Yes, I know what you are thinking, and no, this is NOT a Ghost spin-off act. Professor Emeritus is no one’s Papa I, II or III, and rather than getting their hands dirty with sweaty ghoul masks and slightly metallized Blue Oyster Cult ditties, these Chicago road scholars chose to major in epic trve metal at the olden learning institution, while also carrying a minor in doom. This curriculum requires mastery of the foundational tenets of Cirith Ungol and Brocas Helm, and a solid grounding in primo Iron Maiden and Manowar worship, before attempting advanced seminars on aged Trouble and fresh Pallbearer1. Such arduous coursework results in a veritable renaissance man / woman ov metal, with enough chest-thumping attitude on the C(o)V to impress almost anyone. But is this particular member of the metal intelligentsia ready for elbow patches on their denim jacket and a tenure track teaching position? Commence the aural exam!
The initial thesis the band presents for peer review is pure metal glory. “Burning Grave” is like a bastard hybrid of Argus, Visigoth and early Helstar and it’s a ton of old timey fun. Vocalist MP Papai is the very model of modern metal oversinging, but you have to love his exuberance (or not, if you’re gonna be “that guy”). The riffs cascade from Maiden-friendly cavalry gallops to muscular doom and the guitar-work keeps things interesting indeed. “He Will Be Undone” is the first proper doom cut and a good one at that, and between the dramatic vocals and lyrics about the urgent need to crush the Barbarian King, you know the good times keep on rolling.
The title track starts out sounding like a Creed ballad, but quickly finds its footing in time to kick your fanny around campus with a doomy (but mighty) take on “Hallowed Be Thy Name” themed pre-gallows introspection. “Rats in the Walls” borrows a lot from Crypt Sermon and Papai injects some blue-collar Dio into his delivery for the win. “Rosamund” is one of the highlights, sounding like Manowar and Thor performing on unknown Omen song. The chorus rocks hard and rides at reduced price and the repeated intonations of “ThunDAR in my heart” would make even the stoic Ookla the Mok shed a tear of metal joy.
The biggest surprise is the epic 10-plus minute closer, “Decius.” This is where the band’s nascent doom influence becomes ascendant, borrowing heavily from both Psalm 9 era Trouble and Pallbearer for a rousing, attention-holding voyage. The guitar-work is impressive throughout, and the mid-song solo is especially moving despite being restrained and minimalist.
With 7 songs across 43 minutes, the album is the ideal length and lets the band showcase their different sides effectively. The production is quite good, with a vintage sound akin to the early Cirith Ungol albums, but with more clarity and power in the guitars, which deliver nostalgia bombs at every turn.
MP Papai’s vocals are unrefined and wild, sometimes too much so. On some tracks he reminds of Nils Patrik-Johansson (Astral Doors, ex-Civil War), while on others he sounds like a less polished James Rivera (Helstar). I’m sure his style will be off-putting to some, and at times he definitely tries to do too much and ends up sounding silly instead of serious. When he stays within himself though, as he does on much of “Decius,” he does a solid job. The real heroes here are guitarists Lee Smith and Tyler Herring who capture and distill both the early days of proto-metal and the power of doom in their riffs. Their solos are quite captivating without being wanky and the riffs drench the material with ancient moods.
Take Me to the Gallows gets above average marks and it’s an enjoyable spin through metal history with just enough of a modern sheen to feel semi-relevant. There are some goofy, amateurish moments, but this has all the hallmarks of a band to watch. Someday Professor Emeritus may be required listening for students of metal, but for now it’s back to the books for them! As the wise Dr. DRI once said, school is a job but you don’t get paid.
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: No Remorse Records
Websites: professoremerit.us/take-me-to-the-gallows | facebook.com/ProfessorEmeritusLives
Releases Worldwide: November 13th, 2017