December 23, 2019

Doom and Gloom for the Holidays

By Calen Henry. Holiday music tends to start a bit early and maybe you've had your fill by now. If you need something a bit gloomier for the final stretch, here's a triple dose of doom to bring you down and pull you through.
By Calen Henry.

Holiday music tends to start a bit early and maybe you've had your fill by now. If you need something a bit gloomier for the final stretch, here's a triple dose of doom to bring you down and pull you through.

Artwork by Paolo Girardi.

Perennially underrated death doom stalwarts Runemagick dropped their thirteenth album in late October. Into Desolate Realms, true to its name, album number, and release just before Halloween is all about doom and desolation.

It’s laser focused right from the cover art; an erupting volcano, flanked by the moon and a red sun, surrounded by jagged mountain peaks. The lyrics detail ruined civilizations, arcane rituals, awakening horrors, and creeping dread and they're delivered in a low, but intelligible growl. The songs are predominantly made up of ominous chromatic riffs, and writhing tremolo leads, supported by drum fills to move from riff to riff, rarely settling into straightforward chugging. Most tracks are fundamentally a mid-tempo trudge but within a relatively narrow death doom framework Runemagick keep the songs going with near constant movement in the guitars or drums. It’s a fascinating approach reminiscent of the most recent Hooded Menace, but rather than coming across as Gothic decrepitude there’s a constant oppressive feeling permeating the album giving it a bit of the edge of HM-2 driven old school death metal.

Straddling so close to the line between death metal and doom metal may put off fans leaning more towards one camp over the other. Additionally the album length can be a bit intimidating, but it’s worth noting that the final three tracks (totaling about 20 minutes) are taken from the band’s EP, The Opening of Dead Gates, and are a nice bonus but the album flows better when “After the Sepulchral Lava” is the actual closer.

Artwork by John Gallo.

Ruins of Eternity is only Orodruin’s second album, and it comes 16 years after their debut putting them in an odd place; little known veterans returning to a genre that has since exploded in popularity. The closest modern touch points are Crypt Sermon and Khemmis but Orodruin sounds much more vintage than the former, and more purely traditional doom than the latter. The guitar, both the tone and the playing, set Orodruin apart the most from the pack.

The tone is much mellower than a lot of doom metal, far more vintage tube overdrive than modern distortion. Even the amount of drive is dialed back closer to 60's and 70's rock and proto-metal than full fledged doom metal. The mellow drive doesn’t hinder the riffs though; they still crush, but occasionally breaks into faster galloping metal riffs and fuzzed out leads. The bass and drums fill out the sound nicely, with thumping clean bass supporting the guitars and nice variety in the drums leading from riff to riff. The soft edge to the guitar attack works well with the purely clean vocals to deliver a compelling spin on what, at first may seem like a fairly standard doom record.

That might explain why it seems to have gotten somewhat glossed over, which is a shame, because Orodruin have made one of the better doom records this year, and one that gets even better every time I spin it.

Lord Dying, having put out two albums of Savannah Sludge metal akin to bands like Black Tusk, Baroness, and Kylesa, released something completely different for their new opus Mysterium Tremendum. Looking backwards to 70's prog rock for inspiration, and inwards through personal tragedy, the band deliver a prog infused conceptual sludge opus dealing with the terrible mystery (mysterium tremendum in Latin) that is death.

Catalysed by personal tragedy it's a conceptual record about the inevitability of death, reconciling that with the desire to live life to the fullest giving it a note of hope within the heavy themes.

To address the mastodon in the room, no, it’s not the first time a sludge metal band have reinvented themselves by looking back to classic prog rock to address tragedy, and there are certainly similarities. Lord Dying's abrupt shift to prog over one album contrasts with Mastodon's slow ascend to the prog zenith and where Crack the Skye took a maximalist approach with layer upon layer of instruments, Mysterium Tremendum is austere by prog standards.

Whether it's swirling, droning, leads, quieter acoustic passages or the stomping sludge sections that make up the albums's musical push/pull, the band mostly limits themselves to a bass groove, a guitar groove, and a lead over top. It keeps things approachable, and helps mesh the prog and sludge parts. It also means that, near the end of Mysterium Tremendum where they start to layer the sound and bring in synths, it hits harder and makes the overall album flow extremely well.

[This is the last post on Metal Bandcamp in 2019. See you again next year.]
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