Anyone who’s made this blog a regular haunt knows there are several “don’ts” many of us consider when we review albums: don’t bloat your album length, don’t brickwall the damn thing in production, and so on. Far be it from me as a probationary scribe to suggest a new entry for our Tome ov Rules, but after listening to sophomore effort, Eidolon, from Canadian doomers’ Zaum, I’ve settled on a new guideline for my personal rulebook: when writing a full-length album, don’t put all of your stock in only two massive songs. Yes, this is a strategy that has been successfully implemented by some of Zaum’s biggest influences (namely Om), but Eidolon proves it to be a damning one when utilized improperly.
Let’s start with the good stuff, namely the first half of Eidolon, “Influence of the Magi.” The four-minute buildup to the meat of this track is atmospheric and compelling, with layered, throaty chants underscored by glimmers of feedback and ethereal flutes (of doom!) When the main riff abruptly kicks in, Zaum reveals its core sound as a sort of medium between Yob and Om, nearly as heavy as the former while sporting the stoner rock elements and bass-only approach of the latter. Though bookended by excessive ambient passages that total seven minutes (out of twenty overall), “Influence of the Magi” is a fairly fluid piece that retains the atmosphere of its intro while creating a sense of ebb and flow through fluctuating tempos. It all culminates in a surprisingly sludgy climax at 14:30, and while the experience isn’t exactly thrilling, Eidolon’s first half left me mostly satisfied.
Before getting into Eidolon’s second half I’d like to discuss the nearly unavoidable pitfalls of constructing a record out of two monolithic tracks. Like films or novels, the best music albums tend to have some sort of arc to them; a successful introduction effectively establishes an album’s sound to the listener, while the conclusion ties the elements explored throughout the album together into a satisfying coda. This arc is difficult to convey when there is essentially only an intro and outro track present. Furthermore, if only one of those songs is good, the resulting product is half of a good album regardless of the other half’s quality. This is where Zaum stumbles, as the second track, “The Enlightenment,” is not as good as the first. The atmosphere isn’t as convincing, the tempo is stagnant, and the total number of riffs has shrunk. These problems are exacerbated by song structure and length that’s identical to that of “Influence of the Magi,” making it sound like a diluted re-tread. As a twenty-minute conclusion to an album that was only halfway over when it began, “The Enlightenment” fails, and in fact feels far less important than the preceding track.
In regards to performances and production, pretty much everything is “just okay.” There are some memorable riffs that stuck with me after a couple of listens, but I’ll probably forget those soon after this review is published. Kyle McDonald proves himself to be a surprisingly diverse vocalist – his roars at the climax of “Influence at the Magi” take on an edge reminiscent of High on Fire’s Matt Pike – though for much of Eidolon he delivers lethargic chants that sound like an attempt at emulating late-career Garrison Keillor. The bass tone is appropriately warm and heavy, but it’s layered with so much distortion that it’s a wonder why Zaum didn’t just opt for a guitarist in their roster. Christopher Lewis’s drumming is precise yet plodding, acting as little more than a metronome to keep Eidolon glued together. As for production, this album is well-mixed, yet mastered so loud that it only manages a DR6 despite the bloated ambient sections.
As a complete package Eidolon is half a good record, but even the half that I enjoyed possesses problems that are endemic to the album as a whole. The other half isn’t bad, but it’s so one-note that it left me completely apathetic after each listen. Zaum’s heavily atmospheric approach to doom metal has potential if they can trim back the ambient sections and focus their energies on dynamic songwriting, but if they insist on placing all their eggs in two baskets I’m not sure they’ll find success with their formula. Check out the first track, but skip the second; all of Zaum’s best ideas are piled into the former, and half of a good record simply isn’t worth a full purchase.