Goatess – Goatess

Jayaprakash Satyamurthy reviews Goatess‘ self titled debut released via Svart Records.

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Tracklist

01. Know Your Animal
02. Alpha Omega
03. Ripe
04. Full Moon at Noon
05. Oracle Pt. 1: The Mist
06. Oracle Pt. 2
07. King One
08. Tentacles of Zen

Doom vocalist Chritus Linderson is on a roll. He took a hiatus from music, then returned to the doom fray at the helm of Lord Vicar, the brainchild of Kimi Karki (ex-Reverend Bizarre), releasing at least one album that will be counted among the true masterpieces of the doom genre in the 21st century. Now, he’s launched another band, Goatess, and its first album may well be another addition to that list of instant doom classics.

What sets this album apart from a lot of traditional doom revivalists, apart, that is, from the credentials brought to the table by Chritus? Most of all, the music. Yes, it’s clearly rooted in traditional metal, orthodox doom and a snifter or two of vintage stoner metal, to say nothing of the 70s hard rocking legacy underlying all these styles. But there’s nothing staid or stale about the way this band approaches its idiom. Rather than a whiff of mothballs, these songs evoke the heady, ozone-laced atmosphere that precedes a thrilling thunderstorm.

Consider the opening track, ‘Know Your Animal’. Commencing with a pedal-point riff that’s pure traditional metal, it moves into a power chord driven, fuzz-saturated refrain that cleverly works in references to the original melody. Chritus sings like a more craggy, yet soaring Ozzy, openly referencing the batmuncher’s delivery on ‘Never Say Die’, yet the song and the singer retain more original identity than the Orchids of the world. ‘Alpha Omega’ starts with a riff that is pure traditional doom: slow, melancholy and earth-shaking. Chritus cuts in with bluesy, confrontational vocals over a lurching, staccato riff, and then launches into a plaintive, wailing chorus over a vast, melodic riff. The changes are so organic, so fitting that the song pulls you along effortlessly. Songwriting of this caliber goes beyond questions of influence and style; its sheer excellence cannot help but draw you in.

Then there’s ‘Ripe’, where the bass introduces an instantly memorable, slow, bluesy figure that the guitarist then picks up, adding depth and warmth. We’ve heard this gambit  before, but the riff in question is so good, the delivery so assured, and the subsequent changes so effective that there is no questioning the validity of this old-school-rooted approach or the freshness which inspired music-making like this brings to the mix. I could continue praising each song in a dreary track-by-track commentary, but let me just call attention to the kraut-rinsed jamming on ‘King One’ and the slightly Eastern, very psychedelic touches on ‘Tentacles of Zen’.

It’s hard to believe this band began as a weekend jam thing. There’s not a single throwaway element: all the songs stretch over 7 minutes (with a solitary exception, which is anyway part of a longer song-suite), and that running time isn’t the product of shapeless noodling but of satisfying, long-form structures packed with memorable melodies, riffs and vocals. It isn’t just a Chritus showcase, although the range and variety he displays is dazzling – Niklas is a versatile guitarist with mountains of feel and Findus and Kenta prove to be a dynamic, tasteful rhythm section, always wonderfully idiomatic. Goatess shows the would-be old school doomsters of the world how it’s done: not with slavish imitations of the past but by building on a legacy in an imaginative, individualistic way, neither intimidated by nor disdainful of influences.  In other words, it’s a bloody good doom-metal-hard-rock-stoner-psych album and you really ought to go give it a listen.

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Dark Buddha Rising – Dakhmandal

Jayaprakash Satyamurthy reviews the new album from Dark Buddha Rising titled Dakhmandal, released via Svart Records.

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Tracklisting:
1. D
2. K
3. H
4. M
5. N
6. L

Mark your calendars: June 7th, 2013 is going to be the day a new highwater mark is achieved in the drone/doom/sludge space. That’s the day Dark Buddha Rising’s new album, ‘Dakhmandal’ drops.

