Sunday, March 30, 2014

Review: Thou - Heathen (Gilead Media)

Seeing Thou live for the first time was a religious experience of sorts for me. It was at the end of the first Gilead Fest and after hours of other metal bands including Mutilation Rites, False, and Barghest among a slew of others, Thou closed the fest. As they took the stage I stood anxiously in the very front, I was about to see my favorite band play my favorite album in it's entirety. The sheer weight of their performance was astounding, I felt every crushing blow, every murky riff. At that moment I knew I was in, metal had consumed me and this was the final strike. After listening to Heathen, Thou once again solidify the reason that their music has captivated and affected me so deeply.

Heathen is massive, not only in length (reaching nearly an hour and fifteen minutes) but in sheer weight as well. Thou continue to write music based on perfectly crafted riffs. Riffs that are crushingly slow and devastating, coming straight from the Louisiana swamps. The riffs in the track "At the Foot of Mt. Driskill" contain the ancient and elemental power of the mountain that is the song's namesake. The passage at the end of the fourth track, "Into the Marshlands," is one of the most exceptional doom riffs I have ever come across. Honestly, when I first heard it I had to experience the sheer power of the section over and over again, every time I got more sucked in, enthralled by the groove Thou creates. I was so drawn in by that singular aspect of the album I couldn't move forward until I had fully processed it. The meticulousness that they pour into every portion of each song is astonishing, the dual guitars always complement each other perfectly, the drums are thunderous blows working together with the throbbing bass to continuously hold the groove together. All this attention to detail is contained within vicious and devastatingly heavy music. Not only is the music heavy but the subject matter of the lyrics is as well, focused on the rejection of this civilization, of time, of all social norms and constructs. Funck sings with his venomous rasp about returning to the fertile earth and his lyrics are beautifully poetic, riddled with symbolism, anarchism, and primitivism. This music is born out of the dejection created by our modern society and the feeling is palpable.

Strangely enough, while this is Thou's heaviest work to date it is also their most melodic. Sometimes melody complements seriously destructive riffs, like in the middle of "Free Will" where soaring melodies accompany the ruin. Sometimes it is left to shine on it's own, like in the interlude tracks Thou place throughout the album. These ethereal droning folk segments work beautifully juxtaposed against the rest of the album's sheer weight. Melody often is used begin and end songs with more delicate segments like on the two final tracks. The first of the two being "Immortality Dicates," which features the beautiful vocals of Emily McWilliams who has actually collaborated with Thou before on their split with Salome. McWilliams' vocals are both haunting and captivating, lulling the listener into a calm, quiet place before Thou's swampy sludge takes the reigns. The last track "Ode to Physical Pain" begins with a droning section reminiscent of Earth's recent work in the realm western drone and ends with a similar, although more disjointed, melodic piece. Melody is used by Thou in a twofold approach, to lament our slavish nature to society but also to act as a harbinger to a new world, one free of such restraints, a world that Thou has dreamt of through this record.

I had extremely high expectations following Thou's last full length, Summit, and subsequent EPs and splits, these expectations were not only met but exceeded. As someone who at one point in their life basically only listened to Thou, honestly pretty obsessively, I am quite familiar with their entire back catalogue. Heathen is a shining jewel in a sterling crown of doom. Through adding new, subtle textures and applying the same level of detailed songwriting combined with crushing riffs, Thou have created something devastatingly beautiful. You can pick up the CD from Gilead Media here, the packaging is beautiful and comes with all sorts of extras. The album can also be streamed and downloaded directly from the band here. This record comes with the highest possible recommendation, stop reading this and go experience it immediately.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Review: Weightlessness - Of Lachrymose Grief (Graceless Recordings)

Weightlessness is a young death/doom project from California playing a style which is completely somber and emotionally draining. While the tape remains at a dismal doom pace for most of it's duration there are bursts of death metal fury that shine throughout, creating a balanced and aggressively depressive experience.

