The Booster: Doom, Sludge, Stoner, Slow Stuff #1
Slow n' heavy stuff I like that's out now
If you need any indication of how slowly I write these days, this was supposed to be the second-to-last Booster of 2022. Instead, it's the first Booster of 2023. Huzzah.
So, how about some Substacks and blogs that update more frequently?
Machine Music wrapped up another excellent year by dropping in-depth interviews with each AOTY recipient. Great news for people who like to read because Ron is one of the best interviewers in the game. Also, the "Songs I Liked This Week in List Form" is basically this Booster but runs weekly with a better spread of tunes.
Likewise, Rennie Resmini, of pioneering Philly heavies Starkweather, operates a killer Substack that offers frequent dispatches from the underground highlighting new music you're probably not going to find elsewhere. I've gotten a ton of recs from there. Like, there's no way I'd ever hear SYVÄÄN without Resmini's recommendation.
Concrete Avalanche covers "non-pop music from China," and supplies insight, context, and history for releases that otherwise might've zoomed by on your Bandcamp feed. Jake is super knowledgeable, and this is the kind of "embedded in the scene" zine that I still love.
Phil Freeman's Burning Ambulance is now on Substack. The prolific critic covers a wide array of music with his typical verve. Phil is everywhere, like his great jazz column for Stereogum. So, it's nice to find some of his work in your inbox.
Holiday Kirk's The Agenda Herald is the official newsletter of the Nu-Metal Agenda. On there you'll always find bands, both old and new, inhabiting the maligned style that contradict the pop culture narrative.
So It Goes is the long-running Substack of Stephen Thomas Erlewine, whose style I've been trying to bite for 20 years. (I'll add that STE is probably the reason why I own a bunch of pub rock albums.)
Check those out.
Also, for obvious reasons, I want to note that Wretched Stench's Weaving a Web of Viscera is out now. If you enjoy brutal death metal stuffed with squees, it's worth a listen.
OK. Onto doom. Doom or be doomed.
Abyssal - A Deep Sea Funeral (Concreto Records/Transylvanian Recordings)
Tijuana, Mexico's Abyssal has been playing it "low and slow since 2008," per the trio's Bandcamp bio. That is extremely my thing, but I'm embarrassed to say it took 10 years and four albums until I heard them. That fifth album, though, was one hell of an introduction. The massive Misanthrope, the 2018 record that received a wider release courtesy of Transylvanian Recordings, is a single 46-minute track that recalls the quiet/loud structure of Corrupted's longform work like El Mundo Frio or Old Man Gloom's "Zozobra" but played with a bar band immediacy. The band re-recorded the song in 2020 with the addition of cello, draping a glum elegance over the hushed stretches. Both versions are worth picking up since they scratch separate itches. However, I prefer the starker original. In that earlier incarnation, Abyssal forces you to ruminate on the spare strums, like how a single thought is sometimes the only thing rattling around your head when you can't sleep.
Produced by מזמור's ALN, A Deep Sea Funeral is a worthy follow-up. The dynamic duality remains: It's still as quiet as the night after a long day and as loud as an ocean liner capsizing. And, like its predecessor, it sinks into the negative space and then bursts out with big doom crunch-chords that could even shake Buried at Sea awake. But A Deep Sea Funeral is more ethereal. There's a dreaminess to the dreariness. Like Gonzalo Rueda's album art, the hushed parts feel like how light underwater looks: diffused, spectral, and otherworldly, the warmth of the sun a million miles away.
In that way, A Deep Sea Funeral is a good analog for that unmistakable gnawing sensation that’s the byproduct of worry, the doubt that corrodes your insides and eats away at your being. Bassist Luna and drummer Luis really put in the work to make that come through, accenting F's riffs with all kinds of little currents and ripples. Together, the trio puts a different spin on the "low" of the "low and slow."
As my fellow sad folks know, there's a numbness to chronic depression that wavers between subdued, enervating lethargy and a dull roar that overtakes all other senses. A Deep Sea Funeral takes on both modes, recognizing that they're two parts of a whole. The weight of the crunch gives the quietude a distinct gravity. The quietude makes the crunch sound ever louder, like water rushing into your ears. As the song goes on, you sink ever deeper until you finally succumb. "Waters are now empty," F howls. "Lifeless. Forgotten. Ignored."
