A very wintry Hail to thee, O Heaviest of Bloggers! I hope you have been keeping well during our post-holiday hiatus. Personally, I’ve been in something of a hibernation mode. It has been quite the winter for staying inside, playing video games, and blasting doom metal into my brain. The winter has been pretty hard and fast in Denver recently, and I’ve been prepping myself for the very recent release of Horizon: Forbidden West and replaying the original. There’s been some brilliant records to blast recently, too, so I’m a pig in shit right now.
I have a little confession to make to you, Dear Readers. I feel like I was phoning it in last year, and I feel like it was pretty obvious. I was reviewing some of my columns from last year, and I’m not proud of that writing. It didn’t feel like I was really digging into these records, and my writing felt very lazy. I suppose anxiety and depression can have a greater impact on us than we all think. I’ve made the great decision then to be more purposeful with this column and with my listening. Putting that philosophy into action this year has brought me a lot of joy so far, and it helps pick me up and make everything feel better. The challenge of deeply listening to music I like has been rewarding to me so many times in the past, and I’m recalling why I really need it these days. This is all to say that I’ve made improving my writing a personal goal of mine this year, and that starts with listening closely to more music. So let’s freaking do this with column number one.
Thumos – The Republic (post-sludge)
In the last 6 weeks or so, I’ve found instrumental albums to be the most compelling to me. Artists writing instrumental records have to be purposeful and creative in ways that bands with vocals don’t have to worry about. While bands that write more conventional songs get lots of praise for writing musically intriguing music, instrumental music has to be intriguing every time. You don’t get the “crutch” of vocal lines, so every melody you write needs to hold the listener’s attention. That’s not an easy achievement, and it’s really obvious to everyone when you’re bad at this.
That’s why I find Thumos’s newest release, The Republic, so fantastically engaging. Each track is relatively simple with interesting melodies and songwriting, but there is a grandeur to it all that I find undeniable. If you’re going to write an instrumental record with ancient Grecian philosophical themes, it had better be DAMN BIG. Thumos accomplishes that under the seeming guise of being a possible one-man solo project. It’s all a bit mysterious on that front, but that adds to the pleasure of this record for me. There are a great many ideas on this record that still interest me after multiple playthroughs, and it’s also spawned many interesting thoughts that go far beyond the confines of a metal record.
None of this even speaks to the music itself! There are a number of incredible grooves and riffs on The Republic that will get your little sludgy feet tapping. I personally find each track memorable for its own reason. Opener “The Unjust” has a great blackened atmosphere that really gets your mind into the idea of what’s happening here. “The Ring” picks you up from the intro and drives you headfirst into the following tracks. Each following track really has its own feel that’s wholly different from each preceding song. Despite the differences between each number, there’s clearly a thread going through each track that binds them all together. There’s an epic quality to the entire record that rises above the lo-fi nature of the production. The fuzzy bass riff gives every song that extra Oomf it needs to be powerful. I may not know a lot about Greek philosophy, but I know damn good music when I hear it. The Republic is it for me.
Tuskar – Matriarch (progressive doom, post-metal)
Tuskar’s Matriarch screams the adjective “brooding”. You might make the case that all of doom metal, which Matriarch is very much a part of, fits that adjective but there’s something extra that Tuskar conjure up here to make the word stick even more. Perhaps it’s the post-metal edges which tinge the music, specifically in the deeper, more “concentrated”, bass tone; it’s less fuzz and more malevolent rumble, like a machine thumping away in the darkness of the earth. Or maybe it’s the strong structure, so content to take its time, like a beast lumbering its way towards you through the trees. Whatever it is, it ends up making Matriarch a hefty release and one which requires multiple listens to really orient yourselves within.
But don’t get me wrong; the album is not just slow. There are these intense moments of aural assault which remind of Inter Arma in the way in which they blend doom, post-metal, and death metal. While you can hear the above-mentioned ponderous vibes on the opening, self-titled track, head on over to the back half of “To the Sky” which follows it and check out those blast-beats and pummeling riffs to get the Inter Arma comparison. That outro ends up being one of the most powerful moments on the album, gathering up all of the aggression of Tuskar and channeling it all at once.
It helps that these slower vibes and more aggressive segments are mettled by the same sort of stoner dexterity (an oxymoron if I’ve ever written one) that is all over this album and which calls to mind mid-era Mastodon. The end result is a post-metal album which can dance, a psychedelic trip but infused with lots of punch, and a heavy as all hell release which is not afraid to cast its net wide and wander into some truly trippy territory. The end result then is one of the more intricate, and well executed, releases in the doom spaces of this year so far and one which I entirely foresee ending up on several end of year lists.