Somber guitar ushers in the first of four tracks, "The Fostering and the Adjournment". This is joined by a funeral paced plod and harsh whispered vocals. The music is very cyclical in nature, constantly flowing forth with a similar rhythm but fluently moving between delicate melodies and crushing riffs. Even when the pace is changed to a blast or an acoustic interlude the same haunting flow of the song remains, creating a familiarity, it feels as thought I've listened to the tape hundreds of times. It is apparent that sadness and general despondency serve as inspiration to the band, as with most bands of this style but Weightlessness makes you feel it. The second track opens with another intricate guitar interlude but soon the band begins their blasting charge, something feels different about the way they play death metal, a sluggishness pervades their music. Not born out of laziness but seemingly coming from the purest grief and released through this, a testament to sorrow.

The third and final original song, "Swallowed the Sun and the Moon" displays a different nature of Weightlessness' music, triumph. While it crawls forward an uplifting melody is present, displaying an unmatched power. It's as if they have harnessed negativity, found strength and unleashed it. The song still moves predominantly at a funeral pace but it contains harmonies that flow over the music and are beautifully played. The final track on this album is a cover of Black Sabbath's "Solitude" Weightlessness take the song and give it a complete death/doom rehashing with guest vocals from Mike Meacham from the mighty Loss. Mike's low, nearing guttural vocals played over the slow plod of Weightlessness' tortured rendition of the classic complement each other perfectly and are a worthy testament to the fathers of doom.

(Source: Facebook)

"A showcase of music to the nature of life, emotions, and death" is how Weightlessness describes themselves, a more fitting description does not exist. Contained within this tape are moments of despair and also moments of triumph all displayed through doomed metal of death. Graceless Recordings is quickly becoming my favorite record label and this Weightlessness tape is another example of the label's ongoing dedication to releasing great dark music. The tape can be purchased from Graceless here, I strongly suggest you do so.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Review: Hell/Mizmor - Split

Hell and Mizmor are two bands from Oregon that both play a crushing and emotional form of doom metal. The bands go about playing doom in ways that are very similar, yet there are some key differences. Past releases from the two bands have their obvious similarities, which is to be expected because the two musicians work together often. On this release however, both bands bring new sounds to the table and approach their styles with more willingness to experiment, creating a split that is a great representation of what each is capable of.

Hell starts the split with the track "Foetorem Timere" a song unlike anything M.S.W. has released under the moniker before. The track consists of a lengthy introduction of guitar (both acoustic and electric) and violin. This long instrumental passage is captivating and somber, perfectly setting up what is to come. The introduction to me is reminiscent of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, utilizing minimalism and field recordings to create a tense climb to a final release. Hell's intent is far more sinister than GY!BE, lulling the listener in through every mournful chord before unleashing a huge riff at roughly the nine minute mark. Hell's brand of slow, anguished doom is as deviating as ever. M.S.W.'s voice has always stood out to me as one of the best shrieks I've ever heard, every painful cry cuts like a knife, seething with malice and agony. This over the bludgeoning blows of the instruments slowly crawling forward creates a horrifying atmosphere, and as quickly as this horror began it ends, the song is played out through eerie noise and another field recording. A perfect end to the first half of the split.

Mizmor's contribution starts with immediate blasting and a tortured shriek, a stark contrast to Hell's reserved beginnings. The contrast is what makes this split so great, these bands could have easily released a split where both of the tracks sounded too similar to discern between them, instead what we have is two bands each putting their unique spin on a similar style of doom.  On this track, "VII - Epistemological Rupture" Mizmor opts for a more aggressive approach. After the blasting ceases we are left with a desolate funeral march. Vocals rasp over a massive dirge. Over the heavy riffs a clear guitar line emerges displaying an almost triumphant side to the project before the riffs slow, becoming even heavier than before. A similar cycle is repeated, black metal blasts turn into drudging doom. The last lyric before the split slowly comes to a droning close is "woe to us," a fitting endnote. 

Both bands bring excellent material to this union. Hell comes forth with a more haunting and contemplative approach and Mizmor with pure scornful rage. These two portions juxtaposed against one another make for a captivating split release. You can listen to the Hell side of the split here and the Mizmor side here, the vinyl can be purchased through both of those pages as well, don't sleep on this desolate union.