledge than when I was 13, I can definitively say Master of Reality is the sound of doom.
Before I get any deeper, don’t get me wrong about Black Sabbath or Paranoid. Both of them are fantastic records I still deeply enjoy and also speak doom to me, especially tracks like “Black Sabbath,” “Iron Man,” and “Hand of Doom”. But they’re also both still very heavily influenced by blues-based music of the time. Master of Reality is, in my personal opinion, the album where they start to depart from that blues-based rock sound into something a bit different. If I saw Black Sabbath live today, I’d obviously want to hear the hits from the first two records, but I’d be far more interested in anything from Master and beyond. Especially “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” but that’s for another column.
Think about what you hear on the record and what the hallmarks of doom metal are. It’s the first record where the band starts tuning their guitars way down, a full step and half down from standard tuning. The fuzzy guitars are here in full force, and there are some truly massive riffs on the album due in part to turning up the bass in the mix (blessed be Geezer). The record was the standard for slow and low and probably still is. There are even some connections to more recent doom sounds like taking songs in truly spooky directions with both topics and musical atmosphere. And of course, the record opens with a marijuana reference. Master of Reality is absolutely the blueprint for doom. I don’t know that we’d have the sound if it weren’t for this record specifically. Even if we did, I think it wouldn’t sound like what we think of today.
The highlight of the entire record to me is “Into the Void”. It’s such an engaging and enrapturing track for every reason highlighted previously. The opening riff is one of the spookiest and doomiest riffs I’ve ever heard, and I don’t think anyone will ever top it. It’s still my favorite thing to play when I pick up my own guitar for that very reason. Once the bass comes in, the riff becomes your environment for the track. It feels like an inevitable end of the world, which makes a lot of sense seeing where the song goes when it’s Ozzy’s turn to join in. Everything together sounds like an impending apocalypse, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Mountain Caller – Chronicle: Prologue (progressive stoner doom, heavy psych)
“Hey Pete,” Eden said to me one day. “You should listen to Mountain Caller. I think you’d like them.” I said I would and immediately forgot to do it. Then the Chronicle: Prologue came out earlier this month, and I remembered Eden’s rec. So I put it on and HOLY SHIT EDEN WHY DIDN’T YOU MAKE THIS MUCH CLEARER TO ME. To be fair, that’s not Eden’s job and more my mistake because daaaaaaaaang, this band rules. While I definitely am just recommending this band as a whole, I’ll do my best to focus on this release, an EP that introduces you to the progressive stoner doom world the trio creates. As their Bandcamp page notes, the tracks were written alongside the songs of Chroncle I: The Truthseeker but are some of the first songs the band ever wrote together. They give you a great showing of what the band can do and a blueprint for where they can go from here.
The band described their first record as the beginning of a feminist allegory following a protagonist on an epic journey of self-discovery. If that was The Truthseeker, then Prologue is the perfect setup. The band has also said they prefer the listener to create the scene imagery in their minds based on the incredibly deep instrumental music they make. One playthrough will show you how deftly the band is able to accomplish that goal. Each song title can help spur your thoughts, but it’s up to you how the story plays out. I couldn’t possibly imagine a better way to engage the audience in what you do and make it like a group effort. It makes me think of Coheed & Cambria but as a “Choose Your Own Adventure” record. You have to give props to a band who tries to accomplish that goal, but I’m not sure what you do when a band is so capable in accomplishing that goal. I guess we have to make up an award to give them. Since this is Doomsday, I hereby award the band with a Golden Mushroom Cloud for their stellar efforts.
All that doesn’t even speak to the music specifically. I get strong vibes of Elder songwriting and tone along with the occasional dusting of Mastodon-style riffing. But the music on Prologue is much more than the sum of its parts. Each song has obviously been meticulously crafted to go in a certain direction and translate a specific feeling in the mind of the audience. The tone of each song creates a specific soundscape to kickstart your imagination about what the track is teaching you. Big spacey melodic lines flow easily into rising moments of emotion and faster riffing and solo sections and help take the story of each song into a new scene. It’s so much more than one might expect from a young band on their second ever release. I see a great future for this trio and can’t wait for future releases.
Sun Crow – Quest for Oblivion (stoner doom)
Sometimes, you “just” want to be crushed into pulp by your music. The desire can actually stem from different places: perhaps you’re pissed and what’s getting crushed is your weakness or your complacency. Perhaps you’re depressed and imagining the weight of an invisible world crashing down on you is easier than facing the tremendous mass of the real world outside your speakers. Whatever is the case, Sun Crow have you covered. Quest for Oblivion, originally released in 2020 and now getting a worldwide distribution by the inimitable Ripple Music, is an album filled to the brim with the sort of slow moving riffs, grumbling bass, and thunderous drums that will get you to that oppressive, cathartic place you’re looking for.
Sun Crow relies on the good old fundamentals of bluesy doom to get you to that place. The first such fundamental is, of course, the groovy riff, tinged with all the sorrow and momentum you could wish. Check out the album opener, the aptly named “Collapse”, for several such examples. The best one lies just beyond the three and a half minute mark, right before the trippy vocals come in, in the form of a guitar line all a-bristle with metallic twang and nostalgic reverie. When those vocals do end up joining the fray, their echoing tone and effect are a perfect companion to this riff (and its ongoing form at the center of the track), completing the smoke drenched atmosphere.
But that’s not all there is on the album. For example, watch out for the screams that suddenly take over from the vocals on “Collapse” or the excellently surprising solo on the next track, “Black It Out”. Other such tidbits are replete throughout the album, augmenting the groove and heft of Sun Crow’s axe swing. All this, plus the super present drums and the driving motor of the bass, come together to create an evocative and effective album, sure to set your black, slow, doom heart into song and dance. Or, you know, ritualistic sacrifice. Or long sessions with the light out, begging the world to disappear. Whatever tickles your fancy.
Vouna – Atropos (blackened doom, folk doom)
One of the many reasons I write this column is because of doom’s penchant for creating dramatic tomes to dig deep into. Something about this subgenre lends itself greatly to epic musical journeys that other sounds can’t quite get to. That accurately describes what I feel as I listened to Vouna’s newest release, Atropos. If you haven’t heard of Vouna before, it’s the work of multi-instrumentalist and composer Yianna Bekris and has been strongly supported by Wolves in the Throne Room’s Nathan Weaver who also appears on the album. With that kind of supporting pedigree, you know that whatever comes out on the other side of a recording session is going to be a massive tome of incredible music.
I loved Vouna’s self-titled debut from 2018, but it was a little rough around the edges. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that, but close readers know I place a premium on high quality production records. I was greatly impressed by the noticeable jump in production values for Atropos, and I know the record absolutely required this improvement after multiple listens of the record. There are so many little musical extras embedded in each song and every melody that you likely wouldn’t hear without the clarity of high production values. I might harp on this point a bit too frequently when discussing underground music like Vouna, but it’s clearly possible to create something of real quality while working on a release of this kind.
But we should really talk more about the music. As much as I want it to stand on its own, I can’t talk about the music of Atropos without making a Wolves In the Throne Room comparison. I always think of sprawling progressive black metal epics whenever I think about WITTR, and Vouna is no different. But instead of blast beats and tremolo picking riffs, I hear big, booming doom metal tracks with folky elements and heavily dramatic synths. Apart from that palette swap, it has a similar feeling to most WITTR records. It is heavily atmospheric to the point where the tracks paint whatever you’re looking at or doing. The veil is drawn all around you, and Atropos becomes your world. There is such beauty in the approach, but you have to do it right in order to achieve that sense in the listener. Atropos does that like it was born to do it. Which in a sense it was.