Doom metal is my desert island genre of choice. Besides an obvious proclivity for hefty riffage, however, what draws me to doom is the opportunity for subtle variation. The ability to take a winning formula and bend it to one's will is what makes or breaks the bands who worship the gloom. In this sense, Maryland doomsters Yatra tread a fine line on their debut, Death Ritual. That said, they walk it with deft balance and great aplomb. Death Ritual has an unique character, and for that, it shines in the stygian environs of its own creation.
Like many before them, Yatra proudly carry on the droning traditions of Sleep, Electric Wizard, and perhaps Miserable-era Bongripper. In other words, the riffs moves like tepid silt, while drums perform their duties with little flash or braggadocio. Notably, the guitar is oddly comforting--its caliginous persona is so well defined that it takes on a near-physical presence. Darkly mantric riffage remains the name of the game across Death Ritual’s runtime, and in some instances, this works very well in their favor. Look to Black Moon as a particularly acute example of the capabilities of (frontman) Dana Helmuth and (bassist) Maria Geisbert to hold it down in the low n’ slow department.
As time inevitably goes on, however, the sheer personality of the riffage begins to falter as a primary source of interest. And here, we encounter the aforementioned need for variation; while consistently performed, something must act as a foil to the lumbering strains. Thankfully, rather than devolving into the Straits of Boredom, Yatra utilizes a vocal style not typically associated with the genre. Blackly muttered howls lurk behind the guitar, comprising an odd yet appropriate for Yatra’s general aesthetic. What makes it succeed so well isn’t the quality of the isolated vocals--which, while intriguing, likely wouldn’t hold up in a true black metal context. Rather, it is Helmuth’s ability to weave his vox with the swell of instrumentation that ultimately gives Yatra an edge. Leaning into such a complimentary style results in a surprisingly well-conceived package. Also of note, vocally speaking, are the pleasantly wormy choruses. Album centerpiece (and highlight) Smoke is Rising, for example, has been stuck betwixt my ears for days now. While an intrinsically simple tune, simplicity certainly has its place in the doom pantheon.
The album's length remains quite respectable, especially given long-winded convention. That said, while the formula works, the middle portion of the album has proven to outshine both the head and tail ends in terms of memorability, with the penultimate Mighty Arrows being the least repeatable of the lot. All told, not much of a complaint. I have listened to Death Ritual a great many times over the past week--a process which resulted in a comforting familiarity. It's been time well spent. I’ll leave it at this: were the Sleeping Village marooned on an island, Death Ritual would undoubtedly keep this particular villager plenty entertained. Needless to say, Yatra and their brand of doom comes highly recommended.
Released Jan. 4th from Grimoire Records.
A certain groggy-eyed, highfalutin' peasantry