In many ways the true heir to Electric Wizard’s ‘Come my Fanatics’, this wholesome slab of murky doom metal is a big old beast to tackle. And just like CMF, Megalith Levitation’s first LP ‘Acid Doom Rites’ offers a few lessons in undertaking the delicate balancing act that is doom metal. For instance, the complex trade-offs required in the final mix. I am a firm believer in strong and diverse drumming in doom metal as a foundation. It carries the riffs, which tend to be relatively minimal in the melodic department when it comes to stoner doom. However, the drums on Acid Doom Rites are rather thin and low in the mix. So, to offset this, Megalith Levitation have covered the music in a haze of swamp like guitar tones which fill out the sound and overpower everything.
Such a guitar tone forces the music below a certain BPM, which in turn dictates some of the compositional choices along the way. The result is something akin to ambient music; in that it relies on contrasting moods and intensities to engage the listener, as opposed to choppy riffs that collide into one another. Such an approach to doom metal (particularly stoner doom) is liable to induce boredom. But Megalith Levitation have underpinned these four tracks with a logic and direction that runs through the entire album.
Now, make no mistake, this is a slog, and a long damn album at that (hour and ten ish). And this is one of its major shortcomings. I appreciate that some of the sections need to drag out for extended periods to induce the trancelike drone that MLare going for. Added to this is the vocal track, which switches from an echoey black metal rasp to Mongolian throat singing and back; this is a meditation after all. But in some places this could have been clipped down. However, this shortcoming can depend on the context of the listener. If you have cleared your schedule and set aside some time to allow this album inhabit you, it really hits the spot.
Having said all that however, this is one of the more refreshing stoner doom albums I have heard in a long time. Shifts in riff, key, tone, or pitch are slow in coming, but when they do you reeeeeally feel it. And if one has sat down to play the long game that this album presents, one can feel the underlying logic to its construction beyond a brainless Sunn O))) style of drone. ADR is a cut above such crowd pleasing trivialities, well worth a poke for the curious.
Yorkshire’s Written in Torment return with their LP this year with another slab of aggressive yet melodic black metal. The foundation of this music is riff heavy black metal that focuses on the interplay of tremolo picked guitars with slower mid-paced segments, accented by some subtle keyboards tracks in the background. Musically, this is closet to the melodic school of a Vinterland or a Kvist, although with a greater sense of drama, and repeated references to classic heavy metal in the soloing. This last point is rather surprising…in that it is instantly noticeable…and yet it works. The solos are both more intricate than is typical of this style of black metal yet also more pronounced in the mix.
The danger with this frantic style of melodic black metal is in simply overwhelming the listener with ideas. One can become too eager to throw every single flourish and technique into the music and play it at a breakneck pace, resulting in a cacophony of sound that – for the listener- they may simply switch off to. In this regard Written in Torment have shown more restraint than many of their peers by offsetting the faster passages with the slow, along with interesting use of dynamics, and throwing in some atypical influences for black metal. For instance the opening refrain of ‘Unchain Your Mind’ which makes use of harmonic minor (Nile anyone?). Of course, such things have been tried before in black metal, and often the result is a schizophrenic hot mess (post 2000 Enslaved). But on ‘Maledictus Dies Illa’ all these disparate techniques and influences have been brought under the rigorous discipline of the final vision.
Vocals are a passionate (and very human) half clean shout, much more human than the high-pitched shrieking we are used to within black metal. This is mixed with many cleanly sung segments along the lines of Taake or early Ulver. This – combined with the vocals being front and centre in the mix – gives them a central role to play within the music, elevating the drama at times, calming things down at others. Which brings us screaming round to the drums: the uncelebrated workhorse of black metal. Of course for this busy take on the style the drums are more intricate than a simple wash of blast-beats…and this is no exception. Their role in accenting the transitions from one riff to the next is perfectly played out here. They provide an energy to the foundation of this music without overbearing the other instruments. The dexterity of their execution is used to bolster up the music as opposed to acting as an end in itself.
All in all a delicate balancing act of ideas vs. execution. There’s no shortage of the former, but all are brought to heal by the latter. ‘Maledictus Dies Illa’ achieves that rare thing in metal: it smuggles a commitment to musicianship and knowledge into the final work without the listener necessarily noticing. This, for example, is the exact opposite of prog metal, which does both these things but sure as well wants the listener to notice the weird scales and odd time signatures being utilised at any given time. But I digress, MDI is a refreshing take on a form of black metal that I was beginning to write off as a spent genre.
Finland’s Foreseen released their second LP in 2017, hot off the heals of ‘Helsinki Savagery’ in 2015. In essence this offers more of the same chaotic thrash, but if anything with even less restraint. I am two minds about Foreseen. On the one hand their brand of 80s thrash is so aggressive, and so powerful, that one cannot help but get swept up in the sheer passion of the music. On the other hand I find myself wondering where the off switch is. By that I mean…how do they keep it up for an entire album? Will there be a slower number? Will there be a let-up?
The answer is ‘no’ obviously. This – like its predecessor – is a molten ball of unstoppable energy from start to finish. Every instrument on here is playing at its most intense throughout. For that reason we can only say that ‘Grave Danger’ may be doing one thing specifically, but it does that thing extremely well. I mean..given the current times, some rip-roaring, down and dirty, percussive thrash feels like exactly what we need. There is something to this extremely percussive thrash, this constant barrage of staccato’d strumming, and the good god damn frenzied yelling that speaks to our current age of despair.
There is an urgency to this music that cannot be beat when it comes to invoking the inevitability of the end. Atonality aids this. By focusing the music itself on nothing but aggression, power, and chaos; if major or minor keys are hinted at – whether it be of despair or triumph – the music is lent a level of introspection through the magic of contrast.
Having said all that, ‘Grave Danger’ does not present anything new to the table that was not granted by ‘Helsinki Savagery’. Foreseen are a fine band. One that excels at resetting the boundaries of energy and aggression when it comes to that obscure marriage of punk and metal. But now…more is required to bring this unadulterated aggression over the line. That line being art that will speak beyond the age or Trump and the rise of the far right. Essentially art that will stand the test of time.