Obscure Metal Roundup 17

What’s that? You could go for some more accessible stoner picks? Hell yeah! I got you some accessible stoner picks!

Witchthroat Serpent – Sang-Dragon (Released 2016)

Okay, I know I implied that everything featured in this installment of the OMR was going to be easy to get into, and here I am immediately confronting you with a two-minute intro of go-nowhere wah-wah and noise noodling. But hey, at least they kept it to only two minutes! Not everybody operating in this space has this sort of self-restraint.

Also, and rather more importantly, one’s patience in toughing out semi-grating opener Hydra’s bewitchment is immediately rewarded with massive and immediate riffage. A caw rises from my guts is a precise demonstration of what this band does well right from the get-go. Some of the fattest distorted bass I’ve heard in quite a while serves as the engine for the track’s instantly catchy main riff, which takes front and center until the third act, at which point everything slows all the way down. I’ve always been a sucker for slow tracks that build toward and blast into sections of cathartic speed, but sometimes slow changing to slower can be just as effective.

Sang-Dragon displays a band that’s quite comfortable injecting their material with plenty of interest changes while not making a big deal of it. Consider the case of Lady Sally, which uses the crashing sustained chords of the second chorus to downshift from the track’s early chug-along into something altogether more sinister and dirge-like. This too, only last for a while, before taking the scenic route all the way back to the starting riff. All of this is done seamlessly, as part of a larger journey. You don’t necessarily notice this shifts unless you’re keeping an ear out for them.

All of that said, my choice for best track here goes to Into the black wood, a slow track that builds toward and blasts into a section of cathartic speed. I’m nothing if not predictable. Really, it’s not so much speed – it’s probably just a click or two past mid-tempo – but it is fast enough to stand out against a collection of doom tempos.

I recommend this album to any converted doom enthusiast, and also as a potential gateway album to anyone looking to check out the style for the first time. The production is flawless and the vocals are clean, although I wouldn’t call them melodic, exactly; almost all of them are more of a chant. But in this kind of metal, you look to the riffs to bring the hooks, and Sang-Dragon has both in abundance.

Standout Tracks: A caw rises from my guts, Into the black wood, Behind green eyes

Ordos – The End (Released 2019)

Ordos returns to the Obscure Metal Roundup after an appearance in OMR5, back in the column’s dark ages, when I couldn’t write anything about a band and their sound except to classify them into a subgenre, then compare them to some other band and their sound. That’s still about as sophisticated as my analysis gets, but I’ve becoming more practiced at powering through, largely by the power of superior anxiety medication.

Anyway, The End does not radically update the band’s sound from what it was on previous LP House of the Dead. The tunes here skew slow, but not as slow as you would assume. Similarly, the production is not as in line with the core tenets of doom/sludge as you would assume – the guitars have a good amount of traditional-skewing buzz to them and the bass is both clean and a touch clicky – and atmospheric in a way that similar bands often attempt, but in a half-baked, winking, and goofy “hey, check this out” sort of spirit.

Ordos, by contrast, are committed to their shtick. Lots of doom bands invoke all manner of spooky death and Satan tropes, but again, there’s often a sense of playfulness to it, as though these groups have tasked themselves with writing a soundtrack for an evil-alignment D&D campaign. Ordos sound like they mean it beyond their Bandcamp blurb on the album, which states “the guidelines were to make the songs sound dark and evil. No other limits were applied[…].” The atmospherics do much of the heavy lifting, here.

After brief instrumental Exordium, which sounds to me like a doom metal response to the The xx, the title track punctuates it’s riff and vocals with vocal chants that swirl in and out of prominence on the pre-chorus. The Hunter of Hades provides an instrumental foundation for vocalist Emil (no last name given) to alternately croon and howl, and in so doing distills the band’s gestalt down to its essence in the space of a scant five minutes. Album centerpiece and workout III starts out with dark, glassy, clean guitars bolstered with gutteral vocal croaks, and the effect is actually somewhat unsettling; the stop and restart just shy of the six-minute mark, which leads directly into a final collapse into madness, is thrilling. Album closing (mostly) instrumental Omega, by contrast, effectively communicates downtrodden defeat.

Evaluated on its own merits, The End succeeds, and does so mightily. Recommended for anyone who wants their doom metal to include some actual doom.

Standout Tracks: The End, The Hunter of Hades, III

Goblinsmoker – A Throne In Haze, A World Ablaze EP (Released 2020)

Listen, I ran out of time to write this, OK? But since I’m committed to entertaining and educating (or, at bare minimum, distracting) you, the reader, I have to talk about a third assemblage of tracks from a third band. Due to poor planning and time management on my part, that means talking about an EP from a band I just looked at. It could happen to you, too! Stop giving me those judgy looks – I can see them, you know!

So uh…am I the last person to realize that Toad King was a concept EP? Each track told part of the saga of the Toad King, who serves as the overlord of the goblins who worship him. The Toad King’s duties, such as they are, entail engaging in warfare and smoking goblins, as depicted on the EP’s cover art. That all of this escaped my initial notice is a horrific failure of research on my part; I tend to assume all of the copy on these Bandcamp pages is just, well, copy. This ignores the possibility that potentially interesting information such as this may be missing, and is also dismissive of the idea that you can mine straight copy for insight into how a band views itself and its works. All of this is entirely my fault. I apologize, and will try to do better in the future.

A Throne In Haze, A World Ablaze continues the story where Toad King left off, with the Toad King rallying the goblins in battle against his own ancestors. Thus, Smoked in Darkness lurks along the battle march for much of its length, building towards a brief but intense faster section, concluding with an even slower, doomier end as the Toad King and his goblin hordes destroy all. Let Them Rot profiles the Toad King’s infinite hatred and antipathy for everything around him, and fittingly is paced even more glacially. Until, of course, the last minute, when the track veers into almost grindcore adjacent territory. Because really, why not? The Forest Mourns exists as a hook for the next EP, and therefore has a quick, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it false start rev-up before one last doom fueled smash.

That’s neat! There isn’t a ton more to discuss regarding the music itself that I didn’t pint out in the last installment. The production sounds essentially the same in the broad strokes, and the arrangements are broadly similar. Still, now that I know the band trades in story songs (and is only two guys, with the mysteriously named ‘A’ doing triple duty as vocalist/guitarist/bassist and ‘C’ on drums), I’m looking forward to circling back to Toad King to see how the tracks fit those narratives, as it’s impressively done here. You learn new things every day, am I right?

Standout Track: Smoked in Darkness

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