Being the traditional kind of guy I am, if you were to tell me there was a band taking the very best parts of vintage Candlemass and Tad Morose and expertly welding them together, you would have my undivided attention. Below is that act, and Upon a Pale Horse is their second opus of epic doom mixed with classic/traditional metal. Mystery abounds as to how we whiffed on their 2014 debut, Across the Dark River, but we did and it was a mistake we won’t be making again. You see, Below has that “Wow factor” we reviewers scour promo bins in search of. They write monolithic yet highly accessible doom tunes sure to captivate fans of albums like Nightfall and Ancient Dreams, as well as disciples of the works of Tad Morose, Lefay and other such traditional metal masters. Slick songwriting, wicked talent and a righteous ear for emotion and hooks make for a sure fire success, and it’s easy to mistake this young band for a much more seasoned, experienced ensemble.
Things take off steeply with opener “Disappearing Into Nothing” assaulting you with wicked doom riffs ripped right from Leif Edling’s subconscious. When Zeb’s (Sebastion Jansson) vocals pierce through the fog you’ll know you stumbled into a doom wonderland. The man has a big set of pipes and channels Rob Lowe (Solitude Aeturnus) and Urban Breed (ex-Tad Morose, ex-Bloodbound) in equal measures as he takes the solid doom foundation to an altogether higher plane of misery and depression. The song’s chorus is huge and far catchier than doom should ever be. Follow up “The Coven” keeps things heavy, reminding me a lot of the material on Tad Morose‘s A Mended Rhyme album, but darker and more doom-centric.
The title track is nearly 10-minutes but never feels it as the band delivers first-rate brooding, epical doom that goes heavy on mood and heavier still on emotion. Borrowing at various times from Iron Maiden, Candlemass, and Primordial, the song feels irresistible in its power and scope and Zeb delivers a hard, rough-edged Urban Breed style performance sure to impress. “Suffer in Silence” is much more direct and urgent, like a punch to the jaw with brass knuckles, with crunchy riffs laying on your chest with rib-cracking heft. “1000 Broken Bones” sounds like it was taken directly from Tad Morose‘s excellent Undead album with a grim, moody, riff-driven approach; and emotive closer “We Are All Slaves” bowls you over with its deeply brooding, emotionally draining journey full of nods to DoomVS and the long underappreciated Communic.
All seven songs are top-notch examples of melodic doom and the album feels much shorter than its 47 minutes because the writing is so strong. The production is also solid and satisfyingly deep, with real heaviness in the riffs and a sweetly organic drums sound.
Mr. Zeb is big find and his vocals are a major part of Below‘s appeal. His range is impressive and his rough-edged delivery is a perfect fit with the doomy, downtrodden riffage and bleak mood. His vocals on oversized epics like “Disappearing Into Nothing” and the title track show a keen knack for dramatics and theater without every crossing into overwrought overkill or cheese-play. The guitar-work by Berg and Paud is also impeccably rendered. They both graduated magna cum loud from Candlemass U. and the influence of that iconic band lives large in their dirgy leads, melodic soloing and overall song structuring. Of special note is the drumming by Doc (Jens Vestergren). His style has a heavy groove and swagger even when he’s in minimalist mode on the slower segments and his kit work delivers a whole lotta pop to the proceedings when things get busy. And busy things get, as tempos change frequently, never relying too much on standard doom chugs. This makes the album much more aggressive and lively while staving off boredom throughout.
Below‘s debut was rock solid, but their sophomore outing is better, proving beyond a doubt they can play with the big boys. Upon a Pale Horse is on a fast track to year-end listery and is almost certainly one of the best doom albums of 2017. Below is now above.