Moss’ third doom platter ‘Horrible Night’ unfortunately derailed by flat vocal work

Ester Segarra
We talk so much about bands trying new things that I feel like I can write a standing template intro about it and just insert it every time that’s a major topic of an album we’re discussing. Change is good, as is expanding your thinking and actively trying to push yourself to get better.

As much as we’d like our favorite bands to keep putting out the same record over and over again forever, that would get really boring really quickly. There are bands that basically do that, a ton of them, and it amazes me sometimes how their audience just keeps coming back for the same old stuff. Doesn’t the taste get bland at some point? Don’t you want some adventure? I guess considering the stale, dead state of mainstream art, perhaps people are fine treading water.

But UK doom merchants Moss are not content to sit around and keep trying to same tricks. With three full-lengths under their belts, no one can lump their records together and say that they’re aping each other. Each effort has tried to be something different, and while their retching, droning, hulking doom style remains intact, they have tried to add different spices and new twists to their work over the years in order to keep their art interesting. I’m sure that helps both their listeners who buy the records and the band that plays these songs. It’s nice to know they’re not complacent and will keep you guessing from release to release.

moss coverThat said, not all change ends up being for good. As much as I admire what Moss tried to accomplish with “Horrible Night,” their third long player, it feels flat to me. Well, not the entire package, to be honest, but the vocals from Olly Pearson, who just about entirely ditches his screams and shrieks of old for clean vocals in the vein of Ozzy Osbourne. In fact, he downright seems to be imitating him at times, right down to his cries of, “Oh NO!” and “Oh YEAH” that sound pulled from the Black Sabbath archives. The problem is Pearson’s delivery often sounds painfully flat and uncomfortably off key. I find myself cringing way too often listening to his vocals, and they sound unnaturally stretched. I can’t imagine him pulling off these songs live, because it sounds like he’s struggling with his pitch. But hey, every other review I have read after multiple listens to “Horrible Night” seem to be cool with the vocals, so maybe it’s me. But I’ve tried multiple times to get with Pearson’s work, and I just can’t. It hurts to hear.

Rounding out Moss’ lineup are guitarist Dominic Finbow and drummer Chris Chantler, and they hold up their end of the bargain quite nicely, rolling out massive, slithering, punishing doom that isn’t nearly as epic in length as what we met on the awesome 2008 album “Sub Templum” but are a little more in line with what we heard on 2009 EP “Tombs of the Blind Drugged.” Pearson certainly has his heart in the game, and he has charisma, but his performance really takes away from these songs for me. Too bad, because otherwise this would have come highly recommended.

“Horrible Nights” opens the album with slow, murky tones, hammering terror, and the first clean strains from Pearson as he observes, “These nights seem darker than I’ve ever seen before,” but he eventually lets out some shrieks to let you know that part of the vocal range is still as strong as ever. Too bad that’s about the last we hear of it. “Bleeding Years” trudges and brutalizes musically, with melodies that seem to be conjuring dead spirits and suffocating smoke. In fact, some of that smoke seems to catch up with Pearson as the song winds down, as he stretches for higher notes and ends the piece hacking and choking. It’s a strange thing they left in the song, and it sounds like his voice cracked and left him heaving. “Dark Lady” runs 11:03 and opens with a sheet of noise, bells, and lurching bashing from the band. Pearson temporarily delivers his words in a deeper tone, sounding a little but like Tom G. Warrior, and that approach seems to fit him better. When he strives for more, his voice sounds too tired to keep pace.

“Dreams From the Depths” is an interlude piece that gives you a breath of fresh air, with its eerie noises and acoustic flourishes, and that leads to “The Coral of Chaos,” the most Sabbath-inspired cut on the entire record, and one where Pearson really works on the nerves. I think he might just need singing lessons to strengthen his voice. This is hard to listen to, which is unfortunate because musically it’s pretty awesome. Closer “I Saw Them That Night” finds Pearson improving a little bit, though it may just be because the song suits him better, but he’s convincing when he bellows, “Welcome to the ritual.” There is feedback wail, thick noise, and doom blazing that ends the album on the right note.

Really, this all comes down to one element trumping all, that being the vocal work. As noted, there are plenty of reviews out there that take the opposite stance on this matter, but for me, I have a hard time finishing the album on a single listen because I can’t handle Pearson’s voice and how he uses it. Maybe he’ll get better after more live shows, maybe he’ll work to strengthen his voice, but I hope he does something otherwise this band will be ruined in the future for me. And that saddens me greatly.

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