Two years after their debut full length, Italian sludge/doom band Sator has returned with their sophomore effort ‘Ordeal’. Sludge/doom is one of those genre tags that can mean a lot of different things, ranging from Black Sabbath worship to ugly, bleak riffing a la Grief. What caught my attention about Sator was that the five songs on ‘Ordeal’ seemed to bridge the gap between everything sludge and doom encompasses, as the group is able to seamlessly weave together room shaking heavy grooves with bleak tonality and a psychedelic flair. With the album’s September 1st release date fast approaching, today we’re excited to present you with a full stream so you can hear for yourself all of the different elements Sator is capable of channeling.
One of the great things about the sludge and doom genres is how much variation can be found. While there are plenty of bands out there beating the same old riffs to death, there are even more putting their own spin on the styles and adding in different influences. The TO staff has compiled a list of recent releases that stand out, and you’ll find that each one is able to bring something different to the table. ~Chris Dahlberg
I knew it wouldn’t take long until I found another reason to revisit ye olde Soda Bar in sunny San Diego. Though the weather was fair, the night’s music would be bringing plenty of gloom ‘n’ doom in the form of Cryptic Languages, Void Omnia, He Whose Ox is Gored, and Samothrace. After circling the block for twenty minutes trying to find parking, I entered my new favorite venue and took the pole position (literally, it’s a pole that has the baffling honor of being located right in front of the stage). Ideal viewing conditions or not, I was ready.
Speakin’ My Cryptic Language
One good thing about seeing a shit-ton of recent shows is the routine exposure I get from the local metal scene. I can directly support hometown acts and get a taste for genres I normally wouldn’t seek out myself — a win-win for this metalhead who’s always looking to expand his listening horizons with new jams. So it was with Cryptic Languages (San Diego), an instrumental psychedelic/stoner-doom metal trio with some seriously tasty parts.
Right away, I was quite taken with their huge bass sound, which employed phaser and other effects to add texture and fullness in absence of a vocalist. The guitarist’s tasteful solos were a treat for the ears and not one bit overused in the way some bands do to compensate for a lack of vocals. I’ll also say that the drummer had among the best live tom sound I’ve ever heard — thick, full, with the perfect amount of thud. The band’s foray into stoner/psychedelic territory led to a good mix of energetic, uptempo parts that contrasted nicely with backbreaking doom passages. All in all, way more enjoyable than most opening bands have a right to be. Liked, followed, shared, and subscribed, gents.
Void Omni-YEAH, BABY!
I can’t quite remember where I’d first come across black metal quintet Void Omnia (Oakland), but I’d always been curious of their live potential. Their 2016 release “Dying Light” has only recently been demanding a lot of my attention, but what I’d heard was reason enough to make the trip south solely for them. As the band set up, the Soda Bar crowd had turned noticeably more grim, their t-shirt logos more illegible. A couple Void Omnia devotees wormed their way to the front, blocking my view, which spurred me closer to the stage as well. Since missing Taake last month, I was eager for some blackened barraging up close and personal.
Once the levels were set, Void Omnia’s vocalist hopped off the stage to let the rest of the band open up with the ominous, plodding intro for Of Time. I’ll be honest, the slow-paced opener wasn’t what I was expecting, but all my feelings were laid aside once the spark of the song ignited into a full-fledged flame. Their second song, Remanence of a Ghost Haunt, spread the flames even further, the flames of which were fuel by the vocalist. Upon his return, the man was positively unhinged and blazing across the stage with a fervor granted to him from some dark, cosmic force. A few songs later he left the stage to scream and rage right in front of the crowd, elevating the insane vortex the rest of the band were unleashing behind him. Their live sound cut through with furious clarity, this in stark contrast to the unfortunate muddiness of Ghost Bath, the last band I’d seen at the Soda Bar. Bear in mind the guitarists were still whirlwinding with tremolo black metal ferocity, but I could finally enjoy hearing the riff changes rather than guess at them. And the drummer — that poor guy! — his limbs were mostly a blur of 32nd notes for the entire show. Someone give him a medal.
