Obscure Metal Roundup 16

Doomsword – Resound the Horn* (Released 2002; *not found on Bandcamp)

Discussing Doomsword presents a real challenge, since their style exists outside my pre-existing (and, in fairness, comically limited) apparatus I have developed for discussing metal. The first time I listened to Resound the Horn, I spent the full length of the album wondering, “Who are these guys, and are they for real?” After however many listens since then, I am no closer to the answers, save for what Metal Archives has to say about them.

That’s almost certainly because I’ve never encountered this specific blend of power trappings and slow tempos. Everything about Doomsword’s style presents as power metal, except for the songs themselves. Lyrically, the band is super into glory and death and battle and uh…swords, but almost none of these tempos are faster than languid. It’s a strange combination, partially due to the lack of familiarity – just about every other band with similar preoccupations I’ve heard operates in the mid-tempo to proto-speed range – and partially due to what I perceive as a mild mismatch of musical style and lyrical content. The tempos are slow and the grooves hang back with no sense of urgency, even though all the songs suggest dire circumstances.

There’s also some strange production choices afoot. The guitars are meant to sound mid-heavy and traditional, but they’re also a bit thin. The bass is audible, but not fat enough to beef up the overall sound, and the drums are also just prominent enough to register their presence. (Was this how business was conducted back in the 00’s? Back in ’02, I was listening to Maiden at the exclusion of, well, basically everything else on the planet, so I’m ashamed I don’t know the answer.)The vocals take front and center whenever they’re present. The term ‘operatic’ is bandied about constantly when describing traditional vocals, but this might be the first band I’ve heard where the vocalist actually sounds like an opera singer. He’s mostly operates in the comfortable range, but when he goes high, it’s all super-clean, vibrato-heavy, and enunciated. Most metal singers, even the best ones, put some sort of stank on their vocals, but not this guy.

I can’t tell if any this works for me. Does this album need a fatter sound, or am I overreacting because I saw the word ‘Doom’ in the band’s name and because the tracks are slow and long, and therefore assumed it must sort neatly into the stoner/sludge bin? I think it’s a bit of both. I know that all three of my loyal readers come here for recommendations and not bemused shrugs, so I will say that Resound the Horn is nothing if not memorable. Onward Into Battle and The Doomsword have been permanently lodged in my brain since I first heard them. MCXIX and For Those Who Died With Sword In Hand dial the tempo up a few clicks. Most of the back half tracks feature actual shredding, which is much welcomed, and curious by its absence in the first few tracks.

All of this is to say that I cannot tell you point blank whether or not Resound the Horn is worth your time. I like things about it, and it’s certainly an experience, but it also annoys me every now and again. You’ll have to listen to it and decide for yourself. I think that counts as a thumbs up, right?

Standout Tracks: The Doomsword, For Those Who Died With Sword in Hand

Smoulder – Dream Quest Ends EP (Released 2020)

Dream Quest Ends further suggests that there’s an entire legion of bands out there that don’t actually play all that fast but still cling tightly to the trappings of power metal. Vocal and guitar melodies take front and center on this collection, without too many flashy tricks to support them. As mentioned, the riffs are pretty dang slow, and the solos are better described as licks. That said, these songs are less static than those on Resound the Horn, suggesting that Smoulder possesses a decent amount of progressive ambition. While there are only three tracks here, each of them features at least one extremely noticeable change-up.

Final track Cage of Mirrors is the obvious centerpiece of the EP, as both the longest track and the track that showcases the band’s tendencies the most overtly. This track has a respectably neat ABABA structure. The clean opening section pisses off for a bit for some proggy mid-tempo riffage, before the riff section also fades back into the same clean section restated with slightly different lyrics, which in turn comes back to the riff section, but this time there’s more leads layered over top, and the climactic solo collapses into the final statement of the intro. It’s kind of a neat! Not all that many bands that are trying to be epic manage to take the listener on an actual journey, you know what I’m saying?

Unfortunately, the rest of this collection doesn’t do too much for me. It’s perfectly acceptable to be emphasize melody, but that gambit isn’t going to work if your melodies aren’t memorable. With the exception of Cage of Mirrors, nothing here has stuck with me, and I’m not sure I could hum the vocal or guitar melodies of the other tracks here after one hundred consecutive listens. That’s not what you want. While the riffs are all distinct, they don’t do much to distinguish themselves from one another. You need hooks if you’re gonna be melodic!

This is all a real shame, because the band obviously has the chops to do better. Vocalist Sarah Ann (is this the first time I’ve featured a band with a woman on vocals in this space? If so, shame on me, and I’ll try to do better) has a lot of power, power that could easily be deployed in the service of better things. The production is also on point, too, and while that’s a good thing it does underscore the squandered potential on display (although I must assign withering, mild demerits to the boomy, loose snare sound). The bandr needs to add more speed or more memorable shredding and better hooks and I dunno, maybe some twin leads into their repertoire. Ideally, they would add all of those; twin leads are optional, I guess.

Standout Track: Cage of Mirrors

Goblinsmoker – Toad King EP (Released 2020)

Finally, here’s an EP of good, old fashioned stoner droning. The main riff of opening title track Toad King is an instant earworm, lurching forward and snaking its way into the listener’s brain. This is complimented with an intriguingly propulsive stop-start chorus, and crowned with a crushing inversion of the main riff’s theme. All of this is crammed into 6:47, which sounds like kind of a long time (and is by any non-doom standard, in fairness) but feels like anything but; at these primordial tempos, that’s only time for two go-arounds of the verse and chorus before the final annihilation. It goes quick, I promise!

The entire collection demonstrates a commitment to arrangement. Tracks flow logically from segment to segment, giving enough time for each riff to establish itself but not lingering so long that any of them become stale. The same goes for the tracks themselves. Rather than attempt to cram more stuff into longer tracks, Goblinsmoker seem perfectly content to move on to the next thing when it’s time. It’s progressive without causing fatigue or self-indulgence (not that I’m entirely against such things, mind.) The production is also top-notch. It’s sludgy and fuzzy, but everything is still distinct (also, note how the looser snare sound does a better job blending with everything else in this context than it does in a more traditional sound, as on Dream Quest Ends).

Toad King is good enough (and short enough) that there’s not too much to say about it, except recommend it to anyone who will listen. That said, be advised going in that the vocals are full scream, all the time, and have no discernible melody. I think that’s a perfectly valid stylistic choice, but I know not everyone agrees with that. Even if constant atonal screaming isn’t your bag, I still think this is worth checking out if you have any interest in this style.

Standout Tracks: There’s only three so…all of them!

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