Black Magic – CD / DD
Twin Earth Records – March 18th 2017
There’s a bit of mystery surrounding the “Southern Swedish” band Alastor. They never actually specify where exactly in Southern Sweden they’re from, and they only list a single capital letter as credits for who is playing what. That’s okay, I can roll with that. I love a good mystery, and it’s rather indicative of their overall aesthetic. With an album title like this and a sigillistic logo, you damn well better believe that they’re singing about the occult mysteries, for better or for worse.
Why do I say for better or for worse? Well….everyone sings about and is steeped in occult imagery these days, especially in doom circles. Sure, there are rumors and allegations that I myself dabble in or have extensive knowledge of the occult, though that’s not something that I talk about or flaunt much, is it? I’ll just say this – I do believe that the more recurrent occult themes are utilized, the more ubiquitous they become, the more they lose their unique power. With that in mind, let’s talk Black Magic. Alastor’s cauldron is full to the brim with your typical brew: one part fuzz-splattered, feedback laden guitar, one part reverb-drenched, so wet they’re dripping female vocals, one part groovin’ subsonic bass that swings like a hangman’s noose, and one part thundering drums. Add some psychedelic and atmospheric flourishes, tune down and turn up accordingly, and voila!! Simmer and serve.
I’m going to address what’s a bit atypical – the vocals are pretty buried, and this sounded a bit strange to me on first listen. They’re coated in delay and caked with reverb, though otherwise they’re relatively clean. Still, it’s hard to decipher the lyrics, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing given the band’s flair for the mysterious. It works with their overall vibe, and once I’d fallen under the spell of their second song, it all seemed natural. Black Magic clocks in at 34 minutes, and consists of just three epic length tracks. That’s pretty good for a debut; they come in, cast their choral curses, then leave you begging for more. I can appreciate that approach. The songwriting is pretty straight forward; opener “Enemy” begins with a barrage of feedback and sub-bass, then breaks into a menacing, staggering riff as the guitars boil and bubble in your ears. This isn’t just a metaphor, there’s a lot of undulation and overtones going on in the drawn these drawn out chords, which really adds to the aesthetic atmosphere. Eventually the song picks up to a more mid tempo groove, and the vocals kick in. Around the 8 minute mark, it breaks down into feedback and allows the rhythm section to shine through the glorious haze, eventually morphing into a barrage of minimalistic yet psychedelic lead guitars until the song’s conclusion.
“Nothing To Fear” fades in with feedback and then launches right into a barrage of blistering riffs. It’s simplistic yet effective, like a doll poked full of pins and needles. The vocals come in soon after, and the song alternates between some verse and chorus riffs. At around the five and a half minute mark, it switches things up from this straightforward power groove into a more shuffling swing, there’s a bit more singing, some wah drenched soloing, and then it ends just as it began, with a bi-tonal blast of dual guitar feedback fading into nothingness. The title track, “Black Magic” also starts with some feedback before establishing its main theme, a slow burning, sinister melody that morphs into more active riffs between the vocals, which are noticeably more menacing throughout. I like this song a lot, it’s like the perfect culmination of Electric Wizard and Acid King, with the vocals alternating between a lower pitched delivery over the main riff, then switching to a higher register over a more melodic chord progression. Once again, the song breaks down around the 8 minute mark into simply a slow rolling bass line drifting between the wash of echoed noise and the iconic hum of a cranked tube amplifier. This gives way to some subtle drum work before the album collapses and climaxes into a doomy ode to the dark arts, complete with harmonized vocals that seems to add more layers each time their barely decipherable spell.
Fans of Windhand should eat this up, it’s the same sort of sound with its own twists on the style. Like I mentioned above, this is a great debut, as it’s short and to the point, a statement of intent that leaves plenty of room for a young band to grow and develop. If they’re going to distinguish themselves within an over-saturated scene of Black Sabbath worshiping Weedians, they will need to do just that, as this is obviously not the most original sounding album in the world. I’d like to see them take some more chances with their songwriting and incorporate other influences on future releases, and I’d also like to hear them put the vocals up a bit more at the forefront, as they’re a strong point when they’re allowed some breathing room. For now though, this hits the spot on for me on a gloomy Sunday morning. I was raised Catholic, and I still to this day firmly believe in keeping holy the Sabbath.
Reviewed By Andy “YUM Dinger” Beresky