The Order of Israfel‘s 2014 debut Wisdom became a bit of a sleeper for yours truly. I gave it a positive review and saw the potential, but didn’t expect to return to it quite as much as I have. The combination of classic doom with tough biker rock proved hard to ignore and though it missed my year end lists, it’s become a regular part of my “free range” listening time. Formed by doom stalwarts Patrik Andersson Winberg (DoomDogs) and Tom Sutton (Church of Misery), The Order keeps things traditional and delivers many a Sabbath, Trouble and Pentagram influenced riff, but they’re not completely a one trick pony. By including rougher segments akin to Fireball Ministry or Orange Goblin, they shook up the sound on Wisdom and helped keep things fresh. Red Robes sticks to the formula but pushes their sound into new areas by incorporating gorgeously melodic touches. While they’re far from “progressive” in the usual sense, the band does just enough to step outside the doom genre without ever losing sight of their roots. It’s an interesting balancing act, but the result is usually engaging and interesting.
Opener “Staff in the Sand” plays like a pu pu platter of legendary doom titans, reminding of Sabbath and Trouble but cutting closest to the street doom of Wino-era Saint Vitus. The big riffs drag by as Tom Sutton does his best Lee Dorian (Cathedral) impression and everything clicks into place for a a rousing and energetic stomper with great riffs and impressive 70s flavored solos. The title track blends vintage Sabbath and Pentagram ideas with trippy psychedelic rock and a vaguely epic flavor that recalls Sabbath‘s “National Acrobat” while showing the band aren’t afraid to try new and unusual things.
It isn’t until “Thrall to the Sorceress” that we get to sample their biker rock side and boy is this a weird but rocking mess of a song. Beginning as groove-based uptempo doom with interestingly monotone vocals, it eventually erupts into rocked out grooves and jams. It’s this kind of material that sets The Order apart from many of their peers and keeps the listener on their toes. The album hits it’s glory road with the brilliant “Swords in the Sky,” which feels like the very best of 80s doom. It has a sweetly melancholy feel and the riffs are humdingers. There are traces of The Obsessed and the guitar-work calls to mind the brilliance of Victor Griffin (Pentagram). This one is a real winner and a exactly what I want from doom. The high-water mark keeps going with the quirky but earwormy “Von Sturmer,” which might not hook you on the first spin, but if you give it a chance, it will be stuck in your head for weeks.
It isn’t until the album’s final third that some glitches enter the mix. “”Fallen Children” is a understated acoustic ballad that while good, doesn’t grab the listener as the surrounding material does, and Sutton isn’t the ideal candidate to sing on stripped down ballads. Album closer “The Thirst” is also good, but at a weighty 15-plus minutes, it’s just too long for its own good, despite a lot of tasty nods to Saint Vitus and their Die Healing era. Sutton even adopts the same vocal style that Scott Reagers used on that mammoth album and it works well.
At 57 minutes this is a very long album for a doom act and it definitely could have done with some editing. Many of the best songs run close to 7 minutes and a nip and tuck here and there wouldn’t have killed them. Sound-wise, they deliver a very balanced and deep mix with a heavy emphasis on the big booming guitars. The lack of loudness is refreshing and the material definitely benefits from a well-rounded production.
The guitar tandem of Sutton and Staffan Bjorck is a wonder to behold and they’re on a fast track to becoming the best in the doom biz. Their strong riff-craft makes the material snap, crackle and pop with old timey authority that even Tony Iommi would acknowledge and when they get heavy and veer into aggressive biker rock, it’s like a right hook to the jaw. To sweeten the pot they weave in some beautiful harmonies and gentle acoustic moments and their sense of placement and timing is superb. While the guitars are beyond reproach, Tom Sutton’s vocals are very much a love or hate proposition and several AMG staffers dislike them. He spends most of the album sounding the bastard offspring of Lee Dorian and Phil Swanson (Hour of 13, Briton Rites) and no one will ever accuse him of being a polished singer. For whatever reason, I enjoy his rough, rowdy delivery and think he adds a unique touch to the music, but you know, caveat emptor and all that crap.
Red Robes isn’t likely to be the best doom album you hear this year (because Messa), but it’s better than their debut and could be another big sleeper. There’s just something about their style that hooks you in deep and I wish I could explain it, but sometimes the less said the better. Check this out.