As someone who writes music reviews, I take pride in being able to craft together a 450-550 word essay on why you should pick up an album, or why you should avoid it entirely. Keeping the reader on their tippy-toes while painting a vivid picture for your eyes and ears to digest is a great joy of mine. However, as the world aged by a year this week, I too have added another year to my existence. In doing so, I’ve realized that there comes a time where you have to dispense with the hyperbolic bullshit and just call it as it is. And it’s with this mindset that I will discuss The Deathmass Cloak, the debut album by Cali-doom/death youngsters, Ghoulgotha.
But first, I will discuss what’s good about the album. Guitarist/vocalist W. Sarantopoulos has a very deep rasp that is quite Will Rahmer-esque, for those of you who miss Mortician. Each song has at least one moment that will invoke serious headbanging (like the part from 3:12-3:44 in “Gazing into Melted Night,” or 0:43-1:40 of “Arteries Unblest”). Also, drummer C. Koryn is already displaying some incredible technical ablities early in his young career.
So what’s wrong? Practically everything else. Picture, if you will, a supergroup made up of Alf Svensson (ex-At The Gates) and Calvin Robertshaw (My Dying Bride) on guitars. You would think that would be a pretty damn cool amalgamation of The Red in the Sky is Ours/Turn Loose the Swans-style epicness, correct? Well, what if I were to tell you that they would tune their guitars roughly a quarter step off from each other, and you found out that Svensson’s leads were just him fumbling scales with gloves on? Oh, and they didn’t bother to tell the rest of the band at times what they were playing? Folks, meet The Deathmass Cloak!
Seriously, every song has a guitar “melody” that sounds like me practicing for the first year of playing, and it’s dreadful, not tuned properly, and shoved way high in the mix for no reason at all. Seriously, “Gazing into Melted Night” starts off with this, and the first time I played it, all three of my cats hissed at me. “Arteries Unblest” has an acoustic guitar/lead guitar dual-melody section where they are so off tune from one another it’s flat-out embarrassing. “Austere Urns” has that annoying guitar melody that just comes out of nowhere and is sloppily performed. In fact, for all the headbanging moments on the record, they are ruined by poor songwriting decisions and those god-awful melodies peppering the album.
Soundwise, the production by Damian Herring (he of Horrendous fame) is thick, chewy, and perfect for doom/death, and yes, it’s dynamic. But as someone who’s released one of the most acclaimed albums of last year, it’s baffling why, as a producer, he didn’t step in to say, “Hey, guys? You can play that memorable part a bit longer and not switch off ALL THE FUCKING TIME.” Or, better yet, “Here, you guys wanna borrow my guitar tuner?” Because, quite frankly, in order to be technical and creative, you have to be good at your instrument. But the biggest cause for my utter hate of this record has to be the 11-minute (OMFG) closer, “Levitate Within The Curse,” which is about six minutes of horrible twin guitar melodies and mediocre blasting, followed by a minute of ambient bullshit, and returning with demo-quality sound with seemingly only half the band playing! Did Dark Descent cut the band off financially or something? Dead fucking serious, what the shit, guys?!
I’m sure people will belly-ache about how “vnkvlt” or “gay” this review is, or how I should follow the unwritten rule of worshipping bands who can’t play their instruments, as everyone and their mother will try to wax poetic, aiming to out-Pitchfork one another in vain attempts at wordsmithing and brown-nosery, and to all this I cry “bullshit.” This album physically hurt, and not in a good “metal” way. If wincing in abject agony due to poor tuning or awful songwriting decisions tickles your fancy, by all means, have at it. I’ll be listening to something way more enjoyable.