The delicate, almost tasteful indicator to hirsute naturism adorning the cover of the eponymous, sophomore full-length from Brooklyn crushers Blackout (Riding Easy) nods to a polite, MoR-infused Heavy rock; the trio of fresh faces seemingly hiding an element of wounded steel. It comes as a very pleasant surprise, therefore, to find that the sound within is a brain-frazzlingly heavy kaleidoscope which tips its cap toward these very shores.
From the outset the influence of the UK’s Doom and Psychedelic scenes is overtly apparent; the spaced vibe of London mindwarpers Hawkwind wedding with the morose horror of Electric Wizard. Roaring riffs crack open the skull and forcibly widen the mind whilst the low rumbling of Justin Sherrell‘s earth-shaking bass, first noticeable in the title track, exudes the multi-hooved thunder of Odin’s cavalry. Slightly more complex passages of ‘Sprites’ and album opener ‘Lost’ invite Kylesa to the party, with a slightly harsher edge to Christian Gordy‘s roars and screams evoking Phillip Cope’s cavernous utterances and adding to an already powerful intensity.
Gordy’s oscillating clean vocal brings to mind both the devilish haunting of Jus Oborn and the deep, vibrating incantation of The Wounded Kings’ George Birch; a laconic moaning that coats the fuzzed, murky atmosphere in a warm yet nefarious candlelight. Taryn Waldman‘s drums, meanwhile, are slightly suffocated in the mix, surely to shield the listener from the titanic pummel that would damage the ears without such protection. Indeed it’s the colossal convergence of riff and rhythm where this album reaches its apex, as with the pulverising mass opening ‘Cross’ which is both euphoric and oppressive. The track’s leadplay is sparing but perfectly carries ominous melodies with consummate timing and suitability, while its coda’s closing swell is the album’s most expansive and definitive moment.
The phenomenal resonance and weight, best exemplified in the rolling crush, yelping roars and hammer blows of ‘Tannered’ and the sample-littered crush of closer ‘Human’, will prove irresistible to fans of Blackout’s aforementioned peers and proves originality isn’t always a byword for quality. Crunching, unnerving, yet capable of unforeseen subtlety, this is an intriguing and highly enjoyable set.
(Editor’s Note: In a series of articles by the greater staff of Ghost Cult that will carry us through the end of the year, various writers will bring you readers their musings and observations on the year that was 2014 in metal and other heavy music.)
173. That’s how many of this year’s metal releases I’ve partaken of. Seriously. That’s not counting the twenty-odd re-releases, and another twenty-odd ‘splits’ and other offshoots. If I didn’t love this thing so much, there’d be some serious burn-out…
That’s one reason why albums such as the monumental efforts from Primordial, Anathema and Slipknot, among many others, came nowhere near to breaking my top twenty for the year. Godflesh is number 61, for Chrissakes…the main driver, however, is the fact that the bone-rattling lower chord had arguably its finest year since Tony Iommi first picked up a guitar. Prior to a certain single track EP bursting my mind and making it inconceivable to believe that anything else will matter, like, ever, my top five consisted of some of the best doom-centric albums this century has thus far produced.
Devon’s (UK) supreme low-end inventors, The Wounded Kings, headed my list for eight months with their mammoth, sprawling Consolamentum (Candlelight), before a staggering twin-pronged attack arrived from across The Pond. First, Pallbearer’s expansive, crushing Foundations of Burden (Profound Lore) briefly preceded the beautifully moving yet heavy as a manhole cover Clearing the Path to Ascend (Neurot) from the spiritual weight of YOB; before the pair flattened venues together across the UK in surely the greatest live pairing these shores have seen for a generation. Only the black-tinged, edgy melancholy of Latitude Egress’To Take Up the Cross… (Art of Propaganda) punctured the realm of the weighty chord before, right as the chimes began to sound on 2014, five guys from Virginia released a one-song EP which could change the face of heavy music forever. Inter Arma’sThe Cavern (Relapse) is a sprawling masterpiece which blends the staggering power of sludged doom with the adventurous elegance of Floyd, and makes 45 minutes sail by in an instant. The planet-shuddering coda, both monolithic and euphoric in its emotion and power, positively screams out to be heard.
