Well, this is a bit of a surprise. I never heard of Bloody Hammers until I reviewed their self-titled debut in February, and now they’re back with a follow-up a mere seven months later! Talk about productivity! While I liked aspects of the debut and their Hour of 13 and Witchfinder General meets Danzig approach to retro “occult rock,” things felt a bit underwhelming as a whole and suffered from inconsistent songwriting. The potential was there, but the question was whether they could tighten up the writing enough to stand out in an increasingly swamped throwback doom rock scene. As an answer, Spiritual Relics retains the core sound of the debut, but includes a lot of new and interesting influences and ideas while showcasing far more consistent, diverse writing. There’s a fair amount of punk and goth influence tossed in the hopper and the result of all this newfound dabbling is a much more listenable, interesting and engaging album. Their music won’t exactly blow your mind (what doom rock will?), but it will keep you listening and a few of the tunes are really quite good. Like I always say, “improvement is gooder.”
Opener “What’s Haunting You” and “At the Well of Nazareth” see the band stuck in their simple, predictable doom rock paradigm, with the obligatory fuzzy riffs and laid back, stoner-ish vocals. However, the former is catchier than it first lets on while the riffing on the latter reminds of Manic Frustration era Trouble.
It isn’t until “The Transit Begins” that things get truly interesting and the sudden switch to slower, darker, post-rock