Void Omnia carried their level of vigor and vehemence on until the end, closed out by the obliterating Emptied Heartless, an utter black hole of despair with a multitude of fakeouts that left me wondering if there’d ever be an end in sight (I would have been willing to be punished by a few more songs, but alas — the show must go on). As a whole, the band was searing, complete annihilating energy incarnate — the proximity certainly helped, but these were musicians that knew their instruments and knew how to use them in a way that infected the audience without any trite bullshit. I’d see them again in a heartbeat.
Sludged, Progged, and Gored
After the all-consuming force of nature that was Void Omnia, I wasn’t ready to get proggy — but He Whose Ox is Gored (Seattle) wasn’t going to wait for me to catch up. The vocalist/keyboardist came right out and plopped her rig right in front of the stage, and it wasn’t until I saw her start plugging cords in that I realized there was no room on the stage for it. I’d listened to a bit of the band beforehand and found them interesting — but bands always shine when they’re live and have you as a captive audience.
And captivate they did! He Whose Ox is Gored plays a pedigree of synth-assisted prog that is both wildly like and unlike heavy hitters like Dream Theater and Between the Buried and Me. Maybe it’s their bleak sludge metal bits that makes their prog parts seem more weighty — either way, their comfort in using twisting time-signatures while maintaining melody at the forefront made a lot of the music of the aforementioned bands seem almost pedestrian and uninspired. He Whose Ox is Gored didn’t shred for shredding’s sake — they preferred to prog along with an acute sense of emotion and mood; the vocalist embodied this as she gesticulated wildly with passionate vocal delivery. I was also impressed by their amazingly clean guitar tone (although I’m a drummer who doesn’t know more than two things about guitars, so take that however you want).
He Whose Ox is Gored is one of those bands that gets more rewarding the more you listen to them — and that’s even more true live. Before closing out their set, they thanked Samothrace and their tour manager in a moment of pure, genuine feeling that reflected the passion in their musicianship. They left us with a new song — Ache or Egg, I’ve been unable to discern which — an intense, dazzling track with a simply stunning conclusion. If ever there were an indication that a band is reaching a new height in its creative career, it is Ache/Egg for He Whose Ox is Gored. I believe I uttered an earnest “holy shit” after it ended.
Not Quite a Winged Victory for Doom… But Close
Let me be frank — I didn’t have a pressing need to see Samothrace. I’m not a big fan of doom, and although what I’d heard from them wasn’t bad by any means, I couldn’t see how they could follow up the previous two acts of the night. But I stuck around because the other bands spoke very highly of Samothrace, and I saw this as an opportunity for me to try to “understand” doom. With their extra-high cymbals and super-low mic stand, I was already a bit puzzled before they even starting playing.
Their set seemed pretty standard doom to me — long songs with lengthy open chords, punctuated by crash cymbals and low, cavernous roars. But around the second song, I thought I began to “get it” — it seemed that, to me at least, doom metal was all about building toward this great, big, cathartic climax. As the undulating waves of toms, cymbals, and cacophonous chords rolled over me, I had to admit the release was satisfying. But by that logic, it felt to me like most of each song’s duration just didn’t matter, especially when it went on for several more minutes after it had reached its big peak. This was most apparent to me on their last song, the end of which they drew out for what felt like five minutes with the same percussive pattern. Samothrace didn’t make me a believer, though they were potent doomsayers/players, but I’m glad I stuck around and saw what they had to offer.
As I walked back to wherever it was I parked my car, I reflected on what a strange lineup the bands had been. Doom seemed to be the uniting factor, save for Void Omnia, but each band sounded too distinct from each other. What struck me was how none of the bands announced who they were, or where they were from — it didn’t matter. These were four groups of talented musicians just doing their thing — listeners and audience be damned. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t come there for Samothrace — they knew what they were there to accomplish, and they believed in that to their fullest. Several times throughout their set, their drummer would bend over and rest his head on his snare drum — I couldn’t really say why, but for some reason it made me think of how music means more to some people than it does to others, and it may mean the most to the artist most of all. All music is subjective and deeply personal — it’s capable of pulling a small unit of highly creative, sometimes highly reclusive musicians miles away from their homes to express themselves to crowds of strangers. And whether that’s in some rundown bar or an enormous theater, that’s a hell of an amazing thing.