As well as having the great fortune to hear this handful of brave, resonant additions to the ‘metal classics’ canon, the experience has been reinforced by witnessing four of the five in a live setting and, thanks to Messrs. Baker and Tovey, sharing chat-time with some of them also. 2014 has been, for this ageing scribe, a fair shout for the most powerful and influential period in metal, and what a privilege its been to feel so involved.
It’s hard to believe we’ve already reached the end of another year packed tighter than Joey de Maio’s loincloth with incredible genre-pushing, eardrum-violating, neckache-inducing metal.
So we can begin to tell the story of a year which saw us give more top marks than any other year so far (and more 2’s and 3’s out of 10, too!), a year that left us inundated with so many great releases, we sought the opinions of our esteemed and respected writing team and we offer forth their albums of the year.
The countdown to the Official Ghost Cult Magazine Album of the Year for 2014 has commenced. Please consume and enjoy the results of our 2014 Writers’ Poll. We hope it will introduce you to some of the incredible works of art you may have missed that we have had the immense pleasure of listening to and writing about this year.
In our first installment we bring you albums 50 through to 41.
50. HARK – Crystalline (Season of Mist)
Genre-bending aggression with doses of Doom, Prog, Psychedelia and Hardcore. Heavy as a very heavy thing.
49. THE HAUNTED – Exit Wounds (Century Media)
“The album is filled with urgency and manages to be relentlessly heavy without compromising on those insanely catchy riffs. The Haunted have come back stronger than ever… easily the band’s best effort a decade” DAN SWINHOE 9/10 Full review here
48. THE WOUNDED KINGS – Consolamentum (Candlelight)
“Favouring lengthy yet subtly evolving guitar workouts that never lapse into repetitive dirge territory,The Wounded Kings go about working their dark, smoky magic with grim elegance… Simply put, The Wounded Kings are the quintessential English doom band “ JAMES CONWAY 8.5/10 Full review here
47. SCHAMMASCH – Contradiction (Prosthetic)
“The quality of this album is obvious right from the beginning. Schammasch have created a record both challenging and endlessly refreshing, a truly remarkable sonic journey from beginning to end.” CAITLIN SMITH 9/10 Full review here
46. AUTOPSY – Tourniquets, Hacksaws and Graves (Peaceville)
“Tourniquets… continues in gnarly, raw and near sludgy death metal vein, but maintains their run of high quality and in fact tops anything that has come from their return.” CHRIS TIPPELL 8/10 Full review here
45. KROKODIL – Nachash (Spinefarm)
“With a heavy dose of Mastodon in its veins, Krokodil are a groove juggernaut that pummels all in its path with its three guitarists of fury” DAN O’BRIEN 9/10 Full review here
44. INTER ARMA – The Cavern (Relapse)
“The sheer gravity and fulminating power of much of the music here is oppressive yet it carries the weight easily, this blend of raw animal force, aching melody and immeasurable creativity marks out this fantastic band” PAUL QUINN 10/10 Full review here
43. DEVIL YOU KNOW – The Beauty of Destruction (Nuclear Blast)
“(with) all the promise of a powerhouse, and it delivers on all fronts. The songs are well-crafted, nicely developed and excellently executed.” LYNN JORDAN 9.5/10 APRIL ALBUM OF THE MONTH Full review here
42.BLUES PILLS – Blues Pills (Nuclear Blast)
“…a record that understands and curates its heritage and lineage but is fresh, contemporary and massively memorable. This is the record that you’ll be recommending to your friends for months to come” MAT DAVIES 9/10 Full review here
2014 has been a ground-breaking, redefining year for doom, almost overriding the fact that many of the genre’s female-fronted outfits have produced some mesmerising music for a couple of years now. The unique qualities of Harriet Bevan‘s Leeds quintet Black Moth have been setting tongues wagging for some time and second album Condemned to Hope (New Heavy Sounds) reaffirms their particular status of a sassy, doom-rooted outfit whose satirical outlook is augmented with biting lyrics on modern life.
The colossal groove of opener ‘Tumbleweave’ lends gravity to whimsical lyrics about “porkers from the Daily Mail”, paper tiaras and burger queens, all delivered in Harriet’s laconic, incanting yet quintessentially English voice. Riffs crash rather than rumble yet still carry weight, with variations between trad doom and the stoner currents of ‘Looner’, whilst Jim Swainston‘s lead-work is flashing, emotive, and carved from the finest slabs of 70s heavy rock.
