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:
Robots of the Ancient World. If that moniker--and the accompanying artwork--doesn’t conjure a spaced-out and otherwise smoke-afflicted ethos, I urge you to back away from this decidedly cosmic Kyussian watering hole before it's too late. That's right. This impressive debut is comfortably tied to the generator rattlin’ desert rock of terra firma, yet brings enough psychedelic and astral gravitas to give credence to their cosmos-trawling identity. An appropriate Carl Sagan sample only adds to the ambiance--but really, isn't that an inevitability?
Before this particular scribe gets too mired in the nitty-gritty, let’s make two facts abundantly clear: 1). Cosmic Riders is a highly enjoyable album, quite possibly one of the genre’s best this year, and 2). as an up-n-coming stoner/desert/doom crew, Robots of the Ancient World can hang, quite comfortably, with the best of ‘em.
Instrumentally, you’ve undoubtedly heard something of a similar ilk--although perhaps without such a defined sense of nuance. Robots of the Ancient World’s are rockers through and through--pounding drums, groovy bass, and a hard rockin’ pedal-to-the-metal mentality keeps them grounded in the desert department. In terms of the general ambiance called to mind, tracks such as “In My Head” and the aforementioned “Sweet Lady” recall blazing sun and burning rubber, more so than psychedelic starlit soul searching. Given the album as a whole, however, neither “thick” nor “hefty” feel particularly apt, as the riffs remain expansive. Undeniably fuzz-ridden, yet delightfully light footed. Typically an album that actively encourages mind wandering, rather than constantly demanding attention, will fall under my spit-shined critical lens. Not so here. The (comparatively) relaxed second acts of “High and Drive” and the titular “Cosmic Riders” don't constitute mere background noise in the slightest, but their expansive and subtle nature demonstrate a very calming effect. Surely the modus operandi of these interstellar Robots, if the intro to “High and Drive” isn't enough of a hint.
A true highlight of the guitarwork is the solos--few and far between, but excellent nonetheless. See the back half of “Sweet Lady” for a particularly sweet lil’ fretboard diatribe. These exploratory guitar-centric moments work incredibly well to draw the listener in. While the central riffs never feel stale, the solos serve as glimmers of particular interest. The issue with the majority of stoner rock of the astral variety is a tendency to fall too far into the abyss. Robots of the Ancient World are quite proficient at letting you drift, but occasionally reeling in the tether.
This quality is only strengthened by the fantastic vocals, which I've seen compared, interestingly enough, to both Danzig and Jim Morrison. The former is certainly apparent--look, for example, to the self-assured gruffness on “God Particle/Oblivion Stone.” In terms of the latter, while Mr. Mojo fanboyism is, quite possibly, my greatest pet peeve, I'm frankly inclined to agree. A certain chiller-than-thou poise proliferates the entire package, adding a level of emotion that has been unfortunately lacking in the genre’s recent deluge of shout-into-the-void delivery. That said, rather than residing in languidity, he's capable of turning it up a notch--an expansive, distant, and at times mournful howl. When this is pushed to the limit, he tantalizing walks the line, stretching each note to a frayed edge. It suits the tone and shape of Cosmic Riders quite well.
Again, this is an impressive debut. In fact, the only vague misstep in sight is the penultimate “Five Eyes,” which feels overly long given its position in the album's mesh. At six and half minutes, this is an excellent track carrying some unnecessary baggage on burly shoulders. Otherwise, Cosmic Riders remains compulsively listenable and relentlessly enjoyable. It’s a noticeable step up from their self-titled debut, which frankly says a lot on its own. More than representing maturity, however, Cosmic Riders serves as a declaration of Robots of the Ancient World’s intent: to join the impressive entourage of PNW bands toiling to reinvigorate the spirit of rock. To this end, their debut credits the genre’s foundational elements, but doesn’t turn tail when prompted to deliver music that feels just unique enough to spark interest. Cosmic Riders comes highly recommended.
Robots of the Ancient World's Cosmic Riders was released March 26th, 2019.
Considering that this particular villager is decidedly one of those “album guys,” for whom singles without context hold little intrigue, reviewing a compilation is a difficult affair. Jumping from artist to artist with nary a backward glance necessitates finding a common thread, and in the case of (fellow music blog) Alternative Control's excellent Volume Doom, that thread is obvious: despite a wide range of technique, application, and general sonic appeal, every band here exemplifies the spirit of the low ‘n’ slow. Even at first blush, you’ve got a fine range on display, from the rockin’ riffage of Owl Maker’s desert groove, to the gargantuan swampy bass of Gorge, to the ethereal tones of Eye of Nix. The stoner and doom umbrella is well represented herein, and with international, national, and local Connecticut bands alike, Volume Doom defines the ideal conglomerate.
