Doom metal in all shapes and sizes

Like most genres, doom has its subset of styles that get their own neat prefixes to give you a better idea of what will greet you once you press play.

Historically, the style of music sounds dark, hopeless, often sludgy, sometimes bluesy. Down-tuned, of course. It’s doom! Most point to Black Sabbath as the pioneers of the genre, but along the way, notable bands such as St. Vitus, Candlemass,  and Trouble carried things through the ’80s and ’90s, and more recent acts such as Witchcraft, Sleep, Electric Wizard, Crowbar, the Melvins and plenty of others took doom and went in different directions with the sound. Hence, your sub-genres.

While the flowers are blooming, trees are coming back to life, and birdies are chirping, there’s a nice helping of doom both in stores and ready to be unleashed on the public to counter all the fresh smells, new life, and beauty. Fittingly, the three albums I’m going to highlight kind of embody the idea of doom having so many faces, yet when you put them all together, it wouldn’t seem all that bizarre to have these three bands playing on some enormous bill.

First up is the new record from Virginia’s Pentagram, a band that really has no business being alive, much less recently having come to terms on a new deal with Metal Blade. They really should have been unquestioned pioneers of doom rock and metal and really should be one of those unquestioned legends who normally got slots on Ozzfest, but frontman Bobby Liebling’s legendary drug issues completely derailed the band from enjoying any sort of widespread recognition. Yes, they are adored by many on an underground level, but without rehashing every step (both Decibel and Spin have done a fine job with that in recent issues), let’s just say there ought to be just as many Pentagram shirts on people’s chests as Sabbath. At least Pentagram’s life somewhat has been saved, largely due to Liebling’s sobriety, new role as father and husband, and the band’s surprisingly stellar new album “Last Rites.”

I say surprisingly because how many bands that formed in the early ’70s and were mostly productive in the ’80s still make reliable records? Not many. But there’s a bit of a catch to Pentagram putting out a good album in 2011, and that would be Liebling’s expansive songbook, which he put together well before drugs ripped his life apart. The majority of the material are reworked songs from Liebling’s catalog (only three are new), which explains the amazingly authentic ’70s/’80s feel, but who cares if they are? The band still had to breathe life into material that really should have been on albums put out decades ago (and some are on compilations in rough form), and Liebling still had to prove he has the pipes for this. The return of guitarist Victor Griffin (who was a member of Death Row in the early 1980s along with Liebling, who the eventually assumed the Pentagram moniker, since the name was being used anymore … it’s a little confusing) is one of the keys to this album. He absolutely smokes on these songs, laying down effective riffs and simmering soloing, and while Liebling – 57! — doesn’t always sounds like a world beater, he’s effective enough to carry through. If you’re wary, check out “8,” folk-style, mid-tempo dreamer “Windmills and Chimes” and crunchy closer “Nothing Left.” Hopefully that song title just sounded cool.

Way more current but with an unquestionably classic edge come Gates of Slumber with their fifth record “The Wretch.” The songs are pretty epic, as we’ve come to expect from the Indiana doom group, and certainly more of their traits reach backward through the decades than forward. I’ve always appreciated GoS’s records, but I never really got super into them for some reason. But “The Wretch” changed that a bit for me. I really found myself getting immersed in the songs, and Karl Simon’s vocals, which didn’t always excite the hell out of me, sound fantastic here. Opener “Bastards Born” is scathingly slow, yet always heavy, truly tapping into the Sabbath magic. “The Scovrge of Drvnkeness,” which originally had been hinted as the album title, ramps up the psychedelics and crunch, making it one of the loudest songs on this collection. “Day of Farewell” and “Castle of the Devil” are epics, with the former held together by solid wah-style soloing, the latter feeding off the ’70s/’80s early doom that’s more like a bubbling cauldron than a volcanic eruption. Same goes for the closer “Iron and Fire,” the longest cut on the record and one that never loses its drama. Overall, it’s a little different than the last two GoS albums, but still faithful to the band’s roots. And like I said, I really got into this album, more so than any of their past works. This is doom for lonely barbarians and beer drinkers.

Finally, we make our way to While Heaven Wept, a band 20 years into their existence that’s long been termed as epic doom, but I’ve always felt they fit more into the power/prog category, especially recently. Maybe that’s because of Rain Irving’s vocals, which tend to soar more than most in the doom genre and often feel like they’d be just as fitting overtop Dream Theater’s music. Their approach often is quite emotional and sometimes a bit gritty, but not enough that when I hear them now I immediately think of doom. Yet, there’s a crossover aspect, and their new album “Fear of Infinity,” their debut for Nuclear Blast, should help them find an even larger audience. I really liked their “Vast Oceans Lachrymose,” which came out in 2009 on Cruz del Sur, and this one is a bit different. There are moments on the new album that sound a little rushed, such as “Destroyer of Solace,” a song that doesn’t even reach the three-minute mark (a rarity for WHW), where Irving sounds forced singing so fast. But opener “Hour of Reprisal” works like a charm, as do heart-wrenching “To Grieve Forever” and towering closer “Finality.” One thing you do get from WHW in spades is pure human emotion. The songs often sound as if the draw directly from the band’s hearts, trading typical gloom-and-doom intent for a relation with their audience on a more personal level. Not sure this will be for everyone, but if you can ignore the lack of barbs and let yourself be enveloped by their surging melodies, you may find this to be of value.

Finally, apologies for the late entry. One of those weeks. I’ve had a handful of bad news this week, combined with multiple doctor appointments, so it hasn’t really been a good one at all. Will be back tomorrow with more. Thanks for stopping by, and special salute to all those who made last week’s Meat Mead Metal easily the most-read week in our short history.

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