There was a huge weight on Alunah‘s shoulders at the advent of their career. Hailing from Birmingham, the illustrious home to heavy metal, it would have been all to easy to fly under the radar. Fortunately, their début captivated doomsters with its crushing riffs and entrancing female vocals, and the follow-up White Hoarhound miraculously eluded the sophomore slump by boldly expanding their sound to epic levels and progressing their song-writing prowess. Now, Awakening The Forest has arrived and blows them out of the water. As an ode to British folklore, it’s replete with massive riffs, earthy vocals and tasteful guitar solos. From a hometown steeped in musical tradition, Alunah draws on the 70s blues-rock of early Black Sabbath, the destructive riffs of Cathedral, and even veers state-side to borrow from The Obsessed – and they are worthy to bear such comparisons.
What will strike you first and foremost is the quite awesome guitar sound and riffing. Opener “Bricket Wood Coven” immediately hammers the listener with David Day’s assured, crushing lead. Meaty doesn’t begin to describe the thick tone used here, and the melody has a groovy-ness all its own. When listening to this out and about, I actually had to concentrate on not obnoxiously swaggering. Highlights include those on the opening two tracks and the more ballad-y, “The Summerland.” Alunah uses a highly down-tuned tone, reminiscent of Sabbath, and slow, dirgey riffs – they are simple and unhurried, yet engage due to the impressive writing and massive sound. The best comparison to draw is a groovier Cathedral, due to the centrality of the guitars above the vocals.
Speaking of the vocals, Sophie Day’s powerful and unique voice is another big plus. She’s been garnering critical acclaim since the genesis of Alunah, and Awakening The Forest is no exception. Her voice is perfect for the music, seemingly drawn straight from the unholy ground of which she sings in “Bricket Wood Coven”; soulful but depressive. Her lyrics, derived from wiccan folklore, are certainly more interesting as a result of their specificity, relating to names and places many Brits are aware of: Herne and Bricket Wood Coven, for example. A nice touch, and indicative of the great care taken with this record. A small criticism along these lines is that the vocals can get submerged where their prominence would elevate a track – but when it’s the class-leading riffs superseding them, it seems relatively insignificant. Nevertheless, the points at which the vocals and riffs are inter-woven, but are each given space, are particularly striking, such as on the title track. The dual melodies are separate yet fuse beautifully, further demonstrating the superior song-writing knack these guys possess.
Alunah also sidesteps repetitiveness, writing songs which confidently progress without meandering. Despite an average track length of over 7:30, I never felt bored and have grown to enjoy the record more with subsequent listens. This is best represented by the last track “The Summerland,” an ode to the wiccan afterlife. Opening with a beautiful but melancholic atmosphere, it builds and layers with varying textures, breaks into a tasteful guitar solo, then concludes with a dominant riff. This sense of progression, pacing and dynamics ensures navel-gazing never raises its dreary head to indifferently shrug at you. The drums are noteworthy in this, keeping things moving at a pace which feels brisk, even when it isn’t. As is the case with the guitar melodies, the drum lines are rarely complex, but always engage the listener and complement the music.
The production hems the record into a miserly DR 6, which does slightly limit the excellent musicianship, but it’s all still audible and satisfactorily crunchy. Tony Reed’s mastering job is good, aiding the massive guitar tone, but the aforementioned submersion of the vocals is slightly to the detriment of the record. But given the restrictive dynamic range, it sounds good on the whole.
Another record like this one, and Alunah will assuredly be ensconced in the pantheon of doom greats. They’ve moved from strength to strength and Awakening The Forest boasts their honed dynamics and majestic song-writing. I’m honestly struggling to choose between this and Pallbearer for my favorite doom record of the year thus far, which is high praise if you’ve heard the brilliant Foundations of Burden. I sincerely hope Alunah can continue to defy the patented Angry Metal Guy Law Of Diminishing Recordings™ .