While followers of said genres will undoubtedly recognize some names here (see Year of the Cobra, 1476, and the UK’s ever-intimidating Kurokuma) there are some greenhorns as well. The most obvious example of the unheard contingent is Low Moment, whose austere-yet-oddly-emotive “Plague, Take Me Low” is--I shit you not, folks--their first and only recorded track. Between exist a variety of other groups, all of whom make exceptional use of the platform this compilation affords. At risk of showing all my cards, it’s fair to say that Volume Doom contains no skippable tracks, and if we sway you to listen, you should listen to it all, dammit. That said, resorting to describing each track (and thereby band) seems unfortunately inefficient, so while I stress that each and every song here deserves a wholehearted shout-out, we’ll trim things down to three tracks that left a particularly prominent impression.
First up we have Howling Giant, whose adventurous “The Pioneer” recalls, thematically, something Rush might have conceived in a blaze of typical lyrical prowess. While not narrative per se, “The Pioneer” makes use of tasteful samples and follows a distinct protagonist, resulting in a perpetual desire to return to the track time and time again. Call it akin to the satisfaction of re-reading a good book. Groovy yet progressively light on their feet, Howling Giant bring in both mighty riffs and subtle synths. Behind it all, at the helm of their galaxy-trawling craft, sits Zach Wheeler, bringing a level of subtle sophistication to the percussion that is, for lack of an appropriate metaphor, a genuine joy to take in.
Next up is “False Martyr” from Philadelphia's own Witching--a group that, evidently, knows how to kick in the door. Following a wonderfully misleading intro, Jacqui Powell lets it rip, self-exorcising vile caustic howls. A potent blend of blackened anguish and hardcore fury, if e’er there was. Whether reverb-stricken or charging forth with fuzzy angularity, the guitar tone is masterful on all counts, seamlessly maintaining a sense of direction amidst the track’s violent ebb and flow. “False Martyr” is doggedly forceful, and hits harder than anything else Volume Doom has on display. Despite sounding different, in the grand scheme, than its stoner-influenced brethren, Witching’s contribution works quite well as a focal point.
Lastly we have Dust Prophet, whose “Revolutionary Suicide” is an eerie (if irresistible) romp. Heather Lynn belts out a hook like few can, but that’s not the only draw: hefty guitar, massive drums, and a noticeable attention to detail in the ambiance department set Dust Prophet apart. All told, this track has a certain commercial appeal--and coming from an underground blog, I can see the implications, but bear with me. Few bands under the riff-worshipping fold can claim this level of sheer head-bopping ‘n’ air-guitar wielding gravitas. A spoken word intro and some squealing intrusions underneath the riffs provide the necessary balance--all the weirdness one needs to really stand out in a crowd. The result? A remarkably ear-wormy addition to the comp.
Because, alas, I must maintain a critical edge even in the midst of doomy excellence, it’s worth mentioning that Year of the Cobra’s contribution--opening track “The Descent”--doesn’t quite match my expectations given this Seattle powerhouse’s recent output. Here, the trademark genre-defying vocals carry themselves with less weight, particularly in the chorus itself. That said, YoTC has yet to put out a track that one could conceivably classify as “uninspired.” Otherwise, I sometimes found myself wishing that the album followed a more rigorous path of ethereal to harsh, as exemplified by the opening and closing bands--but even so, I’m not sure what a reordered tracklist might look like in practice.
Speaking to the overall mission, Jessie May--Alternative Control editor and holder-down of the Owl Maker low end--states that she hopes “all the bands on Volume Doom will gain new listeners from being part of this comp!” Frankly, every band here has contributed mightily to that end. If the point of a comp is to open doors and provide deserving bands with an audience, Alternative Control has done the doomsphere a substantial favor. As a direct result of this collection of tunes, I have been introduced to more than a few bands that will undoubtedly receive continued support. On a base level, as a consumer, its a fantastic feeling to be introduced to so many high-quality bands in a single well-curated package. Volume Doom feels like a preemptive peek into the future--a future where the bands before ye sit atop the veritable mountain of doomy competition. Highly, highly recommended.
