Ghost may have unintentionally triggered a little retro within retro trend with their well received Opus Eponymous debut. The similar acts are already starting to pop up like evil mushrooms and Norway’s Devil is one of the first. Their debut Time to Repent harkens back to all things 70’s and its melodic doom rock all day long. They wield a sound that falls somewhere between Black Sabbath‘s Vol. 4 and the NWOBHM vibe of Witchfinder General with a few traces of old Pentagram mixed in. I’m sure that sounds like a heady brew to many loyal readers (not AMG though, he hates blues-based doom like I hate light beer). Time to Repent offers up eight tales of sorcery, evil women, open graves and all such good family fun. It’s stripped down, simplistic, melodic and not the kind of doom that crushes you or brings on bouts of crippling despair. Instead, its very rock-based and groovy. While some of the material is worthwhile and shows real potential, more of it is pure amateur hour, cringe-worthy garage rock and unlikely to make anyone forget about Ghost anytime soon.
As soon as lead track “Break the Curse” erupts, you’ll notice the strange, cavernous sound the album is steeped in. It’s as if they recorded in an echo chamber and its very diffuse and muddy sounding. I’m sure it was intended to sound old school and impart an air of authenticity to their 70’s style but its a bit annoying. The song itself is one of the better ones, features a great riff that snakes along and gets in your head and sounds like something off Witchfinder General‘s Death Penalty album. The vocals by Joakim Trangsrud are like a poor man’s Ozzy and while his style fits the music, his delivery isn’t very impactful even on decent songs like this. Followup “Blood is Boiling” is the album standout with a riff that could have been on Judas Priest’s debut. They take that riff and beat you with it throughout and some lively, energetic doom rock results. Likewise, the title track and “Open Casket” succeed by keeping things really simple, catchy and rocking like its 1974.
That however, is as good as it gets on Time to Repent. The remainder of the album is split between boring and bad. Songs like “Crazy Woman” and “At the Blacksmith’s” just don’t work and sound both lame and cheesy at the same time. “Blacksmith’s” is especially bad due to some really awkward vocals and a painfully crappy chorus (but it does have cowbell). Others like “Death of a Sorcerer” just meander about without direction and defy the listener to play attention. Album closer “Howling (at the World) has an effective riff pattern but the vocals are so ill-placed that they undercut things badly. Adding insult to injury, the nah-nah-nah vocals as the song winds down are just plain embarrassing.
Whatever potential Devil possesses is due to the guitar-work by Stian Fossum and Kai Wanderas. They craft some tight, respectable riffs and the guitar tone itself sounds great. Even on the weakest tracks, the riffing battles mightily to salvage things for the good. If they could build better songs around the riffs these gentlemen are churning out, Devil would be onto something potent. As it stands, the songs themselves frequently fail them.
Although this got a pretty dismal rating, Devil may be a band to watch. There are some solid doom tracks here and with some experience, they may be able to elevate their game next time around. In the meantime, Ghost and Castle will be my retro doom rock of choice. I NEED more cowbell!