1. The Protean Towers
2. Kraken Mare
3. Crawling King Snake
4. On Mayda Insula
How much is enough? There are musical genres that thrive on dynamism and variety. Then there are genres where you accept, even expect a certain stasis – drone for example, or ambient music. A lot of doom metal (not all!) falls under this category – think of the mesmeric iterations of an Electric Wizard or Reverend Bizarre song. Certainly, the occult-tinged newcomers High Priest Of Saturn fall into this camp. Their songs are long, falling between 9 and 12 minutes, and there isn’t a lot of variation in tune or tempo on display. So what one looks for is a combination of mood, layering and perhaps some instrumental lead breaks. The songs do invoke a definite atmosphere with their ponderous riffs, something dark, serene and earthy, not unlike the state of mind conjured up by Alunah, another female-fronted band with pagan and occult leanings. The instrumental mix also helps keeps the texture interesting, with a prominent organ either following the riffs or providing its own twist to the proceedings. There’s a nicely overdriven bass that breaks out of the mix now and then and the guitarist has great tone and a nice line in meandering solo lines. The singer is a little generic, and there really isn’t the greatest variation in her vocal patterns from one song to the next. Then again, the songs themselves are all cut from the same cloth (a sort of homespun cotton, practical and dark but with some elegant touches of embroidery, to capitalize on the metaphor), so what we have here is an album with a great unity of tone and device.
But is it enough? I’m not quite sure, and yet I’m not sure that greater variety was ever in the band’s masterplan. There are doom bands who seize on Iommi’s keep-them-guessing songcraft and thoughtfully (or sometimes willfully) vary their songs with interludes and tempo shifts – later Cathedral comes to mind, or trad doomsters Lord Vicar. Even Electric Wizard, the masters (and mistress) of the riff that stretches from here to the horizon actually have a fair amount of dynamics and shifts in their songs once you settle in and get into the groove. These songs are a lot more static, and there isn’t a single deviation from the midtempo groove anywhere in sight. Instead, the band takes its time, giving the riffs time to ebb and flow with occasional wave-crests of solo improvisation breaking out. The vocals come and go, more like a ritual chant than anything else, and there are subtle climaxes and plateaus like the extended keyboard and guitar solos in the middle of ‘On Mayda Insula’.
Ultimately, this isn’t the kind of album that makes an instant impact. I don’t think it’s likely to evoke strong passions in a listener, but it is a very pleasant, gorgeously gloomy ride. The slow, majestic riffs, the laidback jams and the overall consistency of atmosphere are all quite effective. It’s like riding through hills that likely contain great natural beauty, but are currently veiled with thick mist. A few more stand-out melodies and some vocal hooks would have gone a long way towards creating a more memorable debut, but if you’re in the mood for mystery, melancholy and things seen from afar in half-light, you could do worse than spin this album.