It’s no secret that the apple that is doom metal has fallen moderately out of the public eye. Yes, America is still in love with Pallbearer and his brother, Darryl, and his other brother, Darryl, who in turn were begat from England’s Warning, but that’s probably because Pallbearer, Darryl & Darryl magically found a way to tug the same heartstrings that Mark Kozelek tugs, and Mark Kozelek still tugs a lot of heartstrings in 2018. It’s a strange and wonderful world we live in, and if you think talk of Newhart doesn’t belong in a discussion about doom, you’re clearly unaware that it was the doomiest sitcom ever aired—please leave the Stratford’s heavy, warm, gradual hall.
Back to the point at hand—there’s obviously nothing wrong with any doom band getting admiration, but there was a time, not too long ago, when all of doom’s branches found their way to the glossy covers. Take a snapshot of 2006, for example: The Gates Of Slumber’s Suffer No Guilt, Isole’s Throne Of Void, Solitude Aeturnus’ Alone, Warning’s Watching From A Distance, Reino Ermitaño’s Brujas Del Mar, Fall Of The Idol’s The Womb Of The Earth, Place Of Skulls’ The Black Is Never Far, OM’s Conference Of The Birds, Burning Saviour’s Hundus, Valkyrie’s self-titled debut, Witch’s self-titled debut, Ahab’s Call Of The Wretched Sea, Asunder’s Works Will Come Undone, Catacombs’ In The Depths Of R’Lyeh, and two releases from the deathly Indesinence—all doom bases covered, resulting in an embarrassment of riches that had websites and ‘zines as far as the eye could see howling “TREASUUUURE BAAATH!”
The truth of the matter is this, though: Good doom ain’t all that easy to make, and there’s really nothing worse in our metal sphere than bad doom. Sadly, bad doom eventually pillaged the parade, and foul skirmishes continue to break out to this very day, causing the overall focus from media outlets to shift away.
The good news: No biggie, because this particular sub-genre has always appealed to a relatively small, fiercely devoted fanbase that’s comfortable surviving on the outskirts. Most metal fans didn’t really know what to do with Epicus and Born Too Late during a year stacked with Master Of Puppets, Orgasmatron and Pleasure To Kill, either.
By chance, 2018 is developing into a pretty damn great year for doom—one that’s certainly worthy of increased front-page attention. Some band called Sleep finally woke from a fifteen year nap, Messa wrote a brand new script with Feast For Water, Solstice slayed with White Horse Hill, Hooded Menace channeled their inner Paradise Lost, a new joint from Yob is on the immediate horizon, and for those who prefer doom that hails wyverns, lofty keeps and the NWOBHM with equal concern, this week will see the release of the long-awaited sophomore release, The Colony Slain, from London’s Age Of Taurus.
The rest of the fare, while still remindful of the style the band laid down five years ago, is much more adventurous, perhaps surprisingly so at times, and a determined sense melody that’s reinforced with loads of lead harmonization gets as much attention throughout the record as does heft. The closest current kinship would probably be Pennsylvania’s Argus, but less introspective and with an enthusiastic obsession for TSR/Dragonlance. The sheer weight of a tune like “In Dreams We Die” has a certain stripped-down Triumph And Power-era of Grand Magus feel from the gate, particularly in that colossal bass, but the bright melody that drops by the 30-second mark is Argus/Beyond The Martyrs shaking hands with Age Of Taurus through-and-through.
This is hardly a carbon copy of any one of its conceivable influences, however. Bits of Iron Maiden, Argus, Grand Magus, Solstice and Atlantean Kodex color the corners, but the full journey is imagined through the explicit lens of the band’s chief architect, guitarist/vocalist Toby Wright. Similar to the debut, The Colony Slain is very plot-driven, and pursuant to the band’s current predilection for tweaking style, pace and mood, Wright also endeavors to spread his wings as a vocalist in 2018. It is here where some will find fault, as Toby is clearly a guitarist first and a vocalist second—there are moments throughout these songs where his “gentle” singing sounds as if it could have emanated from a fellow who’s just lifted a heavily dented battle helm from his head. It’s strangely endearing, however, particularly after repeated listens. Bumpy singing can sometimes work in those cases where conviction eclipses technique, especially when it’s offset by other vocal elements that are more…steady. In Wright’s case, he wisely relies on a variety of styles to fit the shifting narrative across the songs, and the gruffer delivery he uses on cuts like “The Trial of Blackwynn Chaise” and “The Lost Garrison” is notably satisfying.
In the end, what ultimately sells the record is the manner in which the band maintains the classic, galloping doom footprint laid down by its predecessor, but with a full commitment toward pushing the boundaries even more—something Wright openly credits bassist Leo Smee for helping to accomplish. Sure, a nod to a more melodic form of traditional metal is far from new in doom, or even to this band, but it’s all pieced together in The Colony Slain particularly well, so things never get a chance to drag. The requisite Respect For The Riff is obviously still present—the nasty beast that drops after Wright howls “DRAW DOWN THE BRIDGE” in “The Lost Garrison,” for example, is an absolute treasure—but incorporating spoken word elements and funky little synths and all manner of other finery makes for a pretty damned adventurous excursion that’s custom-built for those who’ve been pining for something new from the more epic side of the realm.
During a time when doom appears to be slipping back to a comfortable position in metal’s periphery, The Colony Slain will still find a way to reach its intended audience, because when it comes to pure, honest, powerful heavy metal, the message will be heard if your heart is true, regardless of the size of the stage or the breadth of the headlines.