Atmospherics abound with the threatening fizz of amps during hushed moments of the stellar, sexy ‘The Undead King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’, resonant tub-thumping heightening the sinister effect and slower sections possessing a bewitching sway that’s difficult to resist. Guitars occasionally have shimmering pedal effects similar to those of The Wounded Kings‘ Steve Mills, more often applied to the lead but muddying Nico Carew‘s riffs deliciously on the cascading, swirling ‘The Last Maze’, which is also graced by one of Swainston’s more memorable solos. Aside from those waggish phrasings other styles are infiltrated, with the indie-punk of ‘White Lies’ and ‘Room 13’ blending with a reverberating low end and complementing the Britpop feel of the lyrics and delivery. ‘Slumber with the Worm’, meanwhile, marries a Pulp Fiction-esque spaghetti twang with lead riffs verging on black metal.
This may not wield the same portentous mass as some of its contemporaries, and Bevan’s voice occasionally shows limits, save for some soaring notes on the hypnotic closing title track. All of this, however, enhances Black Moth’s charm and identity. They’re a little bit different and, in the quirky fashion of oddities from these shores, unmistakably ours. Quite frankly this rips, and deserves some serious investigation.
While the UK may lack the swamps or deserts that inspire our fellow Sabbath-worshipping cousins across the pond, we more than make up for it in grim urban sprawl, which is more than depressing enough to fuel our own fertile sludge scene. So what better time to take a look at a new split release (on Future Noise Recordings) from two homegrown lurking horrors that dwell down in the deep?
First up we have Blackburn trio Bastard of the Skies who have been knocking around for a good eight years or so now. While adhering fairly rigidly to the well-defined sludge template with the plodding, mid-paced rumble-along that is opening track ‘Yarn’, there is a pleasing undercurrent of menace and violence in the riffs and delivery which is just quite nasty sounding, frankly. This is exacerbated by vocalist Matt Richardson’s strained and haggard vocals which appear to have been recorded in some grimy cellar bereft of light and hope. ‘Bao Fu’ continues the trend, adding in a few Sourvein style anti-grooves before the brief curveball of ‘Wounder’ increases the pace. Closing number ‘Old Vessels’ veers into doom territory and makes good use of quiet/loud dynamics before locking into a monstrous groove to finish things off. Lovely stuff.
Erdington trio Grimpen Mire have also been doing the rounds for a similar length of time and their experience on the toilet circuit has clearly paid dividends for they have evolved into a tight and thoroughly abrasive unit with an appreciation for Black Flag at their most unpleasant. ‘The Hollow Wreck’ coils and slithers menacingly like a venomous serpent while ‘Vermin Hive’ does its best to wear the listener down with waves of monolithic misery. Eight minute closer ‘Fragments of Forgotten Craft’ starts slowly but then adopts some Wounded Kings-esque Hammer Horror vibes that go down a treat, ending things in suitably sinister style.
A cracking release that shows just how healthy (or should that be fetid?) the UK sludge scene currently is. Well worth a look.
Steve Mills comes across as affable and enthusiastic: like a best friend you haven’t seen for ages. The occasional expectation of otherwise is something that narks him: “People diss doom as a bunch of Neanderthal cavemen who can’t play properly and don’t have two brain cells to rub together. They would be wrong. There’s a big thought process in doom music, and a lot of creativity and effort in there.”
There’s certainly nothing dull about aptly-named The Wounded Kings, the Devon quintet Steve created in a very different guise ten years ago, and currently basking in the glory of across-the-board acclaim for their fourth and most recent album Consolamentum (Candlelight Records). After earning his spurs with future luminaries from Ramesses and Ishmael, and garnering interest as a drummer in Jus Oborn’s pre-Electric Wizard incarnation Lord of Putrefaction, Steve felt it was time to branch out with his own ideas. “In 2004, I couldn’t find many like-minded musicians in my area so bought an old 16-track, and recorded the vast majority of the music of the first two albums myself. I then hooked up with George (Birch, original vocalist), who at the time was a singer-songwriter with a quite unusual voice which is something I like. We had no aspirations initially other than to get a record deal and get the stuff out there – that was our sole aim, as it is with most young bands.”
