Written by: Continuous Thunder
One of the things that initially drew me to doom metal and stoner rock was the way that the music complemented the aesthetics of one of my favorite sci-fi subgenres: the post-apocalypse. Something about the dark tone of the lyrics and sludgy riffs calls to mind images of blighted landscapes, lone wanderers, lawless lands, and road warriors. It’s especially gratifying when the artists recognize this correlation themselves, look no further than Truckfighters’ “Desert Cruiser” or Wo Fat’s “Lost Highway.” The UK’s Desert Storm also recognize this correlation and lean into it. The music video for “Drifter” off their 2018 release Sentinels is comprised entirely of clips from Mad Max 2. This fascination with the end of days is still present on Omens, their newest release, but this time it’s through the lens of mystical medieval fantasy.
The album opens with the title track, a tone-setting spoken word piece where a gravely-voiced mystic guides the listener to invite some dark force into their body. This is accompanied by an unsettling ambient drone that gives a sense of an altered state of mind and sinister intent. This leads to perhaps one of the timeliest doom metal songs of the year. “Black Bile” is an account of a land ravaged by plague and the death it leaves in its wake (sound familiar?). Things take a mystical turn on “Vengeful Gods,” where eldritch horrors are summoned and rain destruction on the Earth. The medieval imagery continues on “The Path of Most Resistance,” which describes a pilgrimage through harsh elements and untamed lands with mentions of torches and clothing made from hides. There’s an encounter with a pack of wolves and their mysterious “commander,” and you get a sense that it doesn’t end well for the travelers.
The mystical makes a return on “Lockjaw,” where lines from the opening title track return with the added imagery of a serpent constricting and biting its prey. The album closes with “Rebirth,” an acoustic meditation on death and reincarnation. The remaining two tracks avoid explicitly medieval or mystical imagery, with “The Machine” being a criticism of the plight of modern office drones. At first, this feels out of place, but a deeper reading of the rest of the album reveals that while there is imagery that might suggest a medieval setting, the world these songs occupy is never specifically identified as such. Could this possibly be a post-apocalyptic world where society has regressed to a medieval structure and magic and the occult have reemerged? We, the listeners, are left to decide.
All of this is accompanied by sufficiently dark and sludgy riffage with passages that readily summon involuntary slow headbanging; exactly the kind of thing we look for from doom and stoner metal. There are ruminations on two-note and even one-note riffs, punctuated by hammered percussion. This all serves to lock the listener into the groove while the music is playing, but there are few moments that will stick with you when the album is over. There is one particular instrumental misstep in “Pain, Grief, and Suffering” where the fuzz fades, and the song transitions to quiet interlude with piano and clean guitars. While the bombastic reintroduction of the heaviness is incredibly satisfying, the interlude ultimately feels unnecessary and serves only to pad the run time.
Another weak point of the album is its use of spoken word and occasional clean vocals. The spoken rite in the album opener effectively sets the tone for the rest of the record, but when a similar spoken word is used in “Vengeful Gods,” vocalist Matthew Ryan puts an emphasis on one particular phrase describing the approaching horrors. I’m sure the intent was to sound dark and creepy, but the execution sounds more like he was trying to frighten children around a campfire. There is also some clean singing in “The Machine” where Ryan attempts and fails at hitting notes below his register. Which becomes even more obvious and almost embarrassing when it’s revealed that he’s actually a pretty competent clean vocalist on “Rebirth.”
In sum, Omens is a very competent doom metal album with a few tonal and thematic inconsistencies. Desert Storm effectively evokes an occult and medieval aesthetic and uses it to provide a pretty cohesive listening experience. It might not stick with you long after the record stops spinning, but you’ll certainly enjoy yourself while it is.
Desert Storm - Omens was released May 1st, 2020 from APF Records
Continuous Thunder reviews even more music both inside and outside the realm of metal on his own blog, conveniently entitled Continuous Thunder. Now that you're done reading this, you should head over there and check it out!
We provide thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy...and loud enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a highfalutin peasantry!