Shadows in the Corner: Five Spectral Doom Metal Releases Haunting 2020
Music is generally a decent escape for me, but even in the best of years keeping track of new releases is tough -- embarking on a YouTube odyssey or checking out a recommended album requires battling the decision fatigue that generally has fully set in by the time of day that I'm actually able to listen to stuff uninterrupted. This year, of course, things have just gone to shit entirely, so I've pretty much hit a lifetime low in music discovery. I can think of multiple times that I've heard from someone that an album was good, skimmed past multiple positive reviews of it on my social feeds, seen a YouTube stream for it show up as a suggested video, and still not listened to it.
However, I've managed to get a decent grip on the new-but-hopefully-not-forever normal, adjusted my routines, and in the past few weeks, redoubled my inspection of the year's releases so far -- of which there've been many, despite the extra challenges now present in any recording effort. While there've been some quality albums I listened to but simply didn't "get", at the time, or had capacity to cover, a disturbingly large number never even made it onto my radar -- and appear to have been missed in general. Langdon Hickman recently sifted out six exquisite death metal picks for your consideration, but I've targeted a different genre. These are the fuzz-ridden spectres that unquietly lie in wait behind the veil of sleep; rumbling titans buried beneath the earth. Lurking just outside your vision, here's five doom metal albums that perhaps missed their fair share of fanfare but offer high-quality listening to those who dare to seek them out.
Cardinals Folly - Defying The Righteous Way
March 6th, 2020
Cardinals Folly seems like a band that certainly could have played by the numbers: bash out a bunch of solid doom songs, pack them with gloom and sadness, and you're off to the races, especially with the talent of the band and the impressive vocal delivery of bassist/vocalist Count Karnstein. Instead, five albums in, they're still adding a crucial, irresistible element to their traditional doom core that sets them apart from the pack: sheer insanity.
While songs like "Stars Align Again" are super-solid riffers with just a shade of deviance to them, further on we come to "Witchfinders," where punky and uptempo instrumentation finds Karnstein swapping between grievous screams and his usual somber intonation without warning or pattern. As if that was just a bout of temporary madness, the following track "The Great Santur" spends its entire eight minutes in full-bore molasses-tier doom mode. Plenty of bands make killer albums without breaking away from doom metal's usual tropes, but being able to deliver those while also occasionally upping the ante to break away from predictability makes for memorable listening.
Wicked Wizzard - Warlords of the Dark Realms
March 21, 2020
Although the intro track for the album is markedly subdued, the rest of Warlords of the Dark Realms is a fantastical voyage into the realms of early stoner rock. Packed with whirlwinds of chunky riffs and lengthy lead portions, the energetic stomps contained here are only occasionally interrupted by quieter bass-driven segments for the sake of diversity. The rhythm section provides the force, but the guitars shape that force into numerous explorations of retro-minded rock. Ranging from proto-metallish chugging to drawn-out jams, this could easily pass as a neglected record from the 1980s that's just been waiting to be discovered on a dusty shelf.
Of Wolves - Balance
July 4th, 2020
Musically running a gamut from straight-up punk to grisly sludge, there are two constants in Balance that tie things together: first, the knotted and oozing tones that both bass and guitar produce, and second, unbridled rage. Of Wolves has been around for a long time -- over ten years -- and the anger and discontent that sparked the band originally has, with the change in the political climate in the last few years, kindled into an all-consuming blaze.
Balance pulls off a balancing act of its own: the band's messages come through loud and clear, but these songs kick ass on their own without needing any higher purpose to validate them. A heavy emphasis on rhythmic switchups and precise grooves lets the rhythm section drive aggressive tracks with punishingly tight cooperation, while the dynamic title track and "Clear Cutting/Bloodshed/Heart to Hand" show a capacity for developing atmospheric tension and then reaping its rewards via crushing slowness and blood-curdling screams.
I saw Of Wolves play some of these songs live last year -- in a bakery, no less, that doubles as a live venue and a bar. Even against a backdrop of chocolatey baked goods with a scant five feet between band and crowd, Of Wolves' furious multi-genre concoction can cut into your very core.
Velvet Merlin - Wizard Tamer
June 15, 2020
Wizard Tamer sounds like it was recorded in a damp basement. Actually, scratch that -- it sounds like it was performed in said damp basement while it was recorded from a neighboring basement. And yet, it sounds pretty good -- it captures that extra-rough feeling of bootleg 1970s records and shoddy demo tapes where warbling bass tones sometimes swell to ridiculous proportions and dominate the mix ever so satisfyingly as the drums do their best to pound through and guitar wails on in the background. The organs that the dubiously-named "Evol Derrick" adds take on an extra B-movie-horror-style thrill in this soundscape, where they screech and scrape in the borders of the mix.
Frankly, I can't understand a single damn word of the lyrics, reverb-packed as the vocals are, but with song titles like "Semen Portal" and "Shadow Diddler," I generally get the idea. This is inebriated stoner madness at its best: huge doomy riffs draped with campy shock rock trappings, performed by a band with the chops (and more importantly, the audacity) to throw in a twenty-minute live jam at the end of the album. It's weird, messy, and ridiculous -- and it comes strongly recommended because of all that. The tag line on the Bandcamp page really says it all:
IF IT SOUNDS FUCKED UP ITS BECAUSE WE WERE
Dun Ringill - Library of Death
July 31st, 2020
You know, libraries aren't usually associated with death -- it's pretty abnormal to die in one, after all. Similarly, Library of Death is a pretty unusual album -- Dun Ringill, hailing from Sweden but taking their name from an old Scottish fort (or maybe the Jethro Tull song), offers up some truly old-school doom that weaves folk influence into their oddly-instrumented interludes and also into the heavy riffs that dominate the band's compositions. This combination works astoundingly well, and it's really been tapped far too infrequently and barely ever in combination with the traditional-minded riff-centric approach that Dun Ringill takes.
Stately, formal, and malevolent, Library of Death is lawful evil put into musical form. Frontman Tomas Eriksson sings and growls in precisely measured time, careful to let venom drip from his words as he bids listeners welcome in the title track "Library of Death". Each dour riff feels crafted by sinister hands, relishing in minor keys and down-turned phrases that put a chill into listeners' spines. A highlight for me is "My Funeral Song," which starts off with an especially gloom-ridden introduction laced with delightful use of cello before the doom daze takes hold.
It'll make you a statistical outlier, sure, but I highly recommend stepping into the Library of Death -- there's no better riffs among which to take your last breath.
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