Few artists emerging from this space have made this kind of impact on me since, oh Orthodox and Khanate before them. When I first heard of Dark Buddha Rising, I assumed they’d be a slightly kraut-y, psychedelic/stoner jam outfit like the excellent but very different My Sleeping Karma. If you need to take a moment to shake your head in dismay at the shallowness of my thought processes, go ahead, I’ll wait. Oh good, you’re back. Well, when I heard Dark Buddha Rising’s previous album, 2011’s ‘Abyssolute Transfinite’, I realized how wrong I was. This is hermetic music, obscure and even oppressive, yet with a compelling, mesmeric atmosphere. Sparse, deconstructed passages co-exist with supermassive, dense sequences that feel like sludge metal played inside a black hole. The final impression is one of incredible heaviness, but in a ritualistic and leftfield manner.

Dakhmandal ably carries on with the band’s campaign of esoteric sonic persecution, refining it to a new peak of majesty and authority. This is completely uncompromising music, music that you have to work towards understanding, and that can be an incredibly refreshing experience after the wash of US sludge bands miming the sounds of post-peak Mastodon or Baroness. If you’re at all into heavy music, you don’t always want to be pulled along by hooks, accessible melodies and catchy vocals. Sometimes you need to listen to music that is shaped by individualism, integrity and some very twisted yet absolutely brilliant and original sensibilities.

If so, the cycle of songs on this album will serve as a series of destinations on a grueling but rewarding sonic journey. These songs may well stand on their own, but it’s clear that they were meant to be listened to as a suite.

 

 

The opening song, ‘D’ begins with the faintest hints of sound – the stray feedback artifact, a distant almost-drone that keens to itself in darkness. Three minutes in, a simple bass pulse emerges out of this mysterious soundscape. The ritual has begun. Melody starts to insinuate itself, ever so subtly, into this realm of antediluvian rhythm and drone. The claustral atmosphere opens out, as if we’re emerging from a cave into bright starlight, into the kind of atmosphere created by an Om song. ‘K’ plunges us into the world of craggy, overdriven guitars and sludgy riffs. Hollow, incantatory vocals invite us deeper into the mysteries of an unfolding catechism. The song shifts gear into a drawn-out spacey, downtempo jam before building up to a sludgy finale. ‘H’ is another serving of mountainous riffs, moving at geological speed, like a slightly less ponderous Khanate. Aggressive stasis defines this song, as opposed to the shifting musical textures of the previous tracks. This is a Sargasso Sea of sound that is eventually swallowed in mist and squall. ‘M’ strips away the sludge metal appurtenances to take us into a vaulted chamber where a mutated organ vies with other droning layers. Then, a simple, pulsating guitar melody signals a shift into something that I can best describe as shamanic. Seriously, nevermind the Morrison bollocks, this is the real deal. At times, the warm, sunshiny, mystical feel of this song reminds me of those masters of the drone, Earth, but more occult and less Cormac McCarthy. The spirits have certainly been invited to this feast. The song closes out with some wall-to-wall riffing and vocals that are reminiscent of Yob’s more mantra-like moments. ‘N’ continues mine the same vein of monumental riffs, cavernous atmosphere and transcendental sludge. How do you close out an album like this? The last track, ‘L’ takes its time coalescing out of a wash of feedback and almost disjointed drumming. Ominous, fervent vocal proclamations issue from a preacher’s pulpit, but one that is obviously stationed in some cavernous subterranean cathedral to an unknown deity. Distant, soaring choruses float behind veils of sheer noise – and then there’s a simple, insistent groove which emerges as a focus for a pulsing, hypnotic song with weird chants and harsh invocations hovering just out of reach.  It’s a monumental ending, full of restraint, power and an unusual widdershins grace.

