Thursday, December 09, 2010

Metal Briefs: Drone Doom

After noting the huge differences between two of the most well-known drone doom bands, Nadja and Sunn O))), I decided to take a larger sample of the genre so I can understand what it's all about.

Switchblade: Switchblade (2006)

SwitchbladeSweden's Switchblade has a habit of simply naming their full-length albums Switchblade, without bothering to differentiate them by number (similarly, their song titles are just the song's length). Although it seems this is their fourth full-length, this album has been identified as Switchblade III by some people. Go figure. Their sound is sludge/drone doom, so you might be surprised Watain's E provide guest vocals. Each of its two songs are deceptively simple explorations of what is, in essence, a single riff, but somehow they manage to build atmosphere around it without layering electronics all over the place. The first song, "19:30", is OK, but nothing really special. It's followed by a long ambient interlude, and then the excellent "16:45", which slowly builds intensity not unlike good post-metal. On balance, it's tough to judge when the first 2/3 of the album is OK and the final 1/3 is great, but I give the album 3 out of 5 stars. As I write this, Amazon has a copy for less than a buck, so click the picture if you're interested.

Kodiak: Kodiak (2009)

If you only get one drone doom album, ever, this should be the one. First, because it's really good, and second, because it's free from the ever-generous Denovali label. Germany's Kodiak combines drone with funeral doom, a combination which doesn't exactly make for accessible music. These songs develop so slowly it makes Neurosis look like Napalm Death. Like Switchblade, Kodiak has two songs with functional titles: "Beginning" (the sad one) and "End" (the ominous one). Both hover around 20 minutes in length. "Beginning" is slightly stronger, starting with strings (cello, I believe) and thriving on a great atonal riff, leading up to some killer lead guitar work at the end. "End" is less tied to riff-based structure and focuses more on atmosphere. Both tracks are heavy, and create a powerful mood despite minimal (non-existent?) vocals and simple arrangements. This is a very good album, and I give it 4 out of 5 stars. My only criticism is the songs build to a conclusion too predictably, and could stand to have more highs and lows, or highs in some place other than the end of the song.

Khanate: Khanate (2001)
KhanateKhanate was on Southern Lord, a label known for doom in general and drone doom in particular. This, their debut album, seems a little disjointed. The first track has a lot of screechy feedback and moves much faster than the rest of the album. It sounds a bit like a slow-motion Coalesce. The second (a highlight of the album) also moves a bit faster and has much more going on than your typical drone. But by the third track, it sounds much more like then-labelmates Sunn O))), although you can still hear a hardcore touch to the music (particularly in the vocals). Call it dronecore, if you wish. The resemblance to Sunn O))) is most pronounced on the 18 minute "Under Rotting Sky", with its sustained notes and distant screams, but the band shines most on closer "No Joy", which is built on an excellent riff. I give Khanate 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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