Music From The Labyrinth: Part One
By Andy “Dinger” Beresky
So….I was record shopping in lovely downtown Northampton one fateful afternoon, and ran into this dude Glenn, who works for the Italian label Minotauro Records. I’m not sure exactly how his collaboration with the label came to pass, though we got to talking music: cool bands from New England we’d both been big on, such as Ogre, whose back catalog was re-released by Minotauro Records, incidentally. At any rate, all good things come to an end, and when Glenn and I parted ways, we planned on staying in touch, and he said he’d send me some stuff to review over at Taste Nation LLC. Well, as it turned out, he sent me quite a bit of material to review!! I was thinking of different ways to approach this, maybe figure out what the priorities are, see if any of the writers wanted to take on some of the work. It seems that everyone else here at Taste Nation always has a ton on their plate, and this was kind of my pet project, so I decided that I’d just forge ahead and do a feature on Minotauro, and basically write mini-reviews of each of the albums that Glenn sent me.
Now, that’s STILL a lot for me to take in and process, and like a lot of my creative endeavors, it really took on a life of its own. With that being said, I’ve decided that I’m going to break down the feature into two parts, with a longer biographical element on Minotauro in the second part of the feature.
Without further adieu, strap on your shields folks, as we take a trip into the labyrinth, the lair of the Minotaur, in search of our proverbial Daedalus within the dark depths of Italian underground doom and metal….
Where The Sun Comes Down – Welcome
Minotauro – 2017
This collaboration between Death SS founding member Thomas Hand Chaste and Alex Scardavian, who played with Paul Chain, has some of the more interesting cover art I’ve seen of late. It looks like a child’s drawing done with magic markers, though it’s none-the-less intriguing, especially given the reputation of the folks involved. This led me to reach for this album first and foremost. What I really liked about it was that it bucked all cliches of metal and doom in general, and I had no idea what to expect when I pressed play on the album. Would it be similar to Paul Chain’s material post Death SS? Even then, Chain’s projects and various solo albums haven’t all sounded the same, and have explored various styles and aspects of his personality. Would Where The Sun Comes Down opt for a more psychedelic or space rock sound?
It’s actually pretty close to what I’d initially expected: ultra raw cult doom with dramatic, emotional, over-the-top vocals, noisy, blown out Sabbathian riffing, off the cuff guitar and saxophone solos, a sparse yet powerful rhythm section, and haunting keyboards, all delivered with a heavy emphasis on atmosphere, theatrics and the bizarre. I don’t pull any punches and I’m not going to do so here either: it’s called “cult doom” for a reason. It’s not going to appeal to everyone, and it’s not meant to. The vocals alone are a hard sell, as they’re all over the place and quite frequently strained and/or out of tune. That’s not a deal breaker for me personally, as they have moments when they really shine, and they’re a vital part of the whole experience. They add a flair for the avante garde, and they make me feel like I’m living in a horror movie for the duration of the album. This is the perfect soundtrack for October….
Grand Delusion – Supreme Machine
Minotauro – 2017
Sweden’s The Grand Delusion play pretty traditional doom metal with a focus on the metal. Blending Black Sabbath, NWOBHM and 80’s metal influences with Wino inspired biker blues licks, big stoner tones, and just enough experimentation with psychedelic sections and additional instrumentation to keep things interesting. The vocals also offer up a nice cross-section of influence and variety, from the full throated bellows of the first two tracks, to the Iron Maiden-esque epicness of the two-part “Trail Of The Seven Scorpions” and the operatic choir chants of “Imperator.”
This is a really solid release. I like the production a lot – it’s fairly clean and polished, and the sheer variety of cool guitar tones and well written compositions benefit from this approach. There’s a lot of more mid to uptempo sections, which keeps it from feeling like a slog. They’re not reinventing the wheel by any means, as that’s a tough feet with doom. However, if you’re bored of the same monotonous stoner doom fare, this is both a bit more nuanced and upbeat. It wears its influences well, giving them all a chance to shine and never sounding merely derivative.