1. Year of the Cobra -- The Descent
2. Howling Giant -- The Pioneer
3. Mourn the Light -- Embrace the Darkness
4. Owl Maker -- Sky Road
5. Gorge -- The Great Dying
6. Witching -- False Martyr
7. Pinto Graham -- High Flyer
8. Eye of Nix -- Lull
9. 1476 -- Winter of Winds
10. Dust Prophet -- Revolutionary Suicide
11. Low Moments -- Plague, Take Me
12. Kurokuma -- Dope Rider, Pt. 1
(If you’re not already a reader, check out Alternative Control for thoughtful discussions of metal...and everything else you need to live.)
Volume Doom will be released Friday, Feb. 22nd. Preorder here at a ridiculously fair price. Like, seriously. How can you go wrong?
While the ol' scriptorium here at the Sleeping Village has been scantly populated this week, fear not. This particular reeve* has spent the past few days embroiled in pre-review fury--i.e., I’ve been listening to a whole lot of good music, so get ready for some appropriately complementary reviews. In the meantime, however, we’d like to direct your attention to a three-track EP that always finds a way to reinsert itself in the rotation. For demo peddlers, Merlock display resolve and remarkable staying power.
Merlock EP is a fun lil’ demo without pretension or sophistication, the kind of music that results when a band throws down and simply plays a blend of genres that pleases them. In the case of Merlock, that formula is equally influenced by the spaced-out aura of psychedelia, and the hard-rockin’ momentum of trad metal. Merlock is subtly off-kilter in the best of ways, an odd amalgamation of The Jesus Lizard’s intrinsic weirdness, and the astral wanderings of Merlin--albeit abbreviated, and sans brass. The result is a kind of caustic, trippy, and rough-around-the-edges stoner doom, and it lights a little fire in my heavy (metal) heart.
While I wholeheartedly recommend you spend the time and give the three tracks herein their due, a personal favorite from this project is opener “Spiral Nemesis.” Constructed around a bouncy and certifiably hooky central riff, this track is particularly effective at presenting a balance between a rock-solid template and a psychedelic edge. While “Spiral Nemesis” is fairly straightforward--despite a slower psych-oriented passage midway through--it never loses its structural integrity. All told, a very enjoyable track, and suitably representative of a sound I’m hoping Merlock will continue to produce. Listen to it here:
*Effectively a village administrator, a position held by a man of otherwise low stature, responsible for overseeing the manorial motley crew. Sleeping Village Reviews: expanding your medieval-specific vocabulary since 2018.
Yes, yes. The observant reader will note that The Sleeping Village was host to a review of this single many months ago. But today, the occasion is ripe to break the same dastardly write-up out of the ol’ archives. On March 9th, Detroit Doomsters Temple of the Fuzz Witch will be releasing their self-titled debut under Seeing Red Records--and "Bathsheba," the track we previously spoke highly of, serves as the lead single. If you missed it, here's a chance to remedy that mistake.
As a figure of literal biblical proportion, Bathsheba is an admirably complex character. An obvious victim of David the adulterer, Bathsheba was nonetheless a cunning puppet-master who made the best of a bad situation, solidifying immense power for her bloodline. This is all to say that Temple of the Fuzz Witch’s homage to Bathsheba is significantly more black & white than the character herself. Fortunately, nuance isn’t the goal for these riff-worshippers. Like with the fuzzy witch's prior EP, we’re presented the opportunity to revel in some no-nonsense fuzz induced occult gloom, and boy, does this hit the spot.
When we talk Sabbathian influence, Iommi’s thick riffage is usually the topic in question. Here, however, the bass is pure Geezer. Thick, forward-facing, & nearly recalling Dopethrone in its stoic delivery, the bass provides a well constructed foundation for the titular fuzz. The Electric Wizard influence extends to vocals as well, manifesting in filtered, heavy-lidded howls that prowl low in the mix. Like everything else, the vox lacks frills, but it’s an excellent performance to be sure. The soloing around the 4:10 mark is particularly well conceived. Simple but delightfully timeless in its distorted, steadfast delivery.
These are the sounds that made me fall in love with doom in the first place, & the continuation of that god-given tone is truly a delight to behold. A review of Temple of the Fuzz Witch's debut in full shall manifest shortly, but for the time being, we implore you: spend a lil’ precious time with Bathsheba. And get on that $6.66 pre-order.