With acts like King Goat, Darkher and Khemmis snatching Album of the Month, I’d say this has been a good year for doom metal. Good thing, then, that this is also the year I found out how great this genre is, having mostly ignored it under the false assumption that all of it was paced like a 9-hour funeral. One of the albums that convinced me of this never made it to the AMG offices, but it’s a hell of a spin no doom fanatic should miss. I speak, of course, of Kroh‘s Altars.
Two things immediately jump out after the atmospheric intro ends and the album properly begins. “Mother Serpent” brings the hammer down with a bass that sounds immense, claustrophobic and impossibly dense. In a refreshing change of pace from the norm, the bass and guitar actually exchange duties, the former supplying the crushing heaviness and the latter delivering on creeping warble and reverb. It’s easy to overuse this kind of super-heavy distortion but Kroh got their dosages perfect and know how to impact your eardrums at the right times. The other defining feature is the vocals, courtesy of Oliwia Sobieszek. Her range of hushed whispers, ominous chanting and desperate cries are among the trump cards on Altars. She doesn’t have an immense vocal range, but this matters much less than her great expressive ability,which sets the ominous tone as much as the music.
The combination of Oliwia’s voice and the black hole bass is the defining sound of Kroh, with the contrasting textures creating an unease, an unsettling feeling that permeates the proceedings in the best way. It’s reminiscent of Madder Mortem in the method of combining heavy music and expressive female vocals to bring this feeling of creeping dread. The rest of the instrumentation supports these main elements perfectly. The drums are minimal and precise when the band gets heavy, but add a tribal undercurrent when the band is gearing up during the quieter sections. “Feed the Brain” is a good example of this interplay, constructing a creeping darkness in the verses before releasing a Candlemassian harmony that stomps through the chorus with epic grandeur.
The songwriting is fairly simplistic, especially considering the expansiveness of doom metal. While many bands in the genre like to surpass 8 minutes per song as a matter of courtesy, Altars never goes far beyond 5, and the structure of the tracks is waveringly straightforward. This has its up and downsides. While the songs never overstay their welcome and it makes the album more inviting to sit down with, it could have benefited from a little more depth, which would give the band the chance to really drag the listener down to the murky depths. But don’t let this cut and dry approach discourage you. Kroh’s crushing doom should not be missed.
Tracks to check out: “Feed the Brain,” “Break the Bread” and “Precious Bones”