Sulphur (or sulfur in the States) is ungodly, foul smelling shit. This isn’t exactly news to anyone but you don’t know the half of it until you have actually jousted with the likes of benzyl or ethanethiol. There aren’t many chemicals I’ve worked with that linger on your mustache and penetrate your clothes like sulfur. It’s pungent, it’s offensive, and it’s fucking nauseating. While I’ve had my fair share of encounters with sulfur, I have never encountered its black-metal equivalent—which is odd considering I’ve been a fan of Øyvind Madsen’s other project, Vulture Industries, for years. With a name like Sulphur, I had expected some unsettling, engulfing black metal to match the stomach-turning feelings I get when “sulfur” is mentioned.
Sadly, 2007’s Cursed Madness and 2009’s Thorns in Existence did very little for me. Though they borrow from such favorites as Arcturus, Dimmu Borgir, and Behemoth, the albums don’t flow well to my ears. Even though they only have two full-lengths to their name, this five-piece troupe has been active members of the Norwegian black/death metal scene for nearly two decades. And, after six long years, their third outing—Omens of Doom—is finally here. So did they pick up where Thorns in Existence left off or will this one linger in my beard like a crafty mercaptan?
Honestly, this is the first album from Sulphur that has left a lasting impression on me. For this record, the band dropped most of their early ’00s Dimmu Borgir, Arcturus, and death-oriented influences to pursue subtle melodies and the progressive characteristics of Enslaved. Replacing heavier, thrashier moments with slow-to-mid-paced emotion, the band drops as much massive groove, ’70s rock-influenced simplicity, and melody-drenched solo work into these seven songs as humanly possible. While some songs are too long and others lack inspiration, Omens of Doom still stands as the most intriguing release from the band.
“The Force of Our Fall” (as well as “Rise of the Mushroom Clouds”) builds atmospheres with gentle keys before submitting to the song’s rasp-fronted aggression. However, the drive of the song is kept at bay and the distortion is countered throughout by the boisterous clean choirs and building Borknagar-esque elements. “Gathering Storms” follows with similar determination, dragging the listener deep into its melodic midsection, gorgeous solos, and low, war-horn vocals. It took a couple spins to absorb “Gathering Storms,” but once it sank in, this became my favorite song of the album. Similarly, the title track’s lush atmospheres and groovy riffage place it on the same shelf as “Gathering Storms.”
“The Devils Pyre” and “Rise of the Mushroom Clouds” take the structures of “Gathering Storms” to epic proportions with eight-minute runtimes, Carach Angren-like vocal arrangements, and simplistic riffage reminiscent of the progressive eras of Enslaved and Rotting Christ. These songs are completely dependent on blackened feelz, melodic interludes, powerful Watain-inspired guitar solos, and Viking-esque choruses to create the builds necessary to express themselves. However, the impact of each is watered down by the song lengths. With a little trimming, the epicness of their character could really shine. “Plague and Pestilence,” on the other hand, conveys the same message in a mere five-minute performance. It is concise and uniquely powerful in comparison to these aforementioned tracks.
In general, Omens of Doom follows a script that requires all its songs to pass through slower-paced interludes and emotion-soaked conclusions. Even the groovy riffs of “Omens of Doom,” “Gathering Storms,” and “Plague and Pestilence” eventually give way to the album’s dark emotions. This isn’t a complaint, considering that I’ve spun Omens of Doom more than any Sulphur release, but the formula becomes obvious as you proceed from track-to-track. Though the songwriting has a recipe and some of the songs are slightly inflated, the mix is about as warm as it gets for a DR7. Omens of Doom is quite compressed but it still manages to sound good. Every instrument is easily decipherable and the result has a pleasant crunch that doesn’t overpower the performances. Omens of Doom could use some trimming and a bit more diversity, but it shows a band stepping beyond its comfort zone with decent success.