Am Himmel - As Eternal As The Starless Kingdom Of Sorrow (Burning World Records)
Am Himmel, a Dutch solo project helmed by the obscured-by-acronym artist JKMP, is an interesting one, both sonically and taxonomically. As Eternal As The Starless Kingdom Of Sorrow, its debut full-length, is an expansive slow mover cloaked in fuzzy, impressionistic smears. It's like if JK Broadrick remixed Lurker of Chalice for Silencer. "Bleared By The Infinite Wings," the title of Sorrow's opener, is a pretty good way to put it. The synth-driven doom has a gaze-y grandiosity and DSBM-indebted cry of blackgaze without the latter's penchant for emotional manipulation. At its best, Am Himmel thrills with a heart-in-your-throat throb, inspiring catharsis through the vicarious release of hearing someone scream over beautifully sad, twisted music.
And yet, because Am Himmel sits at the intersection of a few genres, it's tough to pin down. This matters more to me, the blurber, than you, the listener, because you don't really have to worry about that kind of thing to enjoy your time with this six-song set. But, I don't know, it's also perversely fun watching me pepper the wall behind the proverbial dart board while trying to bullseye a clean, concise way to describe indescribable feelings.
Other writers have done better. Burning World, Am Himmel's label, wrote that JMKP's "...inspiration lies between doomy synth-based drone, raw black metal, and shoegaze." Thus Spoke's review for Angry Metal Guy, which is much better than whatever I'm barfing up here, said, "...JMKP has chosen a palette of ambient, drone-inspired blackgaze where shrieks reverberate across warm synth soundscapes." The most succinct description appears in a Decibel premiere in which Chris Dick called the band's debut "funeral black metal."At least I haven't called this "doomgaze" yet.
Anyway, Jesu plus Gnaw Their Tongues is about as close as I'm going to get you on this one. Because, again, the least interesting thing about Am Himmel is what it is. It's all about the emotions it evokes. My favorite song is As Eternal As The Starless Kingdom Of Sorrow’s longest work, the delightfully despondent "The Virgin Wages Celestial War In The Seraphim Courts." It sounds like The Gathering covering Codeine while the tapes fall apart a la William Basinski. But it also vibrates with a full-body sadness, that powerful dejection that turns your insides inside out.
What puts Am Himmel over the top, though, is its approach to songwriting. It doesn't linger longer than it needs to, presenting most of these ideas in comparatively tight five- to six-minute packages. In that way, JMKP's closest cousin is Disintegration-era Cure, particularly the way the low-end acts as a sneaky earworm while melodies fizzle effervescently on top. "The Patience And Silence Of a Saint's Death" displays that balance well. And, by barely eclipsing five minutes, it's mixtape ready.
Anyway, for some bonus material, I was tickled by this quote from JMKP that ran alongside the above-mentioned Decibel premiere. This is some premium blarghon.
The freedom of the depths intoxicated me; the odours of the wild beasts and the fumes made me drunk with joy. But the women now bring dead children into the world. The moon trembles with the incantations of witches. Desires of violence, of immensity, seize me. I wish to drink poisons to lose myself in the feverish dream of a martyr's death. The absolute immersion into the wallowing darkness. An infinite state of bliss.
Yes. I also feel this way during MLB's hot stove.
Arche - Reverential Silence (Transcending Obscurity Records)
Finnish funeral doom. You're thinking keyboards, yeah? It's OK. That's natural. Finnish funeral doom is alright if you like keyboards. Skepticism: keyboards. Thergothon: keyboards. Shape of Despair: keyboards. Unless you're Wormphlegm, and that would be sick except for me emailing you every day asking you to make a new album, keyboards come with the territory. And I get it. Within that Finnish funeral doom context, the keyboards sound great, adding a lush lachrymosity to the despairing dirges. But what if you just wanted to hear mostly guitars? Enter Arche.
