With so many bands coming out of Finland, I’m starting to wonder if there’s a single sub-genre of metal unrepresented. Today’s platter is the fourth full-length from one-Finn drone project Opium Warlords. Masterminded by Albert Witchfinder (Reverend Bizarre, Azrael Rising, Spiritus Mortis), the album promises a vision of humanity scraping primitive survival from the husk of nuclear apocalypse, set to a soundtrack of bluesy minimalism. Or at least, that’s the ambitious byline the label tries to sell. Does it work in practice?
Drone music, metal or not, is a strange genre (especially when you don’t usually listen to it!), and it’s hard to judge by the standards one would judge most other music, even other doom. The 59-minute album, split approximately into thirds, certainly fits the avant-garde drone doom label – the songs are long and somewhat meandering, the riffs are titanic, and the music gives no fucks at all for “traditional” songwriting. Further, the lyrical direction is especially odd, with the lyrics drawn verbatim (well, after translation into English for two of them) from three sources. The first, a book by Finnish director and counter-culturist Juoko Turkka, provides its alienating, haunted visualizations of the horrors of war to “Year of 584 Days.” The second, a letter by American occultist, poet, and artist Majorie Cameron, powers “Samael Lilith,” a mystical foray into the perpetuation of life. Finally, the words of a ritual of the Ndembu people of what is now Cameroon fill the inter-instrumental spaces of “”Closure””1.
Unfortunately for Mr. Witchfinder, this big ol’ pile of weirdness actively rejects listener engagement. The drone-y riffage is fine in isolation, and is truthfully quite engaging (albeit in that odd drone way), but individual sections go on for far, far too long, leading to the overall runtime being twice what is tolerable. Further exacerbating this are Witchfinder’s vocals; the strident, clean monotone adopted for much of the runtime must have seemed like a good idea in the studio, but it utterly fails to deliver any of the emotional imprint that’s so desperately needed for music like this (or in general). Seeking an alienating delivery by way of harsh vocals would have been a much better choice and would have fit the tone and theme much better. Thankfully, the lyrics brought in from outside generally work, offering vivid imagery and mood, even with the vocal delivery trying so hard to smother it in the crib, but it’s of little to no avail.
Regarding production, the album opts for a low-fi, crackly aesthetic that’s rather lovely, and the structural simplicity of the music in combination with the decently airy mastering offers an end result that feels even roomier and more spacious than it actually is. As a result, despite the above grievances against the composition, the record was at least enjoyable purely from an auditory standpoint. The mix is typical for doom-adjacent music, with superbly teeth-rattling bass and guitar lines.
In spite of all said here, I must admit that this could be a personal failure to grok the genre, as being four albums into a career means someone must see something in it. If you particularly like drone, please consider taking the time to give this a once-over, if only to ogle the strangeness of this beast.