An Evening Redness – An Evening Redness (drone, stoner)
I wasn’t really sure what to expect from An Evening Redness and their debut release. On one hand, the cover art and logo made me think of some Fu Manchu inspired project and the fuzziest of riffs burgeoned across the horizons of my mind. But on the other hand, words like “post ambient” and “diverse doom” were used in the press release, making me scratch my head in wonder. And then I noticed that none other than friend-of-the-blog (an official title, by the way) Brendan Sloan (Convulsing) had a guest spot on the album? I was thoroughly confused. Will this explode in my ears? Will it drown me in silk and honey? Will it conjure up the desert winds and sand, for me to be lost inside forever?
The answer is, as you might have guessed by now, “yes”. An Evening Redness is a patient, intricate, and challenging album, one which is no rush to arrive at its almost mystical peak of aural assault and abjection. Most of its run-time, from “Alkali” which opens it and all the way to “Pariah”, the second-to-last track on it, is spent amidst undulating drone chords. Partnering with poignantly strummed acoustic guitars, screeching feedback, and haunting synths, they indeed conjure up the vast desert hinted at by the cover art and so favored by the aesthetics of the genre.
“Mesa Skyline”, the second track, takes things even further with 70’s tinged sci-fi synthesizers added to the mix, as well as the excellent, evocative vocals from Bridget Bellavia (BLKTXXTH, Piggy Black Cross). Both of these do much to add even more emotional delivery to the already redolent music, driving home the forlorn and expansive nature of the composition. But really, it’s all working towards “Black Flame at the Edge of the Desert”, the closing, over ten minutes long track. Almost as if we were wandering through the desert itself towards that black flame, working our way towards that mystical culmination.
You see, while “Black Flame at the Edge of the Desert” starts quietly enough, punctuated with dreamy lap steel guitar and more ethereal vocals, its build-up takes its crescendo way higher than any other track on the album. And by higher, I of course mean lower, as blast-beats (yes), massively abrasive chords, and that guest solo from Mr. Sloan churn the album’s sound into a maelstrom of absolutely seething catharsis. These passages, which end up closing the album, would have been heavy even in a vacuum but they are all the more heavy for having followed such an airy and dreamy release. It’s like falling from a rarified mountain peak into a pit of sludgy acid; it would have sucked to be in that pit anyway, but how much more caustic is the liquid for the memory of the clear air?
In short, An Evening Redness is going to take many more listens to decipher, as the album weaves its brand of intricate, expressive, and never dull sort of drone/stoner/doom/desert cult vibes. I’m honestly not yet sure how to even feel about it; I am tempted towards pleasure and reverie by some of it, lulled into a sort of ego-death which only the desert can conjure, and then drowning in abject revolusion and disgust at its cruel, abrasive underbelly. It’s a damn good album, I can tell you that much and, for now at least, that shall suffice.
Earthless – The Night Parade of One Hundred Demons (stoner doom)
Double instrumental records from Pete this month! How lucky are we, huh?!? Just like I was referring to earlier, I think instrumental records really need to take you on a journey. Bands making instrumental music have the monumental task of expressing ideas without saying a word. You have to have a great musical vocabulary to really take your listener where you need them to go, and most musicians just don’t have that. But a blessed few hone their craft enough to know exactly how they make their listeners feel a certain way. Earthless is a band that knows how to do that, and Night Parade of One Hundred Demons took me on the psychedelic spooky ride I was hoping for.
The Night Parade of One Hundred Demons provides the environment it’s describing. There is a psychedelic stoner doom environment that is relaying the kind of soundtrack that should go along with such a parade. The 3 tracks combine to present an image of spectral apparitions marching along, unencumbered by the bounds of mortal man. Everything has space to breathe, and the swirling guitar tones further harden the imagery in your mind. I thought a lot about that old Disney skeleton dance cartoon they play at Halloween. The latest from the trio is the perfect soundscape record for that environment.
I think the specific standout track is “Night Parade Of One Hundred Demons, Pt. 2.” It is the example for the entire record. It’s very spacey and engaging, offering you as the listener the opportunity to get lost in the variety of sounds occurring throughout the song. While the bass and drums maintain the driving force keeping everything together, the guitars provide those extra touches to create an atmosphere that’s both intriguing and intimidating, likely the kind of feeling you would have watching evil phantoms march in front of you while you’re helpless to deflect what’s happening. I’ve run through this record numerous times since it was released, and “Pt. 2” is the one I keep coming back to. The entire record is something to admire, but in particular that second track is the spectral vision you wanted. Dig in on this stoner-ific spook-tacular!