There’s a pretty specific, often used metaphor involving leviathan-like moving objects which appears to be a pretty useful tool when trying to express heaviness and other punishing qualities in music. Imagine, for a second, one such object, say a charcoal black freight train splattered with shiny, rainbow-colored spots that has descended to our plane straight from some kooky stoner heaven, traveling at a high speed, unstoppable, and crushing everything in its path. There are many metal bands that fit that symbolism. But if you take that idea and add a twist to make the train tracks warp and follow a dreamlike, winding path while weaving impossible, psychedelic patterns… well, then you’ll have described something that obviously deviates a bit from the norm. Those deviations are what the Belgian stoner/doom power duo SardoniS are all about on their third full-length release named simply III.
It can be quite difficult to craft a captivating, fully instrumental stoner doom album, but SardoniS, for the most part, succeed at this. By cramming everything and anything from stoner, doom, and adjacent genres into their music and shifting gears and styles frequently but purposefully, SardoniS manage to sound refreshingly vigorous for the better part of 38 minutes. There’s a sense of constant motion in the music, as suggested by the track names and supported by the solid quality of the material spread over five songs, which prevents III from sounding stale. Yet, because of SardoniS’s approach, III reads as an encyclopedia of the genre with specks from other styles such as the funeral doom intro of “Roaming the Valley” or the black metal tremolos during “Forward to the Abyss” mixed in for good measure. There’s also distilled and compressed variants of bands like Black Pyramid or Ramesses, spiffed up with a touch of progressive post-rock à la Maserati. The segments, if considered individually, might not be spectacular accomplishments, but the way they’re strung together makes the whole indeed larger than the sum of its parts.
After a slower start underlined by a subdued Middle-Eastern melodies, the metaphorical train ramps up when the opening “The Coming of Khan” is temporarily propelled forward by rolling drums and an almost unexpected groove, only to morph again into something best described as surf doom. On the other side of the spectrum, the last and longest “Forward to the Abyss” is consistently good but lacks any exalting moments. It’s a tune that starts by meandering with ethereal and contemplative, Earth-like drones before descending into a maelstrom, settling into a mid-tempo doom belter, until it finally grinds to a halt while lingering again on funeral doominess.
It’s the powerful immediacy of the closing, hardcore-influenced minutes of “Battering Ram” that marks one of the record’s defining moments, arriving as punctuation to the meaty riffs, straight out rocking, and the slower, doomier middle part that precedes it. It’s this segue that make you realize these guys – Roel Paulussen on guitar and Jelle Stevens on drums – get it. There’s something to be said about the inherent rawness of such a bare and minimal metal band. Drums, guitar, and a wall of sound. It’s all you really need when they’re supported by a production that’s just a bit dirty and hollow on the drums, but generally perfectly fine for this type of duo. Make it too clean and you break the sense of grime and oppressive heat, make it too fuzzy and you kill the riffs and rhythms. In that sense, the balance is just right on III.
While devoid of any deal-breakers, a question remains whether III can maintain long-lasting appeal and if the same formula would have worked on a longer record. Disregarding those qualms, this is what I would describe as a “fun romp” that should be enjoyable to anyone looking for a bit of spice in their regular serving of doom.