If there's one thing that I can positively attribute to 2020, it'd be a massive upswing in my taste for drone/doom and its spiderweb of offshoot genres. Stretched-out soundscapes with both earth-shaking heaviness and soporific atmosphere are the perfect remedy for anxiety-ridden late nights when I can't focus for shit and triple-digit tempos are a cause for alarm.

Opium Warlords, then, seems to have been almost celestially appointed to close out 2020 with one of the strongest such offerings: Nembutal unifies sole member Sami "Albert Witchfinder" Hynninen's (of Reverend Bizarre and much, much more) taste for lumbering doom with disquieting drone and experimental elements that evoke a fascinating combination of emotional weight and dread.

...

...

There's a certain glee diving into an album and not knowing what's ahead, and avant-garde offerings have an advantage over more well-defined genres in that regard, where straying too far can clash with fan expectations. Not wasting that advantage, Nembutal holds its fair share of ear-perking oddities -- and even after a number of listens, it still surprises me. If you're familiar with previous releases, then you have some idea of what you're in for, but only loosely. Nembutal is more along the lines of 2014's Taste My Sword of Understanding than 2017's Droner, opting for (relatively) shorter songs, but it takes on a sonic character of its own: a sort of bright, foggy haze that feels notably new.

Nembutal starts off with a block of three massive tracks. The opener "A Heavy Heart" lands close to Reverend Bizarre territory: gigantic riffs and sparingly-applied drums complement Albert's rich, iconic vocals, often overdubbed into a jarring self-chorus. It's also 18 minutes long: not too lengthy in drone territory, but as a full-on traditional doom volley, it's a knockout. Perhaps that's the point -- the following songs "Threshold of Your Womb" and "Destroyer of Filth" pull away most of the drums in favor of unadulterated riff-vocal synergy, but their absence is hardly noticeable with the mental imprint left behind.

Then, the true horror of Nembutal takes hold: up until the closing track, the heaviness is whisked away to lurk underneath the floorboards. It's still there in spirit, but the sonic gap it leaves behind is filled with an insidious energy not so easy to pin down. "Sarah Was Nineteen Years Old" starts off this phase with clean bass, acoustic guitar, and murmured spoken word vocals that create a picture far more terrifying and depressive than any amplified riff could hope to achieve. Throughout the remaining tracks, strange groans and growls dot a musical landscape of rock, depressive folk-ish melody, and bizarre ambience.

Finally, after a thoroughly harrowing midsection, the album concludes with "Xanadu": heavy doom returns, punching through the gloom-drenched atmosphere with fifteen minutes of downtrodden fuzz that's like a sonic hangover cure.

...

...

Nembutal has a sense of death to it: not the guts-and-gore kind or the type with pentagrams and rituals, but one that's quiet and horrifying. It's the aural imprint of a passing that was, frankly, unremarkable in the grand scheme of things, but left behind stark grief and frantic denial regardless. That's a tough thought to put into words, let alone music, but it builds throughout the album and never dissipates. A particular lyric from "Early in the Morning the Body of the Girl Was Found" has stuck with me, capturing that sentiment of an unexpected end and the finality of it: "You are not coming... you are already here."

Albert's unmistakable vocal delivery, showcased foremost in Reverend Bizarre, is directly responsible for pulling me down into the luxurious depths of slow-as-shit doom metal, and frankly I only became aware of Opium Warlords much later on, lured in by that same element. However, Nembutal's oddly soothing horror, especially in this dire year, indicates that Opium Warlords might be the ideal vessel for Albert's other talent: creating uncomfortable music that's addicting as all hell.

...

Nembutal released December 4th, 2020 via Svart Records.


Support Invisible Oranges on Patreon and check out our merch.