Friday, February 25, 2011

Metal Briefs: Free Doom Metal Albums

As piracy has become an integral part of the music landscape, more and more bands are simply adapting. Instead of trying to fight piracy through annoying methods like DRM, or only releasing their music on vinyl/cassette, they have decided to offer it up completely free (or via a pay-what-you-want scheme). They are counting on this exposure to bring more people to their shows and to buy their merch. It makes sense to me.

It's becoming so common that whole blogs are dedicated to pointing people in the direction of free music, and you could easily satisfy your listening wants purely on gratis material (at least if you're into underground metal).

If you haven't run across many of these free albums, you might suspect that they're of low quality. Luckily, at the same time that the traditional music industry business model is going down in flames, recording technology has advanced to the point that you can make a great record on the cheap. So, let's take a look at a few of these. This time, we'll focus on doom metal, since that genre tends to embrace the free release model more than any other.

Rorcal: Heliogabalus (2010)

I discovered Switzerland's Rorcal via a post at Invisible Oranges. They offer up almost their entire catalog free on their web site, including their latest release: Heliogabalus. Following in the Sleep Dopesmoker tradition, the album consists of a single track, clocking in at a daunting 70:31. Yikes. But I've listened to it without interruption twice now, and the music is good enough that some of you, at least, will make it through and enjoy every minute of it. You may want to split it into separate tracks, though (I did at 11:50, 25:01, 32:40, 44:45, and 59:00 after my first two listens). The music seems to be a mix of French blackcore, sludge, and funeral doom. It's mostly very slow, has a lot of dissonance, some tremolo riffing, and bloodcurdling screech vocals, as well as long periods of minimalism. All of this is molded into a cohesive whole of undeniable power. It's very much worth your time, and I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Hesper Payne: Unclean Rituals (2010)

Hesper Payne is from the UK. As you can see, they clearly put a lot of effort into their cover art, despite the fact this is a free album. And they put equal effort into their highly original music, which draws influence from a variety of sources as disparate as Acid Bath and Evoken. The sound is very sludgy, and includes expertly-used keyboards which provide atmosphere without ever becoming obtrusive. At times it's faster riff-based doom (especially toward the beginning of the album--the first two tracks have killer riffs) and at other times it veers into funeral doom. The whole thing has a delicious sense of insanity, from the madman vocals, to some weird timing in the riffs, to a sense that the whole thing is played with a slight lack of focus and precision. It's as if it's the meticulously written but sometimes incoherent manifesto of a paranoid schizophrenic, and the effect is powerful. The only thing holding this album back is a weak, quiet production. If it had been given the Sanford Parker touch, it would have been an instant classic. As is, I give it 4 out of 5 stars, which is not bad at all for a freebie. You can find it (and other free albums) over at Works of Ein.

Greg(o)rian: Dormancy of Our Omniscient Master (2010)

Also from the UK, we have Greg(o)rian, a stoner doom band with a style inspired by Sleep and early Electric Wizard, but with the psychedelia taken a few notches higher (pun intended). They don't seem to be on Metal Archives yet, possibly because that site is living in caveman-land where a band has to have a physical release in order to be listed. But Greg(o)rian's MySpace page links to a site where you can download their album, which consists of three tracks totaling about 43 minutes. The slow, reverb-overdrive, heavy riffs are repeated ad nauseam, with high-pitched notes adding the psychedelia. There are some vocals, too, in the form of indistinct yells. I guess this is the kind of thing people like to listen to when they're stoned, but even sober it's pretty good stuff. At least, the first two tracks are good, but the 21 minute "Sea Goat" is a bit too much for me. I give it 3 out of 5 stars.

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