Poland continues to be a hotbed for some of the strongest death and black metal out there, and with labels like Pagan and Arachnophobia releasing material on a regular basis it can be hard to keep up. One release that caught my attention right towards the end of 2016 was the debut EP from UR, the six-song ‘Hail Death’. Coming in at a little under twenty minutes, UR keeps their songs on the shorter side but accomplishes a lot with each one. Rather than simply laying down fierce, unrelenting black metal like some of their country mates, this band delivers equal amounts of harsh black metal and somber melodic passages that have a doom and gothic tinge to them. It’s a strong first showing that hints at even greater things still to come, and is another example of a Polish act that already feels like they’re pushing outside of the usual genre boundaries from the very beginning.
Italian sludge/doom band OTUS has been around since 2012, releasing a demo in 2013 before taking several years to put together their full length debut. The resulting effort ‘7.83Hz’, originally released independently in 2016, is a 70 minute concept album that was inspired by Timothy Leary’s quote: “Turn on, Tune in, Drop Out”. If you missed this one last year, Argonauta Records is giving you another chance to experience the group’s take on lucid detachment and becoming fully in tune with the universe through their music, as they’ll be giving ‘7.83Hz’ an expanded CD release on March 20th. Today we’re excited to re-introduce the album in full to give you a chance to experience OTUS’ take on the realms of harsh and meditative doom.
Splits continue to be a fantastic way to introduce listeners to new bands. I probably end up mentioning this just about every time that I cover one, but splits have been one of the easiest ways to discover and new groups I hadn’t had the chance to hear yet. This is once again the case with the recently released split between Moros and Black Urn, two fairly new sludge/doom acts from Philadelphia that might just be making some of the bleakest material the city has to offer. Each band only has two releases to their name prior to this split, so chances are you might not have come across them yet if you’re not from the local area. But if you’re a fan of anything sludge and doom related, this is a split you need to hear.
In recent months I’ve been noticing more and more quality sludge/doom coming my way that had a common element, they were all released by Black Bow Records. The label wasn’t one I had been overly familiar with before, so I did a little digging and found out that it’s run by Jon Davis of Conan. Black Bow is set to have one of their busiest release years ever, and with an increased focus on digital releases you can expect that the label will continue to pump out quality sludge, doom, and any other type of heavy music that’s focused on the worship of the riff. To find out more about what is quickly becoming one of the top labels for this type of music, we asked Jon Davis some questions and our staff has provided a round-up of some of the noteworthy releases Black Bow has put out so far. Please note this is not an all-inclusive list, but we did cover as much as we could, so we encourage you to dig even deeper and check out their whole roster! –Chris Dahlberg
Over the years, one my favorite parts of being a journalist that writes about extreme music is to discover music from different countries. In particular, it’s always been exciting to come across musicians pushing the envelope from regions that aren’t associated with metal or hardcore. For the hundreds of submissions coming my way from Sweden, Norway, or the U.S., it’s always interesting to explore other parts of the world and see what people are coming up with where scenes are much smaller. The point of this new Metal Around the World feature is to spotlight some bands from a particular country or region I think are worth paying attention to, and hopefully that will not only give some of these groups more exposure but start to connect some of these regional scenes together as people recognize what is out there.
Black Bow Records continues to be a great source for sludge and doom bands that I hadn’t come across before, as much of the label’s early 2017 roster are groups that are fairly new. One of their latest finds is Serbia’s Nula, who formed in late 2013 and released a two-track demo in 2015. On February 24th Black Bow will be releasing their newest three-song EP ‘Kenoma’, which finds the band offering an intriguing mix of sludge/doom with some gothic and groove metal influences seeping into the mix. It doesn’t quite sound exactly like what you’d expect from any of those genre tags though, and today we’re excited to exclusively premiere the second song Silazak U Prah so that you can discover Nula’s sound for yourself.