Thursday, August 21, 2014

Brimstone Coven v. Dystopia

Doom-Rock Showdown


I’m not sure how long “doom-rock” has been a term, but the music has been around for a while. It’s splitting the baby between hard rock and doom metal, and shows up alongside terms like “retro,” “proto-metal” and “occult rock.” I’ve always found it to be a nice change of color that allows for rock-style songwriting without losing the appeal of doom’s heaviness.

There’s been a rapid increase in the number of releases in this vein in recent years, and I’ve been sifting through a lot of them. Brimstone Coven’s self-titled album and Monolith’s Dystopia are two examples worth noting.

Brimstone Coven play heavy doom-rock with an occult rock angle. Don’t think that means you have to like occult rock to enjoy this, because it’s doom first; it’s sort of a slower, smoother, earthier doppelganger to Ghost. The vocals are great, which is something you need in this style. But the excellent bass riffs really got my attention, and the guitar playing style has plenty of variety—opener “Cosmic Communion” is an excellent example of both. Other interesting standouts include the upward-spiraling riff on “Vying,” the trippy “The Black Door,” and the riff from “The Séance” which echoes the Tony Martin-era Sabbath tune “The Shining.” This is catchy music with plenty of variety, and a wonderfully dynamic production job that lets you crank it up without hurting your ears. It sounds like a much better-produced band from the 70’s, without sounding like a direct copy of any single band from that era. It also includes a bunch of bonus tracks which apparently come from an earlier release, which are still good but are not recorded as well.

Monolith make no secret that they’re paying some serious tribute to Black Sabbath here. The vocalist is especially treading in Ozzy’s tracks here, right down to the shouts of “You gotta believe me!” in a song containing “Fairy” in the title. The title track even contains a long jam session during its seven minute run, something the drab four were known to do on occasion. Like most Sabbath-aping bands of today, they seem to rely on a caricature version of the band as their model, and of course the songwriting and riffs are nothing compared to the original. All the same, they can’t be dismissed as true copycats. None of the songs sound like ripoffs—I couldn’t point to one of them and say it’s a rewrite of “Electric Funeral,” for instance. And overall they seem to have a bouncier, more rock and roll take that’s a little more fun and less dark, without sacrificing the heavy. And closer “Rainbow” is a whole lot of stomp-stomp-stomp before it slows down to a close.

The Verdict:
Brimstone Coven: 4 out of 5 stars
Dystopia: 3 out of 5 stars

I find in favor of Brimstone Coven. They’re more original, have a smoother guitar tone and overall better sound, and most importantly they write memorable songs. There’s nothing wrong with Monolith, exactly, but listening to them is like listening to rejected Sabbath tunes. Sure, I’d like to hear a few, but in the end they don’t make the cut.

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