Amazingly, that first deal took three years to appear. “No one would touch us with a barge pole for a while. Back then nobody wanted that occult feel, and you had to really put the shifts in and believe in what you were doing. Then Duncan Dinsdale – who was brilliant – saw something in us, and put our debut album out. Unfortunately his label folded but, by then, we’d been heard and were picked up fairly quickly by IHate.”
As well as lamenting the slow demise of MySpace, which helped the band form a base through its formative years, Steve talks fondly with regard to An Introduction to the Black Arts, the split release with US doom monsters Cough which followed hot on the heels of second album The Shadow over Atlantis in late 2010. “None of the band’s output has ever come about by design. Even the fact that each of the albums deals with one of the four natural elements wasn’t conscious: it was only when my partner said one day ‘D’you realise what you’re doing here?’ that it actually dawned on me what was happening. The weird thing is, we’d recorded our contribution to the split (the fifteen-minute Curse of Chains) almost a year before it actually came out. I’ve been asked since if I’d ever do another split and, whereas I’d never say never, it would be hard to top it as for where we were at the time that was pretty much perfect: a work of art.”
It was then, however, when things began to unravel. “We got our ground-breaking Roadburn gig off the back of our debut album – back then we were a pimple on the arse of doom, and it would’ve really given us a boost had we not hit the floor soon after that gig. We already knew our drummer Nick was going to emigrate, but soon after Roadburn George announced his desire to leave, as it wasn’t really suiting his style. This really pulled the rug from under my feet, but thankfully everyone agreed to stay on until after we’d done a UK tour. Just before it Nick broke his arm…it was a hell of a time. Happily we’re all still good mates and I’ve got nothing but the fondest memories of that time. But then I was back on my own again.”
Steve’s focus never shifted, however, and after a nervy few months he was back on his feet with some new bandmates: “All of our albums were a product of where we were at the time, and the sound is what’s going through my head right then. Embrace of the Narrow House (the debut album) sounds really low-key due to the lack of equipment and expertise I had at the time. By …Shadow, I’d gained a bit more experience so the sound was a little better; then of course, by the time In the Chapel of the Black Hand (the third album) came around, we’d got a little bigger and labels were interested in putting a bit of money to the recording element. Though in a strange way, even if we had the same tools in our early days the sound wouldn’t change too much as I have a style of writing which shows through in all the albums. In the early days I just had to drench everything in reverb!”
To complete the four elements cycle, Steve wasn’t really sure how to reflect the remaining ingredient of air within new album Consolamentum. “As we all know, air is light. But we’re a bloody doom band! So I really wasn’t sure how we were going to portray that property through the music”. The result is an almost lazy, laconic groove filtering through this quite mesmerising release, sliding seductively alongside the trademark colossal riffs and powerful, leaden rhythms. Electrifying lead work dances and writhes in an achingly beautiful fashion, lifting the soul from the dark, incanting torch voice of Sharie Neyland. The occasionally ethereal nature takes you on a weirdly uplifting journey and is exactly what Steve desired, as he explains in a typically self-deprecating way:
“I like the low-end: simple as that! I classed …Chapel as a dense, layered, wall of sound effect, which is just what I was after as it reflected the nine circles of hell – the fire element – but I probably don’t do it enough justice by saying it’s a little one-dimensional. What I wanted for Consolamentum was space. Two rhythm guitars, myself and Alex (Kearney) left and right, leaving others to work their magic, such as Mike (Heath, drummer) to ease in with his own beats and fills.” So does Steve invite ideas from the rest of the band, or is he the time-worn studio despot? “I’m more of a guide as I have the initial idea how I want it to sound. But at the end of the day someone like Mike is in the band because he’s a fucking great drummer, and you don’t stifle somebody’s creativity as that’s why you want them there in the first place. Sharie, for example, believes every word she’s singing, and really makes you sit up and listen. She’s the only woman I know who can sing in B, and to deliver it as strikingly as she does is amazing. I bring the idea to the table, then let everyone do their thing. I’m just really happy and proud they trust and have faith in me. We’ve been going three years in this incarnation now, together with Al (Eliadis) on bass, and I tell you this line-up’s a keeper.”