Kroh – Altars
Minotauro – 2017
Birmingham UK occult doom crew Kroh also bring a refreshing take to the table with their second album. With a new lineup and new vocalist, Polish born Oliwia Sobieszek, they craft a captivating, dark and mesmerizing take on traditional doom metal. This sound revolves heavily around the powerful and ever prominent vocals and slim song arrangements. None of the tunes overstay their welcome, all clocking in at under the five minute mark or so, which is a mixed blessing. In one sense, it makes the album stand out, a concise statement trimmed of all excess. On the other hand, sometimes the lack of expansive parts makes the songs feel stifled and abrupt. There’s also the impending sense of predictability when all the songs follow a similar format. I personally like a bit of decadence here and there, and I certainly like variety. It’s the spice of life, as a wise woman once sagely stated. With all that being said, this is a great record, and makes ample space for improvement on future albums.
It’s worth noting that the guitar sound on this album is one of the meanest and most distinctive I’ve heard in recent years. It’s got that massively distorted, “swarm of bees” hyper-fuzz going on, and it also retains much of the notes clarity rather than just becoming a blur of notes. This alone makes this one worth a listen, just hearing those righteous, crushingly oppressive guitar riffs coupled with the haunting vocals.
Ufosonic Generator – The Evil Smoke Possession
Well, once again, this is totally not what I was expecting based on the name, illustrating the old adage that you can’t judge a book by its cover. I was expecting something a little more space-y, of the more cosmic doom variety, and that’s simply not the case. Ufosonic Generator play pretty straightforward stoner metal, complete with Garcia inspired vocals, uptempo songs with righteous boogie breakdowns, a rock solid rhythm section, and scorching guitar solos. The songs are a bit paint by numbers – you’re not going to get many surprises, and the influences are the usual suspects: Black Sabbath, Kyuss, Dozer. You get the idea; it’s a tried and true one.
I dig what Ufosonic Generator are doing on this album. Its approach is both charming and disarming, just four peeps really going for that proverbial “it”, with songs served meat and potatoes style, lean and mean. There’s certainly some standout tracks with killer riffs going on throughout. I’m not going to spoil the magic by giving you the play-by-play, song-by-song analysis. You’re going to have to do the heavy lifting and figure out for yourself which songs make your mind soar and your booty shake.
Funeral Marmoori – The Deer Woman
Italy’s Funeral Marmoori have a classic doom sound with a 70’s horror tinged vibe, thanks largely to the excellent usage of Farfisa organs, which make them sound like a more evil version of Deep Purple or Uriah Heep at times. It’s cool to hear a band that has such an intense interplay between the guitars and keyboards, just like the days of old. They wear some of their other influences on their sleeves, a bit of Saint Vitus styled gonzo guitar solos, some vocal mannerisms reminiscent of Lee Dorrian’s work in Cathedral, and of course a heavy debt to all things Paul Chain. Hell, they even cover a Death SS song, “Profanation.”
One of the things I really like about this album is the way that the vocals alternate between sounding more theatrical and more psychedelic. Similarly, there’s excellent variation in the guitar parts: sometimes we’re treated to righteous Sabbath-inspired riffs, other times more otherworldly explorations and introspective moments. The thing that really makes this one work for me is the rhythm section – the busy bass and drum work keep things moving forward. The Deer Woman never gets dragged down into the gloomy realms of excessively downtempo dirges, while the music always retains its evil edge. Highly recommended for fans of cult and traditional doom metal.
Ancient Spell – Forever In Hell
Los Angeles’ Ancient Spell bring something much different to the table, with a decidedly more modern take on doom metal. It’s really telling that they list Death, Slayer and Lamb Of God as influences, because they bear more resemblance to these bands than Black Sabbath or Saint Vitus. The vocals in particular are more on the death metal end of the spectrum, harsh growls and drastic screams with dark and misanthropic themes. The guitars definitely utilize those chromatic style intervals that Slayer famously made into their trademark, and alternate between a thrash chug and a doom groove. Though the tempos can get pretty quick for a more doom influenced band, they never approach anything near the breakneck tempos associated with either thrash or death metal.
in keeping with the thrash tradition, this is a pretty short and sweet album, clocking in at under 40 minutes. That’s a good thing, as there’s not a ton of variety. It’s interesting to see a band bring together such diverse influences, and this feels like an album where they’re trying to figure out how to make all of those influences come together into something coherent. While it certainly never lacks in that department (their sound is fluid and polished, and never sounds forced), I think they have a lot of room to grow and try other things. I’d love to see them incorporate some of the aforementioned faster parts, some death or black metal styled tremolo picking, some super slow doom bridges and breakdowns. Forever In Hell seems like a great jumping off point for a band that has lots of room to grow and develop.
