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Album Review: “A Driftwood Cross” by Witchskull

Australian metal trio Witchskull conjure occult imagery atop a fuzzy, distorted musical foundation on its third record, A Driftwood Cross. Cross is a straightforward, no frills album with eight tracks that do not cross the six minute mark. Album opener “Black Cathedrals” is a down tuned galloping rocker with a grimy riff that propels like a motorcycle down a desert road. Marcus de Pasquale’s soulful wails and brief guitar leads energize the track before it concludes with a slow tempo and bluesy solo. “Baphomet’s Child” is a grinding track which is more stoner hard rock than desolate doom metal. “The Red Altar” opens with a simply, creepy bass line before the drums and guitar join in for the ceremony. “Altar” is more doom than the previous tracks with its slow tempo and crunching guitars. The sorrowful solo and minor guitar riffs punctuate the hopeless feeling on this track. Cross speeds back up with “Dresden,” with its military like tempo and pounding bass drum. The Judas Priest and Iron Maiden influence shows on the first half of this song. However, the track slows at the midpoint with a haunting clean guitar chords and Tony McMahon’s chilling bass line. “Nero Order” opens with building drums and psychedelic guitar chords that explode in to a thick, rumbling riff. The title track concludes the album and opens with a sludgy guitar riff and plodding drums before speeding up towards the end. It is a dirty, spacey song that properly sends A Driftwood Cross away.

Driftwood Cross is notable for its brevity as the album is roughly 38 minutes long and the band never jams on this record. Long, slow songs are typical in the doom and stoner sub-genres, yet Witchskull eschewed this convention in favor of dynamic songs that are fairly mid-paced. Thus, the despair and hopelessness commonly associated with doom metal is not prevalent on this record as opposed to a band like Konvent or Crowbar. The band’s gritty sound is not over produced and all three instruments are audible.

Witchskull’s third effort is a solid one and fans of stoner and doom will take to A Driftwood Cross. However, this album is not filled with dirges like a Paradise Lost or My Dying Bride album. This album skews more hard rock but still maintains a degree of doom metal. Witchskull are carving a niche for itself and A Driftwood Cross shows the trio are not drifting away.

Check out the band’s official website here:

https://www.witchskull.com/

CD review: “The Door To Doom” by Candlemass

The doom metal luminaries in Candlemass return with the band’s newest release in seven years, The Door To Doom.

The gargantuan riffs on “Splendor Majestic Demon” leave no doubt that the listener is in store for a heavy experience. Original vocalist Johan Langquist makes his triumphant return after a 33 year absence. His soaring vocals have not faltered and carry the same demonic majesty as they did on the band’s 1986 debut Epicus Doomicus Metallicus. “Splendor” features a crushing galloping riff that explodes during the track’s chorus.

“Under The Ocean” commences with a dreary, psychedelic riff before it is interrupted with a colossal riff and ground shaking drums. Drummer Jan Lindh keeps a stomping mid-tempo for the duration of the track. The following track “Astorolus-The Great Octopus” delves deeper in to the seas of doom as none other than heavy metal progenitor Tony Iommi guest stars on this track. This slow, haunting monody imbues a sense of hopelessness as Langquist laments of a great sea monster that will swallow the earth. Iommi’s bluesy solo serves as fitting music as the planet is devoured.

“Death’s Wheel” is notable for its circular, galloping riff like a carriage traveling to hell. Guitarists Lars Johansson and Mats Bjorkman’s riffs drip with sludge and the double drumming during the song’s chorus heighten the song’s heaviness. “House of Doom” is another highlight with its ripping guitar riff and spine tingling organ during the song’s midsection. Candlemass conclude Door with “The Omega Circle”, the longest track on the record, clocking in at over seven minutes. The trudging tempo and mammoth riffs transition to a soft acoustic passage as Langquist sings of a satanic dream before things turn heavy again. A mighty end to a mighty record.

The Door To Doom is not a door, but a lofty gate that once opened strikes the listener with crushing riffs and operatic vocals. The members of Candlemass do not rest on their laurels and prove why the band is so revered. Bassist and key songwriter Leif Edling creates the perfect balance between heavy and soft as the band never over does it. The record’s softer moments are not just rest areas for listeners but good pieces of music. Of course, when the band plays heavy, the earth shakes and the demons listen. Door is forty-eight minutes of doom metal played extremely well. While the lyrics are awkward at times, they barely detract from the quality of this record.

Candlemass has not lost its step since its formation 35 years ago. The Door To Doom is a stellar record that should please fans and those new to the band. Open the door and revere the colossal splendor before you.