This Finnish duo does orthodox funeral doom but strips it down, [OSW Review voice] waaaaaaay down. Eppe Kuismin, the guitarist/bassist/vocalist/*raises eyebrow*keyboardist of this pair, played on the first two Profetus albums, which had keyboards. But on Transitions? Some support, but keys are mostly absent. In its place: vocals, guitars, drums. And, I mean, I don't want to say that it's a brave decision because we're talking about metal here, but it does mean that Arche's dour guitar leads have to work overtime because there's no symphonic/mock-orchestral whizz-bang providing a safety net.
Let's talk album construction: Two long songs sandwich one pretty, acoustic, Buckethead-esque instrumental that's appropriately titled "Transitions." The songs have an early Swallow the Sun-esque crunch, but this stuff is clearly in the Finnish funeral doom tradition. Think somewhere between Shape of Despair's velveteen gloominess and Skepticism's steely misery. Still, they play out about how you'd expect: swirling leads are braided into melancholic progressions; gargantuan supporting chugs ring out; drums pound; vocals roar. Occasionally the odd keyboard surfaces: acting like the down of a blanket on "Reverential Silence," adding a depth charge ping on "In A Solace Light." But, again, Transitions is pretty nuts and bolts and all the better for it. Arche is therefore more intimate than your typical funeral doomer simply because you can hear what everyone is doing. Arche sounds like a band.
Ville Raittila has one of the most unheralded jobs in metal, the funeral doom drummer, but he really steps up by combining power and propulsion, pushing Arche along. I like how understated Raittila's fills are without losing the needed syncopation. It allows Kuismin to riff, getting the most out of sorrowful chords. Of course, the band shines when those leads kick in, bringing to mind the grand grief of Mournful Congregation. But Arche doesn't have the same metallic sheen, that shredder's desire to spill plasma that runs through those Aussies. Instead, Arche has an earthier, more '70s feel. Is it mega sad? Of course. But its despair is, well, spare. Because of that, Arche has a high replayability factor. In other words, it's not exhausting, achieving the funeral doom ideal more simply.
Dead Void - Volatile Forms (Dark Descent/Me Saco un Ojo Records)
Every band gets rolling for a different reason. Play with your buds, live out a dream, answer what-ifs. I thought Dead Void's reason for being was novel. "We have no aims to tick off any genre requirements," the Danish trio said to No Clean Singing, "more a desire to go back to basics and develop things from there with the benefit of knowledge and experience." An "Ooh La La" origin story? Hell yeah, sign me up.
Of course, the success of such a project hinges largely on what one deems the "basics." For what it's worth, Volatile Forms, Dead Void's full-length debut, has good bones. "The impetus was partly a reaction to what was going on around us, with a plan to jam on influences from old legends like Goatlord, Cianide, Mystic Charm and Candlemass with a little Necrovore and Incubus thrown in here and there," the band said in that same interview, nodding at the Danish OSDM scene. "Fucking Heavy Death Metal. Songs that focus on solid, heavy and memorable riffs with creative songwriting, rather than the 'tremolo-picked single notes + reverb = death metal' formula that seemed to dominate at the time. The doom influence comes mainly from the classic doom metal bands, particularly in terms of songwriting."
To me, Dead Void sounds a lot like the most back-to-basics band for a lot of scenes, Celtic Frost. The guitar tone has a similar Iceman frigidness to it. The riffs prioritize the hummability of chuggy progressions that work at any speed, a la Warrior's more morbid writing. The drums pound ferociously with a sort of build-your-own-damn-pocket malevolence. It's the din that I wish Darkthrone would take one more shot at.
Of course, none of this would matter if the songs didn't slap. The songs slap. Tracks like "Sadistic Mind," with its embryonic death metal tumble, have a bloodthirstiness that's uncommon for a lot of slower music. "The Reptilian Drive" is precisely that, stomping around intimidatingly with a neanthropic nastiness and legit gnarliness that war metal probably finds enviable. In addition, its middle has a mid-paced power groove that sounds like a loping muscle car engine. Even the crawling closer, "Perpetually Circling the Void," exudes menace, vibing on an Incantation-esque slowdown before breaking out with chugs that boom like exploding mortars.
