To sum it up, picture one of those huge four-man turf rollers and what they do to a cricket pitch. This album is the roller, and you are the pitch. Enjoy.
Let me set the scene here a little. Like many others of a certain age, I was raised on the downtuned, crushing metal of Black Sabbath’s first four albums, and always had a particular love for their more grinding, heavy side such as Hand Of Doom, Black Sabbath, Electric Funeral or Sweet Leaf. Some decades later ‘doom metal’ began to become a ‘thing’, and the likes of Candlemass and St Vitus took this approach a step further, and it was thrilling stuff. Then this album came across my path, recorded by a band from Denver, Colorado (the first US city to legalise marijuana apparently, which may or may not be significant). Their PR description included the phrase ‘With weighty riffs summoning the Lovecraftian horrors of the cosmos’ – and let’s face it, you don’t really argue with that. So I elected to take a listen, and it took me about two days before I could open the curtains again. This isn’t an album which summons up those Sabbath albums of yore. It’s an album which invites you into a world in which music is so soul-crushingly, monolithically black that Master Of Reality would exist as the equivalent of Songs For Swinging Lovers. Allow me to venture in and be your guide to these six tracks of grinding, wonderful hopelessness…
The album opens with The Forest Dark, a ten minute beast which doesn’t inspire confidence that there will be much in the way of laughs. There aren’t. In fact, this is the kind of track you put on if you have recently been cheerful about something and wish to atone for this aberration when all around you the world is hopeless. It goes beyond saying that the central riff of the track is slow, heavy and powerful. In actual fact, it sounds as if two great granite tombstones are crashing against each other, rolling slowly and inexorably down a hill for eternity. This is the first song I have ever heard which kicks up to double tempo and THEN resembles Sweet Leaf. You know you’re into the forest now, and there’s no going back. The following track, End Of Men, is an eight-minute meditation on the general decay of the planet, which invites contemplation of the necessity of ‘ego death’. In the world which we now inhabit, this was actually the ‘single’ from the album. I’ll let you have time to mentally amalgamate the terms ‘eight minutes of ego death’ and ‘single’ for a moment. This one begins a little more contemplatively, with a relatively tranquil opening, until a chord is struck. The most terrifying single chord I have ever heard. Oh my God, that chord. It sounds like every single departed soul in the world suddenly rising up as they simultaneously grasp the concept of everlasting blackness. It’s hard for any track to keep that up, but my word, does this give it a good go! There is some light and shade musically here, though it should probably be better described as ‘shade and utter blackness’. This is Doom writ large, red in tooth and claw and heeding the call of the wild.
There must be something shorter and a bit lighter to relieve us now, right? Wrong, for we now get the fourteen-minute leviathan which is Haunted Memories, which is probably the best thing we’ve encountered up to now, if only for its labyrinthine and multi-faceted structure and development. If there’s such a genre as ‘progressive extreme doom’, here it is. The piece – for it cannot be called simple a ‘song’ – is like a soundtrack to the grimmest, most existentially terrifying horror film you could imagine. There are even some parts here which feature some lead guitar work sounding almost uplifting, but only to provide absolute contrast to the depths soon to be plunged. That’s almost 35 minutes of the most soul-emptying, bone-crushing music you’ve ever heard – and we’re only halfway through! Not to worry, the same service is absolutely maintained by A Throne Abandoned, which continues that progressive tendency by dropping down to positively funereal guitar or bass interludes, which let you catch your breath before being steamrollered again. As an aside here, remember that guy some years ago who claimed to have found Beethoven’s Tenth Symphony? Well, we have a similar thing here, as Green Druid manage to unearth the Great Missing Riff from Black Sabbath Vol 4. It first hits you at around thirty seconds in, but don’t worry, it keeps coming back again. Extraordinary stuff.
At this point, it has to be said that ‘doom fatigue’ may be setting in a little. You may feel the need to retreat to something more cheery to lift your spirits, such as Leonard Cohen, Peter Hammill or Mahler perhaps. Don’t though. Pause and take a break by blinking into the sunlight if you wish, but do return for the catchy little thirteen-minute ditty Desert Of Fury / Ocean Of Despair. It sounds exactly like the title. This is probably the best example on the whole album of the ‘progressive doom’ approach, and amid the soul-churning despair there is some really interesting and inventive experimentation with the genre here. It may be a matter of getting used to it, but this seems almost accessible in places. Small places, but places. The closing track, Threads, is a cover of a song by Bristol-based Trip-Hop band Portishead. Yes, that’s right. It’s a cover of a song by Portishead. That’s not as surprising as it sounds, however, as the original is in fact a bleak, haunting, almost ambient cry of chilling despair. Green Druid get hold of it and make it a bleak, haunting, soul-grindingly heavy cry of chilling despair, like an anvil moving inexorably through molasses. Some of that ambient feel is still in there, and at this point we’re possibly into ‘progressive ambient extreme doom’ territory, which essentially means we’ve not been in Kansas for quite some time, Toto. There is a drifting ‘comedown’ of sorts at the end of the track, as if the band realise that we need to emerge gradually from this one if we are going to enter the world again without intensive therapy.
Let’s be frank here. If you don’t like heavy, slow, very heavy, doom laden, very very heavy, brain-turning music, you’re not going to be the target audience here. This isn’t exactly Def Leppard, let’s put it that way. But if you do like a good old wallow in some unapologetically dark and crushingly heavy downtuned riffery, you owe it to yourself to check this out. To sum it up, picture one of those huge four-man turf rollers and what they do to a cricket pitch. This album is the roller, and you are the pitch. Enjoy. Or maybe don’t, as that seems counter-intuitive. Just experience it.