Check out the band’s website:

http://www.candlemass.se/

CD Review: “Wizard Bloody Wizard” by Electric Wizard

Electric Wizard keep the doom wheel rolling on its ninth record Wizard Bloody Wizard. Six songs of bluesy sludge wrapped in psychedelia, the occult and melancholy. The record’s initial single “See You In Hell” is a primordial blues stomp akin to Black Sabbath. Front man Jus Osborn’s signature dissonant vocals wail through like a drunken mage while bassist Clayton Burgess keeps the bottom end depressingly groovy. “Necromania” is heavy psychedelia with its fuzzy guitar effects and light drumming. The song’s haunting lyrical content bizarrely fits the musical mood as though we are witnessing a satanic ritual in London circa 1969. The intro on “Wicked Caresses” perfectly creates the haunting mood on this track with pounding drums and minor guitar chords. This track moves and grooves thanks largely to Simon Poole’s drumming. Album closer “Mourning Of The Magicians” is the album’s magnum opus. An 11 minute elegy with a driving bass line that conjures a picture of people marching in a funeral procession. Jus’s despondent vocals capture the downcast aura on this track. It is beautiful in its sadness and relishes in its finality, especially with the line “here’s the darkness/ that you always wanted.”

Many point to Electric Wizard’s 2000 release Dopethrone as the band’s finest work and it is hard to disagree. However, Wizard Bloody Wizard shows the band is still capable of producing ear deafening doom metal 24 years since its formation. There is a looming darkness on his record even during its light moments which comes through in the muddled fuzz and feedback. Yes, the production is muddy, but not amateur or poor. It harkens to the production of Sixties and Seventies hard rock and metal records, only with a modern polish. The major weakness is the tinny sound of the guitar leads. There is some great lead guitar work on Wizard, unfortunately it is sometimes drowned out by the rhythm guitar and bass.

Wizard Bloody Wizard gets its point across in six songs which is Electric Wizard do sludge metal like no one else. Sure, this record is not up to par with the band’s earlier releases but that means little in the long run. The band’s heaviness has not dulled and the epic “Mourning Of The Magicians” is one of the band’s best songs. Pick this record up if you love the band or need some doom to crush your ear drums.

Check out the band’s website here: http://www.electricfuckinwizard.com/

CD Review: “Profane Nexus” by Incantation

You can never underestimate the old guard. Incantation has spewed blasphemous, twisted death metal for 28 years. The band’s blend of death and gothic sludge has placed it in the upper echelons of extreme metal. After a six year hiatus, Incantation showed the metal world it could still the deliver the goods with its 2012 release, Vanquish In Vengeance. That creative kick continues on the group’s tenth album, Profane Nexus. “Muse” commences things in demonic fashion with a hypnotic guitar riff that explode into a cacophony of churning riffs. Vocalist and guitarist John McEntee’s guttural vocals are audible in the chaos, as if he is screaming from the depths of hell. On “Rites Of The Locust” the main spiraling riff perfectly parallels the drumming, like a demonic army marching off to war. Special attention should be paid to the slow paced coda with its grinding drums. Another highlight is the deformed beauty of “The Horns Of Gefrin.” The colossal, galloping opening instantly grabs the listener before it is interrupted by spurts of blast beats. It is an unpredictable song that transitions from fast to slow with a dynamic mid-section and tribal drums. “Lus Sepulcri” is an aggressive, straightforward track with roaring drums and dissonant guitars. The militaristic nature of the music differs from the twisted compositions the band is known for which makes it standout. “Ancients Arise” concludes Profane in grandiose fashion. It is a plodding, disturbing doom metal track reminiscent of Celtic Frost in its simplicity but sheer heaviness.

Profane Nexus is death/doom done right. It is not too complex, nor are the musical compositions clumsy. This should not surprise anyone as Incantation helped pioneer the sub-genre. The unorthodox riffing makes this an interesting album that is not generic in the slightest. Production wise this album is loud with a slight polish. It is not a perfect sounding album, which is good as that would detract from the menacing tone of the songs. It is a pulverizing but technical record.

Well, three albums into its comeback and Incantation are still on a roll. There are newer death metal bands that play more complex music than Incantation, but these groups lack the feel of the latter. Incantation do not play intricately for the sake of showmanship. The band’s dark message reflects the brutality of the music, which can be both elaborate and simple. Profane Nexus is another great release from this trio.

