No, this isn’t a about a new strain of venereal disease, nor a showdown of doom covers of “Boom Clap” (Charlie XCX would do well to cover a classic doom song though). It is, however, at least the fifth time this year that two notable doom metal albums were released on the same day. I’m pretty stoked to see this, as it means that the increasing stream of new doom releases that have been ramping up the past several years hasn’t slowed down. Plenty of classic doom practitioners have re-emerged and reunited, pretty much revitalized across the board, including Pagan Altar, Revelation, Count Raven, Iron Man, Las Cruces, Pentagram, Saint Vitus, Blood Farmers and of course, Black Sabbath. Doom is in the air, and the disciples have not been lazy, as the overall quality of these albums seems to get better every year.
Apostle Of Solitude – Of Woe And Wounds (Cruz Del Sur)
It’s fitting that one of the best of the newer American doom bands come from a city that rivals Birmingham for being grim and depressing — Indianapolis, Indiana. Apostle of Solitude emerged fully formed with the excellent Sincerest Misery (Eyes Like Snow, 2008). Four and a half years after their second album, Last Sunrise (2010), their long-awaited third is finally here. Their sound continues down the same path of traditional rockin’ doom rooted in classic Pentagram, Trouble and Saint Vitus, with touches of psychedelia, such as on the trippy solos on “Die Vicar Die.” Chuck Brown’s vocals are a strong point. Rather than trying too hard to sound like a badass bridge troll or a meth head who accidentally gargled on toilet cleaner, his are clean and melodic with mostly well-placed harmonies. The lyrics and verses are controlled and concise, but convey enough emotion to put him up there with any of the strongest vocalists of the genre, not to mention a couple well-placed screams like on “This Mania.” “Push Mortal Coil” is another highlight that should become another live favorite with some of the best riffs and melodies. Album-closer “Luna” is their most epicly expansive, and appropriately the longest at 8:18.
Don’t be fooled by their seemingly simple style. It might seem familiar at first, but the songs are structured like moebius strips that could suck you into an infinite loop without minding at all. This is a band that’s been around the block, becoming masters of subtlety as well as heavy. While bands like Tombs, Triptykon and YOB have gotten more attention by mixing up elements of different metal sub-genres, it would be a mistake to ignore a great band like Apostle of Solitude.
The Skull – For Those Which Are Asleep (Tee Pee)
Chicago based The Skull are basically Trouble, minus original founding guitarist Rick Wartell, who continues to lead his own incarnation of Trouble. This is not uncommon in long-running metal bands, and I say the more the merrier, although Trouble’s album this year, The Distortion Field, was pretty disappointing. The Skull, however, lead by Eric Wagner, sounds revitalized, surpassing anything Trouble has done the past 20 years, including Plastic Green Head (1995). Part of this is due to Wagner, Ron Holzer, Jeff Olson and guitarists Lothar Keller and Matt Goldsborough (who they plucked from a recent incarnation of Pentagram) returning to the psychedelic roots of their creative peak in the early 90s with the two Rick Rubin-produced albums. “Sick Of It All” and “Down” ooze with foreboding atmosphere and shimmering production you don’t often find on doom albums lately. If there’s any question that they absorbed some influence from the garage-psych roots of 90s contemporaries like Soundgarden, The Screaming Trees and Alice In Chains, “Send Judas Down” should settle it. “Til The Sun Turns Black” should be familiar to those who heard it as the single released earlier in the year, a nicely swinging, bluesy chugger. The longer title track seems paced to be a kind of centerpiece, with a swirling acoustic intro that brings to mind Monster Magnet’s space rock, but soon gets much heavier. Definitely one of their best tunes. “The Last Judgement” revisits the first song Trouble ever recorded way back in 1983. When so many artists often ignore their humble beginnings, it’s refreshing to see The Skull pay homage to their roots even under a different name.
There wasn’t a lot of hype and fanfare, at least in the larger metal universe, about The Skull’s debut. So to me it kind of feels like a surprise gift of the best sort, an completely unexpectedly great album packed with memorable songs.
So who wins the showdown? That’s for you to figure out! It’s too close for me to decide right now, but I will by the end of year list. Buy ’em both and tell me which you liked best!