Gospel of the Witches is an interesting little project headed by Karyn Crisis, formerly of Crisis fame. Interesting because it’s a kind of goth/alt-metal outfit that’s not shit; quite the opposite in fact. Debut LP ‘Salem’s Wounds’ (2015) – which featured session performances from death metal royalty Ross Dolan and Rob Vigna – whilst a fine album, suffered from idea saturation. Karyn has a fine voice, both clean and distorted, but at times she seems unable to settle on a style or tone. Despite this it boasted some truly passionate moments that oozed spontaneity, rare in such overly stylised music.
So, how does this year’s follow up ‘Covenant’ stack up by contrast? Well, the charge of inconsistency has certainly been ironed out. This is a much more focused album of melodic goth metal, replete with simple but intuitive lead guitar melodies anchored by consistent yet diverse rhythms, imbued with more purpose than the debut. This is aided by a somewhat bottom heavy production, that favours the drums and rhythm guitars. They pose as more of a ‘presence’ than an actual musical foundation in the traditional rock sense of the word. All this serves Karyn’s purposes well. She wishes her music to be ritualistic, hypnotic, with her eerie voice soaring above off-kilter repeated refrains that build and fall in a way that may be frustrating to an ear accustomed to more orthodox metal/rock frameworks.
But this sits on those border lands between alt-rock, goth, metal, where so many that tread languish in mediocrity. Gospel of the Witches manage to carve a unique and satisfying experience in this risky territory, thanks to a very creative singer and some patient song writing. This is a mellow album that feels no need to overwhelm the listener with speed (slow or fast), rather it builds and falls with competing tensions that – when taken together – amount to a unified and curious experience.
This may be a more consistent album than ‘Salem’s Wounds’, but it has lost some of the sheer, primal despair that the debut exhibited. Sure it’s more focused, more mature if you like, but it takes less risks. For that reason there are fewer weak spots, but as a result the moments of undiluted music that bookended ‘Salem’s Wounds’ in ‘The Alchemist’ and ‘The Ascent’ are sadly absent. However, ‘Covenant’ is still a fine album. For those that enjoy there metal melodic and emotive in the vein of Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride, this offers a gentler variation on goth metal; complete with equal parts tasteful restraint and creativity.
In many ways an heir to legendary death metallers The Chasm, Trivax’s debut LP ‘SIN’ released in 2016 is certainly an ambitious release. It works that same sense of an inevitable and existential demise throughout many of the riffs that was also present in the work of the aforementioned Mexicans. There is a refreshing degree of focus placed on forming this narrative structure over and above any so called ‘quick wins’ via novel production choices that so many are tempted by. This is back to basics metal only in the sense that the musicians have nowhere to hide, rather letting the colourful riffs rise to the surface.
However, this comes with one very strong caveat, one that I find myself oft repeating in these days of content saturation: IT’S TOO FUCKING LONG. I won’t labour this point for too long, as it does not completely detract from the album, but there is a degree of hubris attached to releasing an album that’s over an hour in length. Not just in the commitment the listener must make in giving it a spin, but also the presumption that there are enough worthy ideas to justify the length. It’s something I would allow in older, more established acts, simply because they are more likely to have a fanbase ready and willing to submit to the experience.
Anyway, despite the above comments, ‘SIN’ is not lacking in ideas. Indeed, at times it morphs into a history of metal riffs, touching on its various iterations over the decades. But the central focus is that darkly romantic melodic death metal, underpinned by dissonant black metal riffs, and a healthy dose of progressive thrash. Vocals are a semi audible bark that sit atop elegantly simple layered guitar harmonies. These work their way through breakdowns that feel more like lamentations, before the pace will pick up again, sometimes into pure thrash, sometimes into Swedish blackened death metal. Seriously, many stones are unturned in Trivax’s quest to construct these pieces out of the silence.
‘SIN’ is a lesson in the use of contrast when it comes to the melding of these techniques. The trance like qualities of tremolo picked riffs is brought into sharp relief when set against staccato shredding. The invigorating sonic cleansing that is a decent blast-beat is augmented when colliding with the more straightforward pummelling of a d-beat. It’s a well put together tour of how extreme metal is constructed, by musicians clearly passionate about their craft. But as I say, the one down side is that it lacks economy of ideas; the good ones are not in short supply, but it requires an attentive and patient listener to really do justice to the length and breadth of this album.
Although hailing from Houston, Texas, Cemetarian’s genealogy lies in a pleasing mix of Sweden and the UK. Sweden, because yes, that buzzsaw guitar tone is back again, and many of the riffs call to mind Grave and Entrails, the lesser sung heroes of the scene. And the UK, because the actual makeup of the riffs is a dirtier re-run of Carcass’s ‘Symphonies of Sickness’. Beneath the crushing grind of this simple and imposing death metal lies the joyful aggression that can only be found in old school punk riffs.
Although the contrast between these riffs and the overtly sinister death metal refrains is somewhat blunted by that HM-2 tone, it still lends this EP an energetic underpinning that lifts it out of tedium. Lyrics – although delivered at the very low end of death metal – are surprisingly audible above the chaos.
It should be noted however, that beyond these pleasing flourishes, ‘Tomb of Morbid Stench’, throughout its ten minute plus runtime, has little to offer for those that are not OSDM fanatics. Sure it’s well delivered and clearly put together by musicians adept at the form, but as I’ve said before, I think this decade reached OSDM saturation a few years back. There are many artists taking this old form in new directions, but Cemetarian are at present merely hinting at ambition with their subtle interplay of competing riffs. More will need to be done if this old school revivalism is to be brought triumphantly into the new decade as a viable and new musical force.