A good concept album is hard to come by these days. When one does rear its ugly head, it seems to be the product of another band seeking the blessings of Helloween, Iced Earth, or Blind Guardian. Which isn’t all bad, considering some of my favorite concepts records are the American and German kind. What this means, though, is most of the concepts records I think of (except for King Diamond, of course) are of the power metal variety. What I don’t think of when I think concept record is doom metal; especially an independent doom metal outfit from North Carolina. Yet, there are still some ties to power metal as Temptation’s Wings delivers a story about as power metal as it gets. Debut record, Skulthor Ebonblade, tells a tale about the vengeance of one man (Skulthor Ebonblade) against an evil witch clan that burns his village to the ground. Not only is it power metallish, but it’s also a goddamn gem. It’s simple and well-structured and is an exercise of cohesive songwriting and great storytelling. Not to mention, Skulthor Ebonblade is a treasure trove of riffs, lyrics, and as much bass, drum, and guitar as you can handle. Now… let the story begin…
But, labeling Temptation’s Wings as just a doom band would be wrong. Regardless of the band’s name and their southern brotherhood with Down, these guys are no copycat. Temptation’s Wings are more than doom. The songwriting on Skulthor Ebonblade is a combination of Candlemass and Sabbath, with vocals bordering on the former and chorus arrangements similar to Night of the Stormrider-era Iced Earth. Topping it off, there are also pinches of Anthrax and Metallica sprinkled throughout. This alone is enough to get me excited in the pants, but then we get a story of fire, destruction, witch hunting, Viking sword gathering, and revenge? Well, fuck me.
After the bass builds the short “Burning of Hjalmar” up from nothing, “I Destroyer” cracks Skulthor Ebonblade wide open. My initial thoughts at hearing this were “this is the greatest Southern-vibed rollercoaster I have ever ridden.” On the surface, it’s standard doom-fare, but then it unleashes chugs and vocals as sinister as the Cthulu-ruled depths. In its six-minute runtime, this track jumps around like no other song on the album. And, at times, its schizophrenic nature is almost overwhelming. But that’s the only complaint I have with “I Destroyer.” And, regardless, it’s short-lived as the album pushes on with its six remaining tracks. Jump ahead to the ten-minute “Witches of Dredmoor” and you’ll find the band’s shining example of stuffed-to-the-brim songwriting. After opening with some beefy bass, this long epic explores everything from classic doom and addictive vocal arrangements to the chunkiness of modern-day Metallica. There are ascents, descents, and some of the catchiest vox on the record. Other tracks do a better job of expanding on the doom and thrash, but “Witches of Dredmoor” is the quintessential Temptation’s Wings song. It has it all, including the climax of this epic tale.
But the greatest piece on the record has to be closer “My Name Was Skulthor.” For all the doom enthusiasts out there, this one is a classic. Like its predecessor, “My Name Was Skulthor” is overflowing with memorable bass leads, moody guitar licks, and a chorus that will ring in your ears for days. Want even more bang for your buck? Look no further than “To Gorge a Legend (Ulfbehrt)” and “Lair of the Gorgon Queen.” The former sinks its teeth into you with massive, chugging riffs before it transitions into Viking-esque booms from an all-male chorus and guitar leads/solos that rattle underneath bass guitar supports. “Lair of the Gorgon Queen,” in particular, delivers a soothing Metallica-like intro from the Cliff Burton glory days. From here, we take a ride on a charging riff that swoops down and snatches up a chorus as old as Iced Earth.
As you can tell, there is a lot of bass guitar on this record. Actually, there’s a lot of everything on this record. And though the dynamics aren’t record breaking, I’m surprised they are as “low” as they are. Skulthor Ebonblade sounds like a record nearing DR9-10 by the way it hums and purrs across its fifty-minute length. It has a great vibe, great vocals, and the fluidity of the story is beautiful. Though tracks like “Into the Maelstrom” and “Treachery of the Blind Raven” don’t pack the same punch as the others, the record is without filler. So, the next time you think about what a good concept record should be, don’t be like me. Let doom have its chance.