To Fall, Or Not To Fall? That Is The Question.
Inspired by Sonny's exploration/re-visit of death metal recently as he searches for a potential fourth clan, I have been weighing up my options for a replacement fourth clan for The Guardians after my interest in the traditional heavy metal style waned in the last 12 months. Logically for me, given my penchant for some death/doom and butt-fuck ugly sludge metal, The Fallen seems the immediate clan of choice in which to tackle some new clan challenges. My main draw for The Fallen is the death/doom though and there is no challenge for this, I imagine due to the overlap with The Horde.
So, I have thrown up this thread where I will chart my exploration of The Fallen. Given the infrequent and inconsistent basis with which I post here, this could be a short thread, however I will try and maintain some sense of trajectory. If I am going to start anywhere though then it will be with the releases that I know already and with that in mind there is no other place to start than with Candlemass' debut release because (review excerpt starts) "I like the idea and concept of doom metal often more than I actually like the content overall but albums like Epicus... and Nightfall make me want to listen to more doom metal.
The constant sense of drama and pending tragedy appeals to my dark nature and I love the huge sound to the riffs and their looming menace. The fact is though that for me the genre doesn't always live up to the expectations that the Candlemass debut promised when I first heard it. Arguably, the first four Candlemass records broke the whole genre for me as I soon realised that there was very few vocalists out there that could live up to the talent and range of Längquist and Marcolin, or even match pound for pound the riffing of Björkman and harrowing leads of Johansson.
So, I confine myself to the odd review within the clan and tonight I find myself reviewing one the greatest doom metal records of all time. I think this rating comes from all of what I have mentioned above in relation to this record. The great vocals, the sterling instrumentation and that constant feel of dense sorrow hanging over proceedings make the whole experience so very memorable. Indeed it is a record you would struggle not to take some lasting memory away from after just one listen I would say.
The album not only perfects the doom sound it lives and breathes the very core of doom in all that it presents. Whether it is the haunting resonance of Längquist begging "Please let me die in solitude" on the opening track or just the staggering imagery the lyric sheet overall can conjure when you read it, it is obvious that doom was woven into the very fabric of this record from the off. It doesn't actually feel like an album either. It has a length in terms of a track listing that make it look like an EP and even at 43 minutes it is not a doom album that relies on repetition and fathomless song durations to get its point across. Despite the heaviness and the quality on show the album doesn't fuck around or risk outstaying its welcome. It feels almost concise to me yet still leaves me hungry for more which is what all good records should do.
Admittedly, the bar is set pretty high with my first choice of this exploration hitting a perfect score already. There's plenty more to go at luckily enough and to be clear this is not just an exploration of epic doom metal alone just because of the chosen starting release. The journey will look at all aspects of the clan including the dreaded gothic metal to get a full picture of what I might (or might not) get to grips with on a more permanent basis.
Nice one Vinny. I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the best my beloved Fallen has to offer.
It is tough to follow up on Candlemass' debut because, as you rightly say, they pretty much perfected epic doom metal on the first attempt. I guess it is very similar to Morbid Angel releasing Altars of Madness and setting such a ridiculously high early standard for death metal. Still, that didn't prevent others from knocking out fantastic albums, so I hope you find plenty of other releases you dig too.
I hope you find plenty of other releases you dig too.
Or is it more in line with the general ethos of The Fallen to wish Vinny no luck whatsoever in finding releases he enjoys in order to maximize the chances of him wallowing in hopelessness & despair?
Trouble - Psalm 9 (1984)
Trouble's eponymous debut is a tale of two halves for me. The first half is me thinking that this is why I got into heavy metal in the first place. With its big riffs and lethal threat levels of groove and doom, there is little to argue with on Psalm 9 when it comes to the bangers such as album opener The Tempter, the charging triumph of The Fall of Lucifer or the epic gloom of Psalm 9. Both tracks are examples of the band at their finest for me and are tracks that represent the very essence of what doom metal should sound like. There is a vibrancy and energy underneath that requisite level of murk that shows a band with their artform flowing through their very veins. The riffs of Wartell and Franklin are huge and yet at the same time they are clearly players unafraid to mix it up and change pace and influence to inject some variety to proceedings. The vocal talents of the late Mr Wagner are accurately logged throughout history and it is hard to find a comparable vocalist, past or present that has such a unique and equally fitting style for their chosen genre of music. He is imperious here. His piercing yet gruff musings punctuate each and every song on here.
Arguably for me, this is also where the second half of my experience of the album comes from. As much as I admire Wagner's vocals the adoption of them on some tracks (in terms of the lyrical content and their delivery) is far too preachy for my liking. This is not a criticism that I level from the aspect of their being a large Christian focus on the lyrics here. Sharing aspects of your faith in your music is not something I have a problem with. Here though, there is an underlying naivety to the lyrics. Victim of the Insane is a bleating tirade from a vocal perspective, saved only by the superb lead work and accompanying tempo change that heralds its arrival. The raging Bastards Will Pay is another example of a song with a message to deliver but not quite having the maturity to tailor it to be less overwhelming. At times the messaging feels like it is from a gothic metal album as opposed to a straight up doom record. I acknowledge of course that this was a debut release and so the most likely of a band's discography to contain the rookie mistakes.