The thing, though, is that while these songs have touchstones, they're not cheap clone jobs. Dead Void makes good on its intentions of dialing the wayback machine way back, landing in the same primordial pool that its influences crawled out of. But a lot of Volatile Forms feels like something that evolved alongside those influences instead of being descended from them. It makes a big difference, keeping a creative spark alight that has been snuffed out on the other side of the death/doom aisle by too-reverent OSDM disciples. Naturally, this approach affixes a sell-by date on Dead Void's music. If you don't like anything made before 2000, don't bother. But that Volatile Forms can feel pleasingly ancient without resorting to charcoal rubbing the riffs of its favorites is impressive.
Eirð - A Voidchaser's Elegy (Solitude Productions)
Let's start with the CV. Eirð is the solo project of Andreas Georg Libera. If you know Libera for a band, it's probably his previous project, the German epic doomers Spirit Descent. If you've seen his name in album credits, I'm guessing it's because Libera engineered Warning's all-timer, Watching From a Distance. If you treat Encyclopaedia Metallum like LinkedIn, that last one is a pretty good connection.
Let's talk atmosphere. Eirð's newest album, A Voidchaser's Elegy, is heavier than a planet made of metal. Libera and knob-twiddling partner Michael Hahn (producer of Watching From a Distance, among a ton of other mix/master jobs) really show out in that respect. These four long songs are pretty good speaker testers if you need to calibrate your surround sound system. Opener "Into Distant Spheres (We Float)" has a bassy undertow a la Electric Wizard's "Return Trip," the grinding wuuummm that is the love language of tectonic plates. The big difference is that the riff churns beneath near-gothy, funeral death/doom, like if Evoken overtook Draconian in a coup. If your complaint is that stuff in the Third and the Mortal tradition isn't heavier than an elephant obsessed with eating bowling balls, Eirð offers a solution.
So, given the past two talking points, why has it taken me months to cover this one despite me buying it as soon as it showed up in Solitude Productions's Bandcamp back in January 2022? Libera's vocals are...an impediment. Now, keep in mind Libera's vocal cords don't show up often. Kristien Cools (Splendidula) handles most of the singing and prioritizes these wild, emotive Lisa Gerrard/Elizabeth Fraser runs. (Gina Majoram adds choir vox on "The Universal Spirit (Luna In Her Grace)," a good change of pace.) To be clear, Cools is a star, helping push Eirð along when it starts to spin its wheels. For example, once the 25-minute slowly roiling title track, which pairs the expressiveness of Russia's Рожь with the slomo 4AD swirl of NYC's Witnesses, starts to linger on a section too long, Cools swoops in from the sky like a deranged sparrow, cutting through the distortion with her harrowing highs. For real, half of the enjoyment is simply listening to Cools cook.
Libera, though, doesn't have it, especially when cast against Cools's fluidity. Even the screams and growls are an immersion-buster, at best sounding like the Walmart version of Cardinals Folly's Count Karnstein. I don't want to be mean, but it just doesn't work, and the flaws are magnified because the rest of the album sounds so damn good.
However, even if Eirð outsourced the lows, the focus is still an issue. While I really dig "A Voidchaser's Elegy"'s Type O-ish middle, there's no reason it needs to stretch on as long as it does, its power diminishing once you realize the solo is just a lead. And the following section doesn't build upon that bridge's high, languishing in a coda that never makes it to a crescendo.
I mean, obviously, none of this nitpicking may matter you. As you've undoubtedly learned, the things that bug me are inconsequential. And Eirð's potential is through the roof. It's already stuffed with cool things. Plus, the production is dialed in. I expect big things in the future, which is no small thing to say about a band that already sounds this big.
Griefstoker - Soulseller (self-released)
Here's my advice on this one: Stick it on repeat. Sure, Griefstoker's debut EP, Soulseller, is good on the first spin. You can hear what lone member Reia Pedersen is going for, dropping in those gravity bong, pre-cringe Electric Wizard grooves. And it sounds right: The guitar tone is embiggened to the same speaker-slaying proportions as With the Dead. There's even some death heft: Spread across the sludgy, swinging stoner is a schmear of Ramesses gutter gunk. If those are boxes you want checked, Griefstoker checks them.