Some have described this music as dirge-like, but I think it’s more than that. Something is being celebrated here, but it is not of the daylit world we imagine we inhabit. This is bigger than Satanism or paganism. It’s an initiation into the mysteries of the sonic arcana. After three self-released albums, this is Dark Buddha Rising’s first album to be released by an external label – Svart Records. Credit is due to Svart for having the vision to take on this 80-minute exercise in sound as ritual. This is a band and a record that deserves a wider audience, although the uncompromising intensity and uniqueness of their sound necessarily imposes a limit on that audience.

 

Hexvessel – Iron Marsh (EP)

Jayaprakash Satyamurthy reviews the new EP from Hexvessel titled Iron Marsh released via Svart Records.

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Tracklisting:

1. Masks Of The Universe
2. Superstitious Currents
3. The Tunnel At The End Of The Light (Redux)
4. Woman Of Salem (Yoko Ono cover Feat. Rosie from Purson)
5.  Don’t Break The Curse (Feat. Alia from Blood Ceremony)

‘Dawnbringer’ was an auspicious debut for Hexvessel, bringing them to the attention of the growing occult doom scene, even though they don’t really play doom, or didn’t at that point, and getting them a slot at the Roadburn festival. Their second full-length, ‘No Holier Temple’ added a wider sonic range, including electric guitars. The album was also darker, more varied and heavier – without resorting to generic strategies – than its predecessor, which felt a bit whispy, a hair’s breath away from twee at times. Make no mistake, Hexvessel are still playing psychedelic folk music, but they’ve moved from being a potential novelty act into something that has the power and scope to appeal to fans of seminal neofolk acts like Current 93.

The ‘Iron Marsh’ EP carries on with this trend, opening with a moody epic track called ‘Masks of the Universe’ where incantatory vocals and folksy fiddles co-exist with almost gothic electric guitars. ‘Superstitious Currents’ is more folksy, with an elegiac tone and brooding, droning strings contrasting with the lucid fiddle melodies and percussive backbone. ‘Tunnel at the End of the Light’ is a remake of a track from ‘Dawnbearer’. This new setting underscores the evolution of the band’s sound. The original version was sparser, acoustic, more overtly folk. This time there are electric guitars and keyboards and a conventional drumkit, as well as female backing vocals in place of Carl-Michael Eide’s guest vocals, but the song hasn’t lost its darkly beautiful mood. The arrangement is less craggy, but it hasn’t exchanged character for volume.

Hexvessel have made the transition from something akin to a darker, more pagan (and less eccentric) The Incredible String Band to something closer to the magnificent blend of folk music (and mood) with rock instrumentation achieved by Jethro Tull on ‘Heavy Horses’ and they make good use of the expanded resources afforded by this transition. The Yoko Ono cover, ‘Woman Of Salem’ carries on with Hexvessel’s tradition of oddball cover choices, although this one is a lot less obvious yet even more apropos than some. A snaky wah-laced guitar slithers in and out of a thrumming acoustic guitar and keyboard arrangement with dual male and female vocals. The end result is a weird, black magic-haunted song that could easily stand alongside ‘Witchfinder’ by Mandy Morton and Spriguns, a unjustly obscure band from the British folk revival of the 70s (look them up – youtube is your friend!). It’s also worth listening to Yoko Ono’s original – she’s so much more than just the woman who supposedly broke up The Beatles. The last track, ‘Don’t Break The Curse’ starts strongly and has some great spoken word bits, but feels a bit over-extended by the time it finishes.

I don’t think this EP marks another step forward in Hexvessel’s stylistic growth, but I also think they are at a point where they can afford to consolidate the gains they’ve made in extending their sonic palette rather than venturing into further experimentation. As such, ‘Iron Marsh’ shows off the strengths of their current approach and serves as an effective appetiser for the next full-length.

Hight Priest of Saturn (self-titled)

Jayaprakash Satyamurthy reviews the new self-titled from High Priest of Saturn released via Svart Records.

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Tracklist:

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.