The above does not ruin the album for me by a long chalk. It is an issue that is reflected in my rating most definitely but there is still a lot to enjoy and praise here. Even the instrumental track that I normally dread on most records is interesting and totally in keeping with the album direction overall. The drumming of Jeff Olson could be represented better in the mix overall but I would not go as far to say that it is stifled to any degree, just a little too far back in the mix. As a benchmark doom record for the "Early Days" challenge in The Fallen clan, Trouble's debut album is a superb starter for ten for anyone wanting to dip their toe in these murky yet rippling waters.
Electric Wizard - Black Masses (2010)
We are already getting towards the back end of the doom metal releases I already have a solid background with and it probably will not come as any surprise that EW are in here. An important record for me and one that I have finally got around to reviewing today for the site:
I feel enough has probably been said already about Electric Wizard on most internet review sites in terms of the (deserved) adulation they received for the likes of Dopethrone or Come My Fanatics. For a period, Electric Wizard seemed to be everywhere, occupying endless “What are you listening to?” or “Recent Purchases” threads on the various internet forums I frequented some ten years ago. There was a sense that they were a band who could do no wrong (although the same collective conscience on the internet all seemed to simultaneously recognise the failure that was Wizard Bloody Wizard), a group who had hit their sweet spot in the realm of occult-ridden stoner/doom metal and consistently churned out the cursed vibes to the baying masses.
After a brief break from metal back in the late noughties I returned to the scene and decided it was time to bring Electric Wizard into my world. Never having really explored any stoner/doom metal before, Black Masses was the record that almost tipped me into the world we all know here as The Fallen. I played the shit out of this record, mostly because I was flat broke and my listening choices were limited (at least until I discovered Bandcamp anyways), but also because for the first time the hazy darkness and fuzz that emanated from this record soaked me up and I simply ‘got it’. Black Masses was one of those records that just clicked with me, better then anything else that I have listened to by the band – even the mighty Dopethrone.
To this day I still find desultory comfort in the arms of Venus in Furs, still feel a nerdy coolness to the b-movie atmospherics that imbue the whole hour run time of the record; Black Masses more than makes me want to shut all my curtains in the middle of the day and watch endless Hammer Horror! Rarely moving beyond a death march plod throughout eight tracks, Electric Wizard still manage to provide consistent entertainment without breaking that much of a sweat. What sounds lacklustre or half-hearted to some is in fact evidence that EW did what they did so naturally back then that they could afford themselves a little bit of arrogance in their playing.
Who cares that Patterns of Evil is more than a tad cumbersome in its arrangement, the multitude of component parts clashing with each other at various points, when it all sounds so disturbingly relaxing at the same time? A lot of the success here for me is down to Jus Osborn’s vocals. Dialled perfectly into the mix without getting lost in the density of the instruments they act as a creepy and pained accompaniment to the music. The combination of his and his wife Liz Osborn’s leaden riffs are imperative to the sullen and hopeless aspects of Satyr IX, seeped in psychedelia and gloriously comforting in their enshrouding nature.
If finding peace in darkness and dankly lit places is your bag, then there is plenty to go at on Black Masses. It is sombre without being draining, evil without being overtly nefarious and enriching without the need for ‘nice-to-haves’ such as variety and progression to unlock it rewards.
Age of Taurus - Desperate Souls of Tortured Times (2013)
Well Age of Taurus are early evidence that doom metal might just be for me after all. Desperate Souls of Tortured Times is a hefty slab of epic doom metal that stretches its legs in terms of varying pace over seven tracks of lengthy yet never arduous duration. At their best they are a psychedelic-edged doom behemoth and the standout track by far for me is the mournful and dank Walk With Me My Queen which is superbly situated in the middle of the album. At the same time they are guilty of the odd meander as well with penultimate track Embrace the Stone not really bringing any value during its eight minute runtime despite a really promising start.
The racy Desperate Souls is an example of where the band can comfortably ditch the traditional doom metal tag and go a little more up tempo without sacrificing that looming menace that those twin guitars bring to the table. The vocals are actually a great fit for me and I like how the bass is just as audible as everything else here. It is albums like this that cast my recent history with heavy metal in a new light. I have a feeling that if I had pursued this path sooner with the more epic doom metal sound then I could have tied together the two sub-genres better without now having to explore one at the expense of the other. There is a rumbling coolness to DSoTT that sacrifices none of the youthful vigour of true heavy metal yet in fact manages to add a great level of esotericism to proceedings and although it is early on in my exploration of The Fallen clan this realisation of where my path has perhaps come to a premature end with heavy metal is certainly causing much reflection of my listening habits over the years when doom has gone largely neglected as a listening option.
There are lots of Master of Reality style structures here and this can only be a good thing in my book. That slumbering groove to the guitars scratches a real itch for me and when in full flow this is a razor sharp unit. I can see they underwent something of a line-up change for album number two (which is on my radar) so will be interesting to see how consistent these guys are, but with Leo Smee of Cathedral fame in the band there is an element of real promise ahead of me checking out their sophomore release, built from this solid foundation stone also.