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Review: SubRosa – ‘More Constant Than the Gods’

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The idea of doom metal being constructed in Salt Lake City may come as a surprise to some, considering the over-arching ultra conservatism of the state of Utah. The mormon bastion often boasts the highest margin of victory for Republican candidates, is the home of the squeaky clean Osmonds, yet also possesses a vibrant counterculture scene with numerous metal/hardcore acts. The Latter Day Saints of Doom Metal in SubRosa are a prime example of how areas that are predominantly populated by one community can often be the breeding grounds of a polar opposite subculture.

SubRosa’s sound on their upcoming More Constant Than the Gods LP acts as a microcosm of the contrasting cultures of SLC, relying heavily on dynamics and diverse instrumentation. The album is ushered in with the opening track “The Usher,” beginning with a delicate female/male call-and-response intro. After the somber introduction eventually concedes, without warning the Dopethrone-tone guitars and authoritative rhythm section enter, accompanied by swirling electric violins. The juxtaposition of the violins and the guitar/rhythm section will be consistent throughout the remainder of the album, working symbiotically and individually to create both graceful and tempestuous moods.

Three of the five members of SubRosa happen to be women, who comprise the core of the band and remain the only members who were present on all four of their recorded efforts. The guitar parts, handled by Rebecca Vernon, rarely meander outside its role as an extension of the rhythm section, therefore leaving the melody department to the vocals and the violinists Sarah Pendleton and Kim Pack.

Profound Lore Records has always had a penchant for the innovative, and the inclusion of the violins shrouded atop doom riffage has been SubRosa’s distinguishable characteristic since their well-acclaimed 2011 release No Help for the Mighty Ones. SubRosa have evolved quite a bit from their 2008 release Strega, a more hard rock oriented brand of stoner metal in the vain of Kylesa/Kyuss with more radio friendly song durations. Four of the six tracks on More Constant than the Gods clock in at over 11 minutes. The opening track is followed by “Ghosts of a Dead Empire,” perhaps the albums’ heaviest track, and is then succeeded by the shortest and most pop sensible track, the 7 ½ minute “Cosey Mo.”

While their ingenuity and unique approach has to be commended, SubRosa succumbs to the pitfall that oh so many doom bands fall victim too; stretching its strengths too thin. Although it may start very strong, the album begins to lose steam around the latter third of More Constant Than the Gods. It ultimately stagnates during the albums forgettable closer, a 12 1/2 minute song lacking drums/bass and features both a six-minute piano intro and a three minute hammer dulcimer outtro.

Although the pacing of the album could benefit from being condensed and tweaked in certain areas, More Constant Than the Gods is a compelling listen when the formula is just right. Layers are beautifully crafted, atmosphere is constantly morphing in intensity and temperament, all without coming off too dense or inarticulate. SubRosa have an astounding dynamic ability, reaching so many areas of the spectrum from melancholy to ferocious and every bleak area in between. More Constant Than the Gods is anything but rehashed worship of the forefathers of doom metal, and a much needed reminder that metal has infinite capabilities.

Matthew Achstatter

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