While a self-titled album often serves as a summary of an artist’s particular style, Vestal Claret’s third full-length is unlike anything else they’ve done before. The Doom Metal that defined the occult collective’s past efforts has been completely phased out in favor of a subdued presentation that is somewhere between Folk and introspective Psych Rock. An esoteric aura still wafts with vocalist Phil Swanson (Hour of 13, Sumerlands) offering his signature mournful, nasally wail, but the vibe has more in common with Hexvessel or Sabbath Assembly than Pagan Altar.
Fortunately, the musicians involved know how to make this shift work as the intricate layers foster an almost ceremonial mood throughout. Multi-instrumentalist Simon Tuozzoli and drummer Justin DeTore set up a sturdy foundation, the former’s guitar playing, in particular, keeps things lively, that is reinforced by atmospheric helpings of piano, strings, and various percussion. The additional vocalists also bring a lot of life to the proceedings whether they’re trading off melodies with Swanson or serving as backing choirs. The rustic production does a pretty good job of keeping things from feeling overstuffed.
A forty-minute runtime also works greatly in the album’s favor, offering a more digestible but still substantial taste compared to the hour-long journeys of before. The best songs come toward the middle as ‘Sorrow’ plays up quaint minstrelry with some extra bells and whistles, ‘Abandoned’ makes for the album’s most distraught number, and ‘Melancholia’ pushes the pastoral aspects of their most climactic extents. The heavier guitar riffs on ‘Burn’ and ‘Edges of Sanity’ come the closest to matching any sort of Doom, but even they are still coming from a more Classic Rock angle.
Even if Vestal Claret’s self-titled album doesn’t offer the expected Traditional Doom, it’s still a pretty enjoyable Folk venture. While the stylistic shift seems like a drastic departure on the surface, it ultimately presents another side to the band’s occult aesthetic. The leaner writing also emphasizes a sense of accessibility that I would love to see be applied to their usual template in the future. There’s no telling if the group will pursue this particular sound on any efforts to come, but fans who don’t mind a different approach should enjoy it.
7 / 10