Doomsday, Doomsday, DOOMSDAY, DOOMSDAY! So the people chant and so I must deliver to them! Hold on though; Eden? In MY Doomsday intro? That's right, it is I, the multi-faceted and many-powered Eden Kupermintz, emerging like a Vancian goblin into your column with my verbal charms and meaningless grammatical cantrips! Our dear Leader in Doom, Mr. Pete Williams, has had to take a step backwards from the blog to go and do Life Things and so I have graciously, magnanimously, virtuously, stepped in to shoulder the mighty burden that is running the Doomsday column. And so, here we are, looking back at the first month-plus-change of 2023 through the broken, grimy mirror of doom and doom-adjacent releases.
What else is new? Oh right, we have a new writer who goes by the name Jonah and who is going to regularly submit to this column as well. His debut is frot he excellent and underrated Signo Rojo and that album slaps all kinds of heiny so well done Jonah. Alright, enough mincing of words; onwards towards the riffs!
Signo Rojo - There Was a Hole Here
There is very little in the world of music, and of metal, that fills me with as much immediate joy as finding a new album that really hooks me and doesn’t let me go. Something that my brain can sink its teeth into and tear apart, looking for the melodies, riffs, or atmosphere that scratched my pleasure centers just right. Sadly 2023 hasn’t given me all that many candidates for this joyous experience as of yet, but one of the most prominent is the latest album by Swedish band Signo Rojo, There Was a Hole Here.
Full to the brim with the things any sludge fan craves, namely crushing riffs, pummeling drums, and vocals that sound like they’re chock full of whiskey and razor blades, Signo Rojo falls into a particular niche in the genre by sounding like they’re right out of the American South, namely Georgia. With a sound that brings to mind the early releases of genre greats Mastodon and Baroness, while maintaining enough identity to remain engaging and intriguing, the band has really outdone themselves with this release.
While every member of the band has their moments to shine, and all do, the real stars of the show here are guitarists Elias Mellberg and Ola Bäckström, and perhaps most prominently vocalist/bassist Jonas Nilsson. There Was a Hole Here bounds from track to track, each filled with an assortment of creative and intriguing riffs. Every one feels simultaneously familiar and interesting, and while the band never plumbs the depths of heaviness that other members of the genre may, each song absolutely commands the attention of the listener and never dwells in the same place longer than needed. Similarly, Jonas’ vocals are aggressive and engaging, sitting somewhere between a full growl and a shout. They are gruff and loud, but somehow also melodic and at times almost pretty, and are the first thing that really grabbed my attention when I threw this album on. Also of note is the production, which is loud and punchy without sacrificing clarity. Every element of the band is clear and audible, without ever feeling sterile. There’s plenty of grit here and my ears love every moment of it.
There Was a Hole Here opens up with a bang on “Enough Rope”, a nearly 8 minute track full of twists and turns that crashes in with a riff that feels straight off of any early 2000s sludge band’s debut album. Mid-album highlights “The World Inside” and “There Was a Hole Here” present the listener with crushing doom-laden riffage and an anthemic hardcore banger respectively, and the album draws to a close with the classically sludgy “Botfly”. The songs never feel static, something that the genre can tend towards if a band isn’t careful, and instead are consistently jumping from one idea to another with the compositional skills of a band with decades of experience. This is true of every track on There Was a Hole Here, never do they seem lacking in direction, and any time a section feels like it could be bordering on over-long the band is already leaping full force into something new.
While I’m clearly, and I believe fairly, enamored with this album I do want to note that this sound isn’t really anything new. There Was a Hole Here could’ve been released in the early 2000s alongside Mastodon’s Remission and would’ve felt right at home, so while I think this is a stellar representation of the sound nobody should go into this album expecting a reforging of the genre. Signo Rojo isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel, they’re just trying to refine it, and they do a damn good job.
AHAB - The Coral Tombs
Some people are incredibly wrong and don’t like AHAB’s previous release, The Boats of the Glen Carrig. They cite something about the album not feeling crushing enough. Now, granted, the album is definitely much more dynamic and varied than AHAB’s previous propensity for massive funeral doom but I find that this dynamism makes the album more crushing instead of less. The key is, of course, in the contrast; loud things are louder when they’re placed next to things which are quieter and the latter become more fragile when they exist in-between the unbearable weight of gigantic riffs. This is definitely AHAB’s approach on their latest release as well; The Corral Tombs is perhaps their most challenging, complex, and intricate albums, which leads it also to be their heaviest.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of “straight-forward” heaviness on this release. It literally opens with the most filthy growl of AHAB’s career, verging on slam metal gurgles, which feeds right into the iconic vocals of Chris Dark of Ultha fame (if you have not heard them, you are missing out). This note also fades into the classic AHAB riff, the weight of tons of frigid water crashing down on you. But this passage, which opens the first track “Prof. Arronax’ descent into the vast oceans”, is immediately followed by a mournful, drawn out, deceptively “quieter” passage dominated by the unique vocals which worked so well on AHAB’s previous album. When you join these two together, as well as the return of the heavier riff in a new form later down the track, you once again conjure that shiver-inducing, bone-crushing, soul-drenching doom that AHAB are so good at creating.
Lord Mountain - The Oath
I am a sucker for a good myth. Any epic story filled with faraway lands, fantastical creatures, and larger-than-life heroes is almost guaranteed to end up on my bookshelf. That love of an absorbing tale is closely tied to my love of heavy metal and doom as both genres are excellent storytelling mediums. They’re two sides of the same coin; the optimism to start great adventures and the heavy price of victory. That powerful combination arms Northern California epic doomers Lord Mountain for their first full-length album, The Oath.
As the name implies, The Oath leans heavily into the hero’s tale as a lyrical and instrumental theme. The band captures the emotional highs and lows of storytelling through their excellent songwriting skills. “The Last Crossing” is a prime example of how Lord Mountain uses the contrasting natures of heavy metal and doom to build songs that are infinitely more powerful. It kicks off with the heart-pumping swagger of a hero marching off on a quest, only to slam into a wall of epic doom riffs as they fall into misery and blight. Our hero is the same grand character, only weary with defeat. It’s a four minute tale that lifts us up, wears us down, and carries us home.
Lord Mountain manages to turn every track on The Oath into a myth wrought miniature with alternately soaring and crushing riffs, heavy metal gallops and doomy dirges. It’s utterly emotional and yet utterly delightful.