Tony Tears – Follow The Signs of The Times
Wow, what an opening to an album!! This one starts off with a brief intro that could straight up be a Goblin track that’s part of a D’Argento soundtrack. It nails that sound with a combination of synth washes, blurps and appergiated chords, overlaid with creepy, demonic voices. From there, we’re treated to more cult, esoteric doom in the traditional Italian style – darkly dramatic vocals reminiscent of King Diamond, 70’s metal riffs, ever present keyboards and a battering ram rhythm section of bass and drums. True to form, they even cover a Paul Chain song.
I really dig on the production job here. For me personally, cult doom has to have just the right production: grimy and cavernous, yet with enough clarity to let each individual instrument shine. Follow The Signs of The times showcases exactly how this is pulled off. I also really enjoyed the three shorter tracks (intro, an interlude, and an outro) that pull off that Italian horror soundtrack vibe so convincingly. It’s always great to hear a band so refined in their craft! Apparently Tony Tears started off as a solo outlet for Antonio Polidori, though he has since added a full band of backing and touring musicians, and I must say that I’m impressed with the results.
My Silent Wake – Damnatio Memoriae
Hailing from England, My Silent Wake are another band in the world of doom with decidedly modern influences, most noticeably of the death metal/goth metal variety. However, that ain’t the end of the story. There’s also a modern progressive slant to the songwriting and arrangements that keeps things fresh and dare I say, lively? Take the intro to the song “Highwire” for example, with its bouncing bassline and bursts of jazzy, dissonant chords. The album is loaded with tons of tempting little musical moments like this, and it makes for a rather refreshing listen.
Basically, if you’re into The Peaceville Three….you’re going to like this. I’m generally not into the more goth doom bands like Paradise Lost, Anathema, and My Dying Bride. I do like this album by My Silent Wake, as it’s got a lot of variation, tons of twists and turns. The keyboards add a nice texture, it ‘s got a clear production, some strategic usage of guest musicians, and they’ve clearly got the chops. Fans of the bands I’ve mentioned should give this a swing, it’s rather righteous in its ambition and scope of vision.
Misantropus – The Gnomes
Oh cool, another album with some truly bizarre and iconoclastic cover art, this one a simple cartoon looking drawing of what I’d assume to be a trio of green gnomes. I’ve talked earlier about the lack of longer numbers in discussing the other albums, and although this Misantropus album is rather short on the whole, tracking in at just above 35 minutes, it’s only four songs. So….we’re treated to a 9 and a half minute opening track and closer pushing the 13 minute mark.
These guys are obviously into the occult, as the song titles indicate. “The Gnomes (Ariel)”, “The Salamander (Mikhael)”, “Undines (Gabriel)” and “Elis (Raphael)” all connect an elemental spirit to the corresponding archangel for each of the Greek elements: earth, fire, water, and air. It’s obviously some kind of concept album, or ritual invocation – only the creators, an Italian duo, would know for certain. It definitely creates an air of mystery and intrigue. Musically, it’s an equally odd piece, consisting mainly of a variations on one stripped down guitar and bass riff with a trance-like drum beat. There’s a guest guitar solo on the second track, and some cool ambient synth passages that bookmark the beginning and end of the album, and zero vocals. Their stripped down instrumental approach levies them in my eyes as the Karma To Burn of Italian cult doom.
Once again, this is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s extremely monotonous, with very few changes, even from song to song. And while this may sound boring to some, and honestly left me pretty non-plussed initially, I found myself out humming those riffs in my head as I went out and ran my errands today. There’s something rather captivating and enchanting about them. If this sounds like your kind of jams, hey….I’d encourage you to give it a listen.
Additional Links to Minotauro Records: