Sometimes a track is entirely made by its intriguing instrumentation, its complex composition, or an otherwise original modus operandi. Sometimes a unique voice or lyrical theme serves as the hook that gets you in the door. Not so here. In the case of True Enemy, the latest single from Budapest’s Vanta, we're here for one thing and one thing only: that goddamn riff.
Yeah, you know what I’m talking about--or you will in short order. Just hit play below and succumb to that inevitable bludgeoning. This is a gravel-crushing steamroller of a riff, plain and simple, and nothing stands in its way. Like a mossy sasquatch stomping around whilst strapped into mechanical armor, Vanta is seemingly bent on wanton destruction. Your eardrums (and spinal column, no doubt) stand little chance against this churning distortion and brobdingnagian swagger. Seldom is the Sleeping Village’s conclave of ink-splattered scribes slapped upside the head with such massively belligerent riffage, so if I’m blathering at this stage, just assume I’m utterly concussed.
The vocals are appropriately violent, working with the guitar to provide an absolute sludge onslaught. A filter effect gives the vocalist a particularly intimidating aura, and lends the entire package a distinctly industrial persona. Vanta describes themselves--perhaps obtusely, but honestly accurately--as “Black sonic river.” I’ll be damned if I know what that means per se, but it sounds about right. These guys rip, tear, and obliterate their way through the doom/sludge umbrella, leaving little behind but shreds and twisted metal. If you’re feeling like a pick-me-up may be in order, we highly recommend you try on True Enemy for size.
Look, we've got a lot of stoner metal to get through today. Rather than bore you with a vaguely tangential introduction, let's just get to it, shall we?
earthdiver's Leave Something Witchy is one helluva EP, taking the smudgy groove of stoner metal and infusing it liberally with the glorious devil-may-care vivacity of punk. The entire 3-track is delightfully raw, rough-edged, and nearly feral in its execution--like if Pan, the God of the wild things, decided to throw away the pan pipes and start a garage band. Angsty vocals and slightly goofy samples are upheld by the loosest and otherwise grooviest bass I've heard in a long damn time. This thing grinds and bounces around with a deliciously organic bent, keeping the low end moving forward with an egregiously thunderous confidence. Indeed, the bass forms the backbone of earthdiver's approach, with the uber-distorted guitar appearing more as embellishment to the groove.
It's seldom that I encounter a fresh-faced band with such jubilant energy behind them. Doom benefits greatly from a swift kick in the ass, and earthdiver might just be the ones to deliver. If you like a little zest and zeal in your stoner doom, this particular Villager highly, highly recommends you check this one out. Listen to the title track here:
There’s a certain timeless appeal encapsulated by Ireland’s Withered Fist. Their doomy approach isn’t drenched in excessive distortion, nor tempered by stoner metal’s typical head-in-the-clouds mentality. Rather, assertive melodic overtones, attention to compositional interest, and a seemingly no-nonsense attitude, sets apart their debut EP--entitled This is My Mountain--in an admittedly crowded field. This Irish doom rocking duo is, simply put, solid.
The forward-facing vocals, while not flashy or aggressive, get the job done with a workmanlike flair. Harmony and melody reign, regardless of the weight of the track in question--look to the contrast of “The Dread” and closing track “The Journey” for an indication of Carl King’s obvious abilities in the vocal department. The former is markedly hefty and aggressive, yet never feels bogged down in its own presence or import. On the latter track, King deftly handles a simple chorus and some particularly gentle passages on the back half, seemingly approaching the affair in a straightforward and upbeat manner, which feels, I must admit, quite fresh.
The instrumentals, which are all handled by the multi-talented Justin Maloney, are simultaneously monolithic and lighthearted. Truly a quality that, when combined with the aforementioned vocals, lends This is My Mountain an understated dynamism. The title track, by way of example, has moments that soar, and moments, in turn, that feel mere steps away from sludgy peat-bog thick riffage. Withered Fist avoid stagnation with grace. As a result, the lengthy tracks contained herein feel nearly half their respective lengths. All told, this duo has set themselves up quite nicely for a debut full length. This EP has been gaining a lot of airtime as of late, and I’m anxious to see what more they are capable of.
Withered Fist - This is My Mountain was released January 2019. Listen to "The Journey" below, and check out Withered Fist on bandcamp.
Sometimes, an album I place on frequent rotation for review simply...well, never leaves rotation. It becomes so integral to my listening habits that the notion of writing a review becomes almost antithetical, because to write a review is often an admittance that it's time to wrap up my thoughts, take a break, and move on to other releases. Where Light Goes to Die, the sophomore effort from Atlanta's hard-rocking HOT RAM is, needless to say, such an album.
This power trio have been waiting a long damn time for this write-up, so let's get to it!
In many ways, HOT RAM appears to hit the ground running as a fairly prototypical doom/stoner rock outfit. Thick and bluesy grooves. Relaxed and expansive vocals, with just enough pent-up aggression to merit that sweet sludgy association. Fuzzy riffs that stretch and wind with a laid-back mentality and an exploratory spirit. That's all well and good--I mean, honestly, what else are we really here for. But alas, HOT RAM conquers the expected tropes with ease, and, fairly immediately, demonstrate that they have much more in store.
Where Light Goes to Die is, at heart, a hard rockin’ album, and it is this quality that took me most by surprise. HOT RAM fire on all cylinders with marked consistency, performing with the braggadocious air of a demin-clad classic rock outfit, without delving into the airy arena of radio-friendly singles. It’s like if Accept or early Judas Priest were converted by the Church of Misery. This mix of high energy riffage, pounding drums, and bass with ‘tude on one hand, and psychedelic meanderings on the other, is pretty damn potent.
The guitar feels fairly staple and straightforward in its approach, but it becomes apparent quite quickly that mere amp-worship ain't necessarily the name of the game. Take, for example, the frantic scale climbing that marks the finale of "Tribes of Titan," or the delightful sidewinding riff on (psych standout) "Petra," or the grinding aggression of "Nova Caesari," or the earnest rollicking of "Snake River." It is to their great credit that these tracks, and indeed every song here, feels like a very unique entity in the album's overall fabric. There's nothing here that should be cut, or refined, or even trimmed. As much as I love the genre, we all know the truth of the matter: in the hazy confines of stoner rock, sophistication and brevity aren't always the qualities most sought. HOT RAM throw that stereotype in the woodchipper, delivering six massive (yet varied) bangers.
I just listened to this album in full for the sole purpose of determining which track is my favorite. In conclusion? I genuinely cannot make that determination. Yer just gonna have to grab this HOT RAM by the horns and experience it in full unadulterated glory. Be part of the reason these guys get a little more attention. If it isn’t obvious thusfar, Where Light Goes To Die comes highly recommended. But yet, the question remains: will it leave constant rotation as a result of this review finally being unveiled?
As a sobered collective of secularists, the Sleeping Village wouldn’t typically welcome a High Priest into our midst. But here we are: praising, with undisguised zeal, the latest effort from these Chicagoan doom-slingers. Such is the power of the riff. High Priest's forthcoming Sanctum is a wondrously enjoyable release, and we’re honored to spread the good word.
Sanctum is an addictive 4-track slab, a well-conceived coagulation of influences. Promo material cites Alice In Chains, Pallbearer, and Trouble, while additionally recalling the group’s genesis at an Electric Wizard show. These are bold comparisons for an untested crew...but comparisons with which I am very much inclined to agree. While the downtrodden AiC style vocalizations and the swirling Wagner-esque compositions are spot-on, I’d argue that High Priest occupy a surprisingly subtle spot in the doomverse. While undeniably (and characteristically) riff-centric, no track here even begins to feel weighed down or drawn out. While melancholic and sorrowful, Sanctum never wallows or loses its delightful dynamism. And while approaching, at times, NWOBHM’s trademark melodic drive, it never feels excessive, nor does it fly off the rails with reckless abandon. In this sense, High Priest demonstrate the genre-melding abilities of Valkyrie, or perhaps even Desolation-era Khemmis. It’s hard to bring something new to the doom game, but High Priest feel remarkably unique in their tempered approach. Bottom line: this EP displays a very modern edge while simultaneously illustrating a variety of sounds that helped define doom and sludge. Not, my friends, a bad place to be.
Sanctum kicks of with the excellent Descent, which remains, to this Villager’s ear, the best thing these guys have ever written. Here, High Priest is firing on absolutely every cylinder. Militaristic drums, decidedly soulful vocals, expansive-yet-immersive riffs that weave and meld with confidence. The twin guitar approach rips with power and precision, and the chorus is an absolute beast. Descent is on course to become a contender for most played track o’ the year, and for good reason.
Beyond this unabashed display of prowess right outta the gate, Creature and Paradigm reinforce initial assumptions. That is, High Priest know how to write a compelling song. As alluded to before, there is little space for stagnation. The tastiest licks and most rollicking riffs are afforded the perfect amount of time in the spotlight. And while that’s all well and good, the latter track, in particular, displays some notably fantastic work in the percussive department. For a band and genre that inherently places such (deserved) emphasis on the guitars, it’s genuinely wonderful to hear such a strong showing from the drummer. Truly a standout performance. Closer Offering, while displaying a certain Troubleing vibe and strong dynamism in the vocal delivery, does feel a tad long. Given otherwise impressive fat-trimming chops, the back half here does feel slow in comparison. As a whole, however, we’re left with a very well executed package.
As riff-worshipers, you and I are walloped with a lot of doom on a daily basis. Keeping that in mind, it’s fair to say that High Priest are going places. Sanctum comes highly recommended. If you need some convincing, listen to Descent below:
A certain groggy-eyed, highfalutin' peasantry