The problem is...well, hold up. I want to stress that this has nothing to do with Griefstoker. The problem, as I am laying it out, is more of an issue with the greater scene this Australian solo project inhabits. OK? OK. The problem: Lord, do a lot of bands try to check those boxes. Most of those bands suck. Stoner doom and sludgy stoner has become so choked with lazy imitators that it's hard to bypass your biases when encountering new entries. So, Soulseller? Gotta go on repeat. You need a few spins to convince your brain that this rules. Because it does.
Now, I should mention that when stoner doom/sludge works, it's one of my favorite sounds in this world. I reliably fall for one of these records every year. It's why I keep asking you to check out Demonic Death Judge even though it has a shitty name. It's why I've texted you 40 times about Acid King this week, which I think you should listen to one more time because maybe you don't get it yet? Anyway, Griefstoker's "The Devil in the Church" hits that money zone for me, but it took some listens for me to get there. Early versions of this blurb even have me trotting out the dreaded "potential" soft rejection. One more time: r-e-p-e-a-t.
The funny thing about this entire blurb is that my reason for why this is good is pretty abstract: It's good in a genre that often is not nowadays. This is not abstract music. It riffs a good riff. That's kind of it. But I will say that Pedersen really taps into the spirit of what makes those riffs good. The big misconception with stuff in the stoner realm is that the good stuff is good because the riffs are good. Nope. Wrong. Good, groovy riffs are a dime a dozen. To be truly successful, you need to have a killer rhythm section. Early Electric Wizard? Killer rhythm section. Sons of Otis? Killer rhythm section. Notice the trend? Pedersen is on the way to having *that* rhythmic inclination, the Ryan Aubin pocket-building, and the Tim Bagshaw knack for adding depth. Yes, you gotta repeat it to hear it. Look, we've all been hurt by bad stoner doom. But, lemme tell you, disarming your ugh sensor with Soulseller is worth the time. Griefstoker is going to cut a doozy at some point. Now I'm ready for it.
Norna - Star is Way Way is Eye (Vinter Records/Majestic Mountain Records)
Norna, a Swiss/Swedish sludge trio, rarely lets up on its full-length debut, The Star is Way the Way is Eye. Riff after riff crashes into you like how a storm surge pounds a port. To think of it another way, the entire album feels like the 25th mile of a marathon. The repetitive simplicity of the movement coupled with the runner's high-like response to the continual stress of your feet hitting the road has a meditative quality. Replace running with riffs and feet for ears and you have Norna.
Fronted by Tomas Liljedahl (also on guitar and bass), most famously the singer of Breach, a band whose DNA can be found in a lot of European metallic core music, Norna already has an intriguing pedigree. Dig a little deeper for connections and you'll find Chris Macquat (guitar, bass, Moog) and Marc Theurillat's (drums and samples) other band, Ølten. That group cut an underappreciated gem in 2018, the aptly titled Ambiance, a post-metal/sludge wall-rattler that did its most interesting work in the margins, hypnotizing you like a swinging watch.
So, how did Macquat and Theurillat hook up with Liljedahl? "One year before I turned 40, I took the decision to record a new album instead of buying a new car (midlife crisis :-) ),"Macquat said to Veil of Sound. "For this album I had an idea: Make an album with the people who have influenced me. Breach and Cult of Luna are a huge part in my life. That's why I asked Tomas and Magnus (Lindberg, who produced the record). I also wanted to have my best friend in this project, Marc."
"I guess our initial thought was (the strife for) simplicity," Liljedahl said in the same interview. "I wanted the guitar tone to form the riffs/songs, there is not really any idea to write complex riffs with a super dirty and harsh guitar sound, it doesn't make any sense to me. And we wanted the sound to be crushing, almost unbearable. So that kind of set the tone for the songwriting, usually Chris or me coming up with a riff and then coloring it with an additional tone. But the idea was simplicity: repetitive almost mantra-like riffs. I like the idea to have a riff take on its own life after being repeated long enough."
The question, of course, is whether this approach still plays in 2022. The Star is Way the Way is Eye reminds me of Isis's Mosquito Control and The Red Sea, two records that also desired to obliterate listeners by tightening a riff press around their skulls. 20-plus years later, post-metal is a different beast. The bands that have hung on have augmented their music with other styles, accenting the crush with a wide array of supporting timbres, having more in common with the equally wide-ranging kosmische musik than, like, Souls at Zero. So, is a straight-up pummeling still interesting when it now sounds more severe than ever?