This shines out of the performance; the overall sound of Consolamentum showcasing five musicians right at the top of their game, all sharing in the spotlight and utilising it to amazing effect. Steve puts this down to the way they fit together: “The nice thing is, I don’t feel this is a new band anymore. We just work so well together: we’ve been out on the road, doing loads of shows, and we’ve reached the point where we can second-guess each other. There’s a real conviction on this album, and this is borne out in the fact that we recorded the basic tracks for the album live, and in one evening.” Given the accomplished sound and frightening majesty of the album, this is a staggering achievement.
So will we see this album toured around the UK and abroad? Sadly but understandably, this seems a forlorn hope. “The last UK tour we did nearly destroyed the band, and left me saddled with a heavy debt which, thankfully, the Cough split helped me out with. When on tour we’ve got five members’ kit plus drivers, vans, fuel costs to pay out. We’re not after Download-style fees, and don’t want to be treated like royalty, but we have been treated more like human beings in Europe than in our own country, and tend to get what we’ve been promised. There are one or two exceptions to the rule – those promoters know who they are – so there will be a couple of shows on our shores. We’d really love to do more but we just can’t afford to return in the state I did on the last occasion. We also need a fairly big stage – the last thing you want is Sharie’s hair in your monitor!! ”
This is becoming a depressingly familiar tale, especially from bands trying to spread the good news from the extremities of our sceptered isle. Hopefully more home promoters will see fit to make it affordable for The Wounded Kings to play everywhere because, as their latest fantastic effort testifies, they’re too bloody good to be kept a secret.
Hells to the yes! The brand spanking new issue of our digimag is out today! Issue #17 features a revealing interview with Howard Jones (ex-Killswitch Engage) of Devil You Know. Issue #17 also contains interviews with Twilight, Anneke Van Giersbergen, Apocalyptica, The Wounded Kings, Nothing, Delain, Steve “Zetro Souza” of Hatriot, Carnifex, Scott Lee of the New England Metal and Hardcore Festival, Immortal Bird, a tribute to Dave Brockie of GWAR, an exclusive guest editorial from Davide Tiso on his new project Gospel of the Witches. Plus we have a recap of Blastfest from Norway, and other live reviews such as Behemoth & Cradle of Filth in the UK, The Winery Dogs in the USA, Ulver in The Netherlands, Apocalyptica in Finland and special features with Paul Masvidal and Chance Garnette. Made especially for your tablet device or smartphone! Check it out here!
Given that every single doom metal band around owes their very existence to Black Sabbath, the band that started this whole heavy metal malarkey, it’s unsurprising that the scene is full to saturation point, with bands struggling to either out-heavy each other or playing up an ‘occult’ image long past its sell-by-date. Thankfully Dartmoor five-piece The Wounded Kings have no such worries when it comes to standing out, so powerful and masterly is the vein of doom captured on fourth full-length Consolamentum (Candlelight Records), a record of simple yet spellbinding pleasures.
Favouring lengthy yet subtly evolving guitar work outs that never lapse into repetitive dirge territory, The Wounded Kings go about working their dark, smoky magic with grim elegance, building pressure and crucially, good old-fashioned song-writing that makes the prospect of skipping ahead null and void. Opening track Gnosis tips the scales at thirteen minutes but feels like three, as the guitars of Steve Mills and Alex Kearney claim your mind and reap your soul. Equally good are the sinister refrains of Lost Bride, shorter in length but equally devastating.
As she did on previous outing Chapel of the Black Hand, vocalist Sharie Neyland proves herself to be utterly untouchable when it comes to quavering, haunting tones that could charm the skin off a toad’s back. Combined with the aforementioned guitars, pounding percussion, flourishes of Hammond and a living breathing atmosphere that places the listener right there in Baskerville Hall in witch-haunted Dartmoor as candles burn, the wind shrieks and the demonic Hound howls somewhere out there in the cursed night. Simply put, The Wounded Kings are the quintessential English doom band and it’s going to take a very fine effort to better Consolamentum when assessing any future heavy records that happen to be played very slowly. Magical stuff.