Album premieres are a gimmick. At least that’s what I thought until I had the chance to showcase this lovely example of epic/doom/stoner metal courtesy of up-and-coming Cincinnati1 rockers Blessed Black. Of course, to review an album is one thing, but to premiere that album, it better be worth clicking on more songs than just the single, and that’s certainly the case here. Check out their Facebook page: artists they like include a number that I love, from Kylesa (put out a new album already!) to Elder (new album this year!) to High on Fire. Turn up the fuzz, dial in the riffs, and you just might end up with a record that’s hard to stop playing.
Luckily, today you don’t have to take my word for it. You can click on the Bandcamp thingicky below here and check out the entire album now.
Name-dropping “Artists We Like” such as the ones above, and then pushing out influences such as Khemmis and Pallbearer, is just going to amp up the anticipation to a level that usually can’t be sustained. Add in the fact that Beyond the Crimson Throne is the foursome’s debut album, and this could be getting out of hand. Vocalist/guitarist/leader Joshua Murphy also plays for thrash metal act War Curse, who put out a damned fine album last year, so there’s certainly hope here. In fact Doc Grier nearly gave their album a 4.0 last year, which is bordering on blasphemous. So, in short, a lot of hype is accompanying this album, meaning it’s got a helluva long way to fall if it falls short. Luckily, though, it doesn’t.
Beyond the Crimson Throne is an album built upon some of the tastiest riffs you’ll hear all year, but that isn’t readily apparent as “The White Wolf” stalks out of the starting gate, all glowering eyes and slavering jaws in the form of a ponderous, fuzz-drenched lick and brief taste of the upcoming guitar solos. It sets us up with false pretenses, though, as it is less than three minutes long, instrumental, and the slowest-paced track of the seven here. In fact, it seems more of an embryo of a song; perhaps on a future release this will bloom into something epic. The real songs kick off with “The Black Gate,” which showcases Blessed Black in all their finery. All six of the fully fleshed out songs here open with amazingly memorable riffs that just scream “epic.” Think of a combination of The Sword and Khemmis if comparisons are needed.
Not only that, each song is a step up from the previous. While “The Black Gate” is no slouch, “Heavy is the Crown” bursts out of the gates with yet another slick, harmonized riff, before succumbing to churning verses and, as is standard on all the songs here, a pretty fine chorus. “Arioch’s Bargain” opens with the sickest riff on the album, combined with a guitar tone that reminds me of the Keenan/Windstein speaker-shredding sounds from Down’s NOLA. It’s my favourite song of the year so far. “Finding the Limits” changes that up a bit, with a tone reminiscent of some of Fire Down Below’s work, and continues in that vein with a more stoner metal take on things. Included in every song is a guitar solo that compels us to air guitar like it’s the 1980s again. The arrangement of these guitar solos is impeccable, a seemingly perfect amalgam of shredding and feel that harkens back to metal’s heyday and makes me yell “Yes!” for some unknown reason.
I wasn’t sold on Murphy’s vocals to begin with, but upon closer listen, the man has a lot of nuance in his delivery. Studious attention to the verses reveals far more melody and technical ability than was obvious upon the first few casual listens. I originally thought “oh, we’ve got a shouter on our hands here,” but that simply isn’t the case: the man has a charismatic, technically capable set of pipes. Combined with stellar songwriting, unforgettable riffs, and epic solos, and you’re wondering why this is only a 3.5 (yeah I know you already skipped to the bottom, you lazy sods.). Well, the fact is Blessed Black have only given us 33 minutes of songs here, not including the opener. Beyond the Crimson Throne is practically over before it starts, and when the songs are this good that’s a bit of a disappointment. Length matters!
In summary, and much like Doc Grier2 thought about War Curse last year, This album is a broken toenail away from being a 4.0. It’s just one massive riff-fueled slab of epicness after another from Blessed Black on this very tasty debut, where the only real drawback is length. Two more proper songs and Beyond the Crimson Thronewould be mammoth. As it stands, it’s still an outstanding album that’s getting more than its fair share of airplay here.