When the musicians' feel for the music is this good, I think so. However, like Liljedahl said, Norna doesn't make complex music. The proggiest Norna gets is some additional Moog shading. Mostly, The Star is Way the Way is Eye's concern is turning up the volume. But the playing is phenomenal, with all three possessing a keen understanding of how to make these riffs breathe. There's a rise and fall to each section as the songs slowly trudge along. And the way Norna is captured is so frenetic. It feels real, alive, in your face, allowing you to dive into the overtone soup as these three musicians bash this stuff out. It's simple, yes, but there's so much going on.
Sons of Arrakis - Volume I (Careless Records)
Here's a ray of sunlight in this list that's otherwise gloomy. Arrakis is the big desert planet in the Dune universe. Sons of Arrakis plays Dune-themed desert rock. Could be a punchline, but the Montreal quartet is pretty clever about it. It bangs out a boogie that's like older Elder fused with Fu Manchu. A primo summer drive soundtrack, in other words, which is the perfect thing to pitch to you in the dead of winter.
I was hipped to Volume I, Sons of Arrakis's full-length debut, but Fuzzy Cracklins. Lord, does Fuzzy provide an invaluable service, scraping the resin off the stoner/fuzz/psych bong for any particulate matter with active THC molecules. I end up hating most of it. But, every once in a bit, I find a gem on those comps that I would never have the patience to find myself.
And Volume I is a grand time, a road trip-ready riffer that will outlast your MPGs. Granted, your mileage will vary depending on how much you like Man's Ruin, but this hits my ears right, reminding me of the bygone times when my life was nothing but Kyuss riffs, sweet leaves, and summer-long sunburns. "Complete Obliteration" is your starting point, pairing big leads with an ass-shaker rhythm that's a ground-down version of Leaf Hound's fine groovers.
Worn Mantle - Worn Mantle (self-released)
"Wolf," you're already typing into an email because you just listened to "Protean," "this isn't doom, sludge, stoner, or slow." And you know what? For those eight minutes, you're right. Maybe if you shotgun three Panera Charged Lemonades and turn reality into a panic attack rollercoaster, that'll dial this Minneapolis trio down enough.
So, what's the deal? Is ol' Wolfy trying to sneak some death metal in here? Hey, fair. That is something I'd do. If tasked with making a samba playlist, I'll figure out how to put Sarcófago's The Laws of Scourge in there. You got me. I am, first, foremost, and mostly, a death metal idiot.
Ah, then again, there's Worn Mantle's "Burning Light." Pounding, occasionally slow-paced. Doom? Maybe. Yes, the band sounds like Altarage covering Converge's "Jane Doe" behind a crematorium. But, damn, it does doom. Sort of.
The most this-band-deserves-a-doom-tag thing I can write is that Worn Mantle will play Roadburn eventually. You can just feel it. Its self-titled debut has that vibe, the lust for exploration that some doomers at Roadburn exude. "The best art is the stuff that exists unto itself and makes no attempt to court expectations," bassist/vocalist IE said to Decibel's Dutch Pearce. "Just entities of expression that have the potential to wreak emotional and creative havoc on you. This piece of music is an attempt to craft something like that, we scrapped hours and hours of material before we had something that sat like a stone in our bowels."
Worn Mantle's self-titled debut ends with "Supplicant," a 24-minute metal meditation that sounds like the connective tissue between many genres without enlisting in any of them. It's a black/death feral beast. It's a noisy sound sorcerer. It’s a Cascadian clatterer. It's an expansive sludgstronaut. It's even a little doom. But it's also just..."Supplicant." It's hard to think of it as something else, like how the beats of a good story would feel weird if isolated and dissected. In fact, Worn Mantle winds its way through that track in a fashion that's as intoxicating as a ripping yarn, especially one that blurs style conventions and is carried along by the strength of its narrative. Also, dang, the lyrics:
Is longing stifling
The sense of place
The inherent fragility of purpose
lead you nowhere but back to the soil
Wrack - Repulsive Gravity (self-released)
File under releases I should've written about ages ago. Wrack is the solo project of Tyler Cox, who you may know from The Mass. Repulsive Gravity, the newest three-song set, although I'm really pushing the usage of "new" since this came out last March, is fascinating. It is, most simply, a sludgy death/doom album with riffs that expand to Morbid Angel's enormity. But...it's also like...what if The Unreal Never Lived-era Yob played those riffs? Right, under the riffitude is a scope-widening experimentalism that not only reminds me of the aforementioned proggy doomers, but even, like, This Heat. But we'll get to that.
