A few preliminaries: before note one of Worm’s Gloomlord plays, it is recommended that the canny listener pause a moment and wonder at its tremendous title and cover art. Are you a gloomlord? Am I? I think we are all the gloomlord, and I am pleased to no end that finally there is an album which so generously encapsulates that experience. The album cover, meanwhile, is so overflowing with brilliant unease that it takes the eye a while to assimilate what’s actually going on. Is the hooded figure rising from the swamp’s gloom, a foul accretion of humidity and malice to stalk the land? Or is it slowly sinking into the mire, its face and form dissolving into oneness with some hellish primordial murk? That lurid, luminous green color sets a high standard for the music, challenging it to match its threatening ooze.
The album opens with “Putrefying Swamp Mists at Dusk,” which leads off with an eerily clean plucked guitar motif and funereal drums. Around the midway point, it switches to a rudimentary hellstomp with a snaking riff before falling back into the gloom in a way that beautifully outlines the album’s moves as a whole while also functioning as a pitch-perfect Disembowelment tribute. The sound of Gloomlord is wonderfully calibrated to let clarity shine through the murk while never quite cleaning up the overall picture. The drums punch through the mire while the thick churn of the guitar and molasses crawl of the bass move frequently in lockstep. The drums work surprisingly eloquently against the riffing, supporting the primary forward momentum of the songs while also offering tasteful and engrossing complement and contrast with clear and inventive fills that never distract with unnecessary flourish. (Check out 2:12 of “Melting in the Necrosphere” for some surprisingly fleet cymbal work.)
For as much as Gloomlord thrives on its gloriously fetid atmosphere, just beneath the bubbling murk of the sound are some impressively smart songwriting moves and beautiful highlights. Chief among those highlights is a tremendous guitar solo that emerges at about 5:52 into “Apparitions of Gloom.” Not only is the solo itself meticulously composed and outrageously uplifting for such an otherwise dour-sounding album, but it twins back with some doubled lead guitar to make one of the most impressive uses of shredding in tar-slow metal outside of late-period Esoteric or Mournful Congregation’s Justin Hartwig’s guest solo on Profetus’s “Dead Are Our Leaves of Autumn.” Although Gloomlord is almost exclusively a doom / death triumph, there are a few scant nods to black metal. The vocals, in particular, occasionally carry a bit of blackened, rasping menace, but they just as often bleed into a throaty, static wallow more typical of the painfully weighted-down tempi. Elsewhere, the patient but almost hollow metallic chime of the guitar on the opening motifs of several songs is a really nice effect that sounds a bit like early Xasthur at its most psychedelically harrowing.
Gloomlord is one of those magnificent albums that is likely to hook the right kind of listener immediately on the sheer strength of its holistic sound and vision, but it will continue to reveal careful detail the more and closer one listens. Around the three-minute mark of “Melting in the Necrosphere,” for example, the song barrels into a drunkenly aggressive sort of 3/4 time before flitting back almost immediately into a slow death metal stomp punctuated by pinch harmonics. And then, wonder of wonders, around 5:33 we get a fleeting blast of keys that sound like they hopped straight out of Altars of Madness. That is a Very Good Thing, friends.
If there’s one minor complaint about Gloomlord, it’s that the album is so absurdly stuffed with fantastic riffs that occasionally the album’s production doesn’t quite do them justice by highlighting them as forwardly as it could. But really, this is a vanishingly small concern, because it mostly prompts the listener to crane even closer to the sound, straining to read the swamp hieroglyphics etched in every swerve and scrape. The closing song “Abysmal Dimensions” gathers up all those threads, as it skitters across a number of transitional breakdown riffs from about the 2:30-minute mark onward, amps up the funereal chill with some church organ keys around 6:30 in, and luxuriates in an excellently ominous quiet section just before a killer blastbeaten whirlwind starts up at 8:30. It sounds like a recipe for stylistic whiplash, but Worm holds it all together with a ragged intensity and careening momentum.
Come, you worms, and find succor in this lordly gloom.