QAALM is a new band featuring members and former members of Act Of Defiance, Harassor, and Seven Sisters Of Sleep. Described as atmospheric funeral doom, the LA-based group worked on writing and recording throughout 2020 and 2021, and Resilience & Despair (Hypaethral/Trepanation) is their resulting debut album.
It’s fair to say that QAALM favour long songs. Resilience & Despair clocks in at seventy minutes in total and consists of only four tracks which range between about fifteen and twenty minutes in length. Each track operates as its own little suite of musical ideas, and the prog rock approach to structure gives every piece the sense of being an epic journey.
‘Reflections Doubt’ sets out the album’s direction and intent. Reverb-y and mournful minimalist clean guitar arpeggios, having lulled us into hypnosis, eventually give way to pummelling riffs and growled vocals. The sound is comparable to Neurosis or Amenra — ponderous, thickly layered, brutally heavy segments alternating with contemplative drone. The use of two lead singers (Henry Derek Elis — who also plays guitar and is the main songwriter — and Pete Majors) allows for a lot of variation in tone and style; heartfelt melodic lines trade places with monstrous guttural rumblings. ‘Reflections Doubt’ brings us through a plethora of moods over its fifteen minutes. Alternately sombre, despairing and violent, the intensity level never drops. It’s captivating, visceral, cathartic stuff.
‘Existence Asunder’ borrows a little more from the canons of doom and black metal. Some of the sludgy gothic riffs sound instantly classic. The Darkthrone-esque vocals and creepy atmospheric jarring chord sequences create a magnificent if somewhat bilious effect. This track often manages to produce a feeling as though the tempo is constantly slowing down — it feels like we are falling down a hellish well in slow motion. Halfway through the mood changes, with eerie clean guitar arpeggios taking centre-stage, before the band kicks in again with slow grinding post-rock and more tormented vocals. Lead guitars provide some wonderful melodic content to hang on to while the riffs and screams grind on.
Before the song is over we are treated to another dose of clean arpeggios, this time following a heart-rending sequence that owes a lot to jazz and classical pop music. This sequence is ramped up into a fully-blown heavy section including a soaring lead solo; the juxtaposition of styles almost doesn’t work, but just succeeds as a unique fusion of disparate genres.
‘Cosmic Descent’ features beautiful cello contributions from Kakophonix; the opening section is wonderfully evocative and strangely uplifting. When the full band kicks in the riffs are thunderously heavy but the atmosphere owes as much to bands like Sigur Ros as to Cathedral — it’s dreamy and emotionally tender as well as punishing. Heavy post-rock is nothing new, but QAALM don’t sacrifice any sludginess in favour of the dreamy textures — it all somehow coexists perfectly.
Eventually we are dropped into a death / doom / black metal section that is straight out of the early nineties and all the better for it. Big shoegaze riffs then enter as the mood becomes more mournful, and we are treated to some utterly demented vocal contortions. The track continues through many twists and turns, with some lovely cello and clean guitar sections interspersed amongst the funereal heaviness. There are some fantastic lead guitar parts which pierce through the screams, and the intensity and ferocity seem to increase constantly.
‘Lurking Death’ again begins with cello and clean guitar. Then the band crashes in — in jangling post-rock shoegaze mode — and the slightly weird clean vocals here are fantastic melodically, tonally, and production-wise (the voice seems to be split in two and comes from both the far left and right of stereo spectrum simultaneously). The song turns in a more doom-laden direction as monolithic riffs and black metal growls enter. Another twist brings us to emotive atmospheric arpeggios over driving riffs. It’s compelling stuff.
Before long, tribal drums are layered over with oddball synthy guitars, before punishing doom returns. Reverb drenched solo clean guitar apreggios re-enter, and then drums kick in and the song takes a turn towards the sorrowful, with cello lines and arepggios building into dark and brooding prog-doom reminiscent of Anathema. The song continues in that vein, building with double-kick drumming and gothic lead guitar melodies over supercharged sludgy hard rock riffs.
Seventy minutes is a long album by anyone’s standards, but QAALM manage to keep Resilience & Despair captivating and compelling throughout. My only notable criticism is that in places the production sounds a little rough and thin; although all of the many intertwining layers can be heard clearly, the bass is somewhat undercooked and the drums are perhaps a bit swamped at times.
This does little, however, to diminish what is an utterly masterful record that draws from the best of doom metal and post-rock and leads us through every emotion from abject despair to hopeful euphoria. Resilience & Despair is a dense and poignant work that radiates its own unique character and resonates right down to the marrow.
9 / 10