Repulsive Gravity's 11-minute title track is the best of three thanks to its crushing, death metal chugs and lurches. But the song is strange around the edges, opening with a noise rock strum that could've opened a Brass Knuckles for Tough Guys record. Then, there's a tweener part between the verses that has an echo-y post-punk quality, that near-dub sort of reverb-y rebound. When Wrack metallizes that section, it hits extra hard, providing the death/doominess that extra smidgen of swing.
That said, Wrack's best quality is its patience. It builds these songs slowly, lulling the listener with hypnotic sections that have the insistent rhythm of a swinging watch. Then, Cox drops the hammer. I love how "Repulsive Gravity" descends into its solo section, its panic shredding perfectly contrasting the chugs that Wrack has played so persistently that they feel like a metronome. It's a nice bit of songwriting know-how.
"Abyss Within" and "No Body" also shine with the same compositional smarts. "Abyss Within" harnesses harmonics played on a bass that sparkle amongst the filth like diamonds in a gutter. The tricky rhythms in the song's middle also burn away any fatigue from the previous epic. "No Body," on the other hand, is that track that can be most immediately ID'd as Yob-ish, especially its "Grasping Air" outro. Aside from sonics, though, there's the same commitment to taking listeners on "the journey." What's interesting about Wrack, though, is that it's not where you end up but all of the neat things you hear along the way.
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I should probably save this for a VaccZine, but the idea of "funeral black metal" is one of those "what are genres anyway" prompts I can't resist. Fair play to Chris Dick, I wish this is what I associated with funeral black metal. It's not that Am Himmel lacks elements shared by funeral doom and black metal. It's that it doesn't match what I think a genre fusion could be. This is a little bit future nauseous, but it also has a lot to do with when I came up. For instance, when I think funeral black metal, I think Nortt, the supremely austere crawler that seems to be on the once-a-decade release plan. Am Himmel also doesn't really fit in with Dolorian, either, my go-to comparison for anything on the blackened doom spectrum. These were early '00s bands that caught me before my genre boundaries were fully drawn. As such, they helped me sketch out the general shape of certain substyle possibilities. Genre is a fuzzy concept to begin with, but the admission that so much of it is tied to one's own listening history makes it fuzzier. Hilariously, when I was taking notes during one of my listens, I wrote, "Am Himmel is more like Xasthur ensorcelled by Esoteric. It's all lush cosmic swirls that lick a listener's ears like flames lick the feet of a witch tied to a pyre." This all seems to generally support a funeral black metal designation!
My column compadre Michael Nelson is on the blackgaze beat. He's been on it for years. His coverage is arguably the reason you know Deafheaven's name. But, more than the breakouts, what has been illuminating is watching him find the up-and-comers and forecast the genre's future based on their moves. Thanks to his tireless trawling of blackgaze's depths, I can recognize that the fringes of the genre are fascinating. Because it exists a step outside the metal and mainstream spotlights, it has been given the freedom to figure out what it is. Now, do I like blackgaze? Not really! But I respect how it's evolving.
Doomgaze? I think we tried this tag on way back when "ambient doom" was still a contender to name what eventually became post-metal. It didn't stick because, damn, it's a bad name. Lazy, somehow worse than atmo doom. And then things were further confused by a flotilla of float metal bands that heard Torche, fired up the elephant-fart engines, and puttered along in that direction. But there's part of me that wonders where we'd be if doomgaze stuck and herded likeminded bands into an artificially created scene that evolved alongside blackgaze.
I should pay attention to this and start band. However, today I learned that someone is working on an engine swap kit to put a Hayabusa engine in a Miata. If one day I stop posting, it's because I've committed to this hilarious 21st century Viking funeral.