I don't know about you but if winter is black metal's then I feel like spring is doom's and stoner's. There's something about the awakening of life, of the beginning of the cycle, that just makes me crave big riffs, slow chords, and a slow unfurling akin to the world shaking off its snowy shackles and rising forth once again. Maybe coincidentally and maybe otherwise, it seems as if many bands across the genre agree with me, having released some truly stellar material over the prepatory month of March. So, maybe put on your headphones and go outside, if the weather where you are permits it, to soak up the growing energies of life all around us while these truly excellent tunes play in your ears.
REZN - Solace
This might just be the first doom album in 2023 that I unabashedly love. Don’t get me wrong, AHAB’s latest foray back into the depths is also excellent, but there’s something about REZN’s Solace that just...beguiles me. Maybe it’s because the album is incredibly hard to categorize, running the gamut between funeral doom, drone, stoner, and more. Or, probably more likely, I am just a complete sucker for the balances created between emotional, expansive doom, flutes and string instruments, and heavy-hitting, groove focused segments. Solace has all of that in droves, creating the kind of galaxy-spanning soundscapes as Dreadnought does but doubling down on the doom metal aspects of their sound instead of black metal.
The album’s opener, “Allured by Feverish Visions”, is a perfect opener; it’s an instrumental set-piece that feels like you’re standing at the bottom of the mountain the album’s (gorgeous) cover, look up and around you at the scenes you are about to encounter. The flute weaves and winds around the slowly building riff, like wisps of cloud on scaling cliffs. All of this is a setup for “Possession”, the following track, which introduces alluring, psychedelic vocals into the mix. The psychedelic elements also bleed into the instruments, where the guitar is wont to suddenly explode with momentary flashes of color, conjuring forth a trippy sound that elevates the ponderous composition of the track.
Elsewhere on the album, starting from the end of the aforementioned “Possession” and running all the way to the album’s close, more monstrous riffs and vocals stalk the album’s core compositions. At times, the whole fragile structure that REZN constructs feels like it threatens to collapse, huge chords mingling with pronounced bass and shattering cymbals to create an overwhelming feeling of doom metal pressure. In short, the album can hit just as hard as it entices, completing the full promise of a great doom release: it not only beguiles but also reveals, slicing deep with a core of steel in between the silky veils of its more beautiful, sparse compositions. Solace is the best album in 2023 to strike this delicate balance, sending my heart aflutter with love for the genre and its trappings.
Ikarie - Arde
While I often draw a pretty firm line between the two genres, post-metal and doom have a healthy amount of overlap in style. Both tend to have an emphasis on longer form songwriting, both can lean slower in tempo, and both really shine when they’re fronted by a vocalist with an absolutely massive voice, either clean or harsh. Enter Spain’s Ikarie, a band playing a fusion of the two to exceptional effect.
While the immediate influence one hears as soon as Arde starts will undoubtedly be Cult of Luna, the album veers quite heavily into doomier territory several times as songs will transition into slow, plodding sections full of gigantic roars and fuzzy riffs. This juxtaposes wonderfully with the moments that are more crushing and frenetic, highlighted by wonderfully aggressive roars and riffs that feel like they could level a house.
While all of those individual components may not make for a fantastic album on their own, it’s the way Ikarie brings them all together that really shines. Each song never takes too long sitting in its own atmosphere before it moves on to something else, and while that doesn’t always work for post-metal or doom, it does here. The longest track on the album is 7 minutes, with several closer to or below the 5 minute mark, and it lends a feeling of immediacy to a listen that is often absent in these genres.
On top of this you have a mixing job that makes the album feel as though it is folding in around you and suffocating you from all sides, truly capitalizing on how gigantic the instrumentation and vocals feel, and you’ve got an album that is well worth the time of any fan of either genre.
Black Helium - Um
It’s been a while since we last covered London’s Black Helium, but their latest, UM, is a nice reminder of the spellbinding capabilities of heavy psych. Their signature throwback-but-not-too-throwback sound returns, this time utilizing an even fuller palette of psych rock hues to even trippier effect than prior releases. Brushstrokes of krautrock, space rock, and desert rock are vibrant amidst the intermingling hazes of doomy guitars and synths, and it’s a natural progression for the group. The production is exquisite, the three- (and at time four-) piece morphs through each of UM’s five tracks, traversing disparate sonic territories with an incredible ease. Opener “Another Heaven” sets the tone well, inundating listeners with a psychedelic barrage before settling into some nice grooves and bounding into delicious psych-doom depths.
Similarly, the nearly 16-minute closer “The Keys to Red Skelton’s House” makes for an epic and dramatic resolution, finding footing with a jammier, more freewheeling ‘tude, but what lies between is no less magical (I’ll let you sink into that yourself). They really cover a lot of ground on this outing, at times bringing to mind the likes of Dead Meadow, Black Mountain, King Buffalo, and The Black Angels, amongst others. I’m sure I’ve said it before, but I’m a mark for pretty much anyone who can put a fresh spin on a classic sound, and UM just might be the finest example of this achievement in the heavy psych realm in 2023.
Sound of Smoke - Phases
I don’t think there’s been a more aptly titled, or aptly adorned, album released in 2023. Phases does exactly what it says, and looks like, on the tin, namely conjuring forth trippy psychedelic riffs, enticing vocals like rings of smoke in a purple lit-air, and a groove section which goes on for miles. If you’re searching for an album that wraps around your mind and slowly croons to you while the world passes by around you, whether inspired by the music itself or a substance (or two), this is the album for you. It is the perfect album to disappear to, replacing you with feedback, bass, and other-worldly vocals. Light up, tune in, zone out, lift off. All of this and more when you play Sound of Smoke’s Phases, preferably very loud in a dark room while zoinked out of your mind.