It always disheartens me when bands with so much potential turn to ash shortly after burning brightly. For instance, remember the buzz surrounding Belgium’s Serpentcult? Their 2008 debut Weight of Light caught many a doom aficionado’s ear with their sludged-out grooves, crushing basslines, and the otherworldly vocals of Michelle Nocon. Fast-forward three years, and the Nocon-less follow-up, Raised By Wolves, while still heavy and uncompromising, lost its spark with her departure. Now here we are in 2017, and Nocon’s plying her voice in a new band. Despite nearly a decade since Weight of Light, Bathsheba‘s debut, Servus, continues the promise Nocon’s last band once possessed.
Lurching and heaving like a gravedigger at the end of his shift, “Conjuration of Fire” marches forth with gargantuan riffs and the thickest of distorted basslines. The magic begins once Nocon begins singing, her voice effortlessly combining hopefulness and terror like few in her field. This Messa-esque funeral crawl is kept for half of the song until the band ramps up the speed to a pummeling march. Jelle Stevens slays his drum kit, building tension with every tom hit while Nocon squeaks, squeals, grunts and growls with manic intent. For seven minutes, “Conjuration of Fire” pulls you into an uneasy trance and keeps you there throughout. One of the best introductory songs I’ve heard in a long while, and an easy Song o’ the Year candidate.
And Bathsheba continue this dreary, occult path, though thankfully they toss some curveballs here-and-there. “Manifest,” while being Servus’ longest song at almost 11 minutes, definitely doesn’t feel so long, with a beautiful solo by guitarist Dwight Goosens taking up half of it. “The Sleepless Gods” reaches early Cathedral in its heft and songcraft, with plenty of Nocon’s haunting croons. “Ain Soph” opens with blistering black metal drumming, Sabbath-esque riffing, and a distorted sax solo that’s oddly fitting. It’s always refreshing when bands make attempts to extend boundaries while retaining the mood and weight of doom metal, and Bathsheba largely succeeds.
So where does it trip up on itself? “Ain Soph” has some questionable vocal melodies by Nocon where it sounds like she’s out of tune. Not a major complaint, but it does irk a bit. Closer “I, At the End of Everything” feels a lot longer than it should due to its plodding pace, lack of variety, and its placement in the album order. But for a debut, Servus sounds incredible. Raf Meukens’ monstrous bass can be heard and felt, the drums thunder without being overpowering, and Goosens’ guitar is thick and chewy. And despite being the centerpiece, Nocon’s vocals blend perfectly with the band instead of drowning them out. In terms of production, this is one of the better sounding doom albums I’ve heard in a while.1
It took a while, but 2017 finally produced something that’s not black metal a worthy doom metal debut. Sure, it isn’t perfect, but Servus works with its strengths beautifully. If they can tighten up some of the songwriting, Bathsheba will find themselves at the forefront of doom metal in no time at all. I’m just hoping they stay around a bit.