[Artwork: “Death Crowning Innocence” — George Frederic Watts, 1886]
Books are wonderful. Actual books that have weight and paper pages with ink that reveal truths and theories to be studied and assimilated, or that build worlds from the past, present or future for entertainment. Books will always endure, no matter how far humankind as a whole continues to drift away from their physical form, because our species has an innate connection to tangible prizes through touch, sight and smell, and words in a concrete design will always bring good fortune.
Accepting a wash from both sides of the argument, most would have to agree on one impenetrable truth regarding our shitty evolution: the human race in 2019 has never been so distracted. You are absolutely surrounded by a populace that can’t even make a 15 minute drive to the grocery store without checking social media at a red light.
This conceivably universal and consuming distraction has slaughtered the written word to the point where if you can’t get your intention across in 200 words or less, you face the risk of losing your reader to “Please Don’t Eat It” videos or yet another bout of swipe left swipe left swipe left…eh, I guess I’ll swipe right. Even those who are book advocates but equally pro-digital run the risk of eventually allowing the latter to overshadow the prior. We’ve become so accustomed to command-tabbing from one topic to the next every other minute that the idea of devoting one hour to a single topic from something that doesn’t throw artificial light into our receptors seems like some sort of medieval torture. How does the humble book even stand a chance against such a formidable foe.
Doom—and more specifically, the most classic blend of doom yanked from yesteryesteryear that The Black Powder displays so beautifully—is a bit like that 700 page tome enduring amidst a superabundance of flashy, concise headlines tempting you away from unplugging. Doom is best when listened to without distractions. Doom is heavy, dense and perhaps difficult to infiltrate in the early stages, but oh-so immersive once you do. Doom should be required listening, but when you salute its many merits to the metal youth they often roll their eyes and try to convince you that what you’re pushing ain’t even close to as good as the nü-doom they assimilated last week in an alleyway deep in the heart of Fortnite.
Luckily, much like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Worm Ouroboros, Hyperion, House of Leaves et al, vital doom records end up finding their way into the hands of the people that need them most, and then the resonation game that makes the subgenre so critical really begins to work its magic. You have to commit, though, because maximum benefits will not be reaped in a couple sittings, and the full trip of a record such as The Black Powder will likely test you like a version of Endgame with Geezer Butler as the lead hero. Hell, these particular masochists come straight off the jump with a 17-minute song that absolutely will weed out the first-years not yet fully committed to a doctorate in doom. “Sulfur, Charcoal and Saltpeter” wraps most everything that The Black Powder has to offer into a single song, but it’s still just an opening skirmish amidst an epic battle for the right to pound your head to dust with riffs.
And about those riffs… Different styles of doom have different intentions and destinations. Lord Vicar is mostly here to bury you under The Almighty Riff. For that reason, listening to The Black Powder through laptop speakers or cheap earbuds would be akin to watching The Sword of Doom on your phone: what the fuck is wrong with you. Through good headphones or big, weighty speakers, however—you’re sure to feel the devastating effect of a song like “Levitation.”
That particular colossus clomps out of the gate with the sort of doom riff that could fell an army of woolly mammoths, and it somehow unearths an even heavier riff for its chorus. It’s one song amidst many here cut from a similar cloth as classics such as Saint Vitus and Trouble and heavy hitters like The Gates Of Slumber that succeeded them.
In short, sovereign heaviness is a clear mainstay throughout The Black Powder, with songs like “Levitation,” “Descent,” “World Encircled” (serious Sabbath swagger) and “The Temple in the Bedrock” (very Vitus-y) leading the mountainous charge. Such intense gravity is, of course, welcome, and it comes as no surprise to hear Lord Vicar dealing out because the band was started by Kimi Kärki, one of the fellows responsible for mowing through heads via Reverend Bizarre. Kärki is also skilled with an acoustic guitar, which crops up here and there throughout this record, and he throws in just a touch of melodic lightning via prudent use of fried leads that never fully eclipse the dominant weight that surrounds them.
The remaining players come up huge as well. Rich Jones’ bass work spends the lion’s share of its time expanding the weight of Kärki’s riffs, but there are moments where he gets a little more room for a fret run, which adds to the Sabbathy face of the record. And drummer Gareth “Milly” Millsted (ex-End Of Level Boss, ex-Centurions Ghost) not only hits the skins like a protohuman weighed down by the threat of fire, he’s responsible for writing five of the nine cuts here, so he’s deserving of an extra tip of the cap.
Finally, vocalist Christian “Christus” Linderson may not be a household name to those who aren’t abiding students of doom—for newcomers he probably parallels a more grim and grounded Ozzy—but he brings the same level of raw and dark sincerity to Lord Vicar as he once did for Count Raven’s essential debut Storm Warning and on Saint Vitus’ woefully under-appreciated C.O.D. Similar to his Lord Vicar counterparts, he’s less flash and more workman in his delivery—he sounds amazing on the entirely acoustic “Nightmare,” he adds just the right amount of grit to the stoner rock stomp of “Black Lines,” and he’s altogether funereal on the album’s epic and emptying closer, “A Second Chance.”
Time will tell if a record like The Black Powder will end up in the hallowed halls of doom’s elite. And yes, time is precisely the thing so many people in 2019 no longer appear to have actual time to commit to, amusingly. Every human over the age of eight is dreadfully busy, and adding to the melee are any number of devices that blip, whir and blink for every last remaining bit of attention left in your day. Never fully lose touch with losing touch, though. Unfuckingplug, grab a book, and close yourself inside a room where the only thing that gets powered by a socket is a reading lamp. Likewise, take actual time to enjoy the music you’ve acquired sans distractions. Really, that’s one of the true beauties of doom—it’s custom built for stepping back and re-grounding yourself because it’s always been our genre’s most willing connector to self-therapy. Something about the resonance of those deep, quaking riffs that helps heal an overheated brain.
If you’ve been a card-carrying member of our organization for years, you will find plenty to love with this record; it’s the best thing Lord Vicar has produced to date. And if you were once enamored with doom but perhaps fell away over time as the prevailing spotlight shifted elsewhere, get your big ass back in the ring and get reacquainted by virtue of one of the best records doom will produce this year.
The Black Powder: A gripping page-turner you won’t want to put down.