For news and tour dates, check out the band’s official website:

https://www.incantation.com/

CD Review: “Howling, For The Nightmare Shall Consume” by Integrity

Darkness abounds on Integrity’s ninth release, Howling, For The Nightmare Shall Consume. The trio conjures imagery of black magic and devilry over a serrated blend of hardcore and metal. “Blood Sermon” morphs from black metal to d-beat throughout the song’s three minute duration. Equal parts Darkthrone and Discharge, the track provides a glimpse of the album’s sound. The Slayer-esque “Hymn For The Children Of The Black Flame” is speedfest with hacksaw guitars and dissonant guitar leads. It is a short, but relentless track that packs a punch. Things come to a gloomy halt towards the middle of the record. “Serpent At The Crossroads” and “Unholy Salvation Of The Sabbatai Zevi” are slow, crunching dirges with melancholy, sinuous riffs. The classical guitar leads provide the perfect contrast to the downbeat mood on these tracks. There is a gothic beauty here, especially on “Unholy Salvation.” The band takes the swampy riffs of Autopsy and combines it with Gothenburg inspired leads. “String Up My Teeth” is a mid-tempo rocker more in tune with Motorhead or 80s rock. However, it fits on the album and has a nice bluesy solo.

Integrity take risks on Howling, which makes it a good record. Bands have mixed hardcore and metal for over 30 years now. However, Integrity take things further by blending thrash, doom, hardcore and black metal on 11 tracks. It manages to not sound disjointed and still retains a degree of complexity to it. The crunchy production is a highlight as it encapsulates the dark and menacing tone of the music. It is not muffled or tinny as the instruments blare from the stereo.

Howling, For The Nightmare Shall Consume, is a dark but fun record that show Integrity can hang with the young guns. Last year, Integrity’s label mates Ringworm released Snake Church, which has a sound similar to Howling. It makes one wonder if Integrity heard that record and had a creative spark, or wanted to fire back. Regardless, the band sounds great on here and has not lost its edge in its 29 year career. The music on this record is the stuff nightmares are made of.

Check out the band’s Facebook page for news and tour dates:

https://www.facebook.com/INTEGRITY.HT/

CD Review: ‘With The Dead’ by With The Dead

Doom power supertrio With The Dead making a lumbering impression with its self titled debut. With The Dead is abundant in molten riffs and colossal drumming. Lee Dorrian (Cathedral, Napalm Death), Tim Bagshaw (Electric Wizard) and Mark Greening (Electric Wizard) put their musicianship, expertise and love for all things heavy into a cauldron and created a flawless doom record. The lo-fi Sabbath inspired “Crown of Burning Stars” is a bulky, sludgey affair so heavy it moves mountains. The music is stripped down and focuses on the majesty of the riff. The bluesy guitar lead soars from the ooze of riffs beneath it and is one of the many highlights on this track. The downcast intro of “The Nephthys” descends like a man heading towards the unknown. Nephthys is the proctector of the mummy in Egyptian mythology and a protector of the dead. How fitting, as the song slowly becomes more uplifting towards the end, like a man making peace with death. The album’s final track “Screams From My Own Grave” is dissonant and unsettling. The monolithic minor riffs are loud enough to wake the dead while the hypnotic drumming manages to keep things somewhat on beat.

With The Dead is a “supergroup” for lack of a better term, but it is true. The members have played in some of the most influential metal bands ever. However, neither member tries to outperform the other and the band is cohesive. The musicianship is solid, but never pretentious or over the top. This is good as the band never overplays its songs. Doom metal bands are notorious for making tracks too long. There seems to be this notion, that records with several 10 minute plus tracks are somehow masterpieces or serious works of musical art. This is not so as the tracks become musical exercises rather than songs.

With The Dead is a great debut that doom metal fans will enjoy. It is so heavy you will be jamming with the dead from the initial guitar note.

Check out the band’s Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/withthedead

CD Review: “The Plague Within” by Paradise Lost

Three years have passed since British doom metal masters Paradise Lost released the excellent Tragic Idol. The group’s newest release, The Plague Within, shows the band returning to its death metal roots. The dreary “No Hope in Sight” features growling vocals, which were absent on Tragic Idol. The song is a crunching piece of melancholy that will surely become a fan favorite. The driving “Terminal” pounds along like an army marching to war. The goth tinged “An Eternity of Lies” is another standout track with its symphonic introduction and baroque structure. The piano, violins and guitar are beautifully arranged to create a powerful emotion of sadness and isolation. The grooving “Punishment Through Time” is pure serpentine sludge reminiscent of Black Sabbath. Another notable track is “Sacrifice the Flame,” an appropriate title for this dirge.

 

The production is good, compliments of Jaime Arellano. Arellano gives the album a Nineties feel with a contemporary flavor. One can listen to this album and there is a feeling of mid-Nineties Century Media or Earache. However, the sound is not muffled and very clear. While I am partially biased to the production of Tragic Idol, I think the sound on Plague Within perfectly fits the heavy gloominess of the album.

The Plague Within is another awesome record by one of the U.K.’s best bands. The band did not emulate Tragic Idol and instead went in another direction, which is why this album is so good. It is also why Paradise Lost has longevity because of the band’s willingness to take chances and not make the same record. I highly recommend buying this record.

For more information on the band, visit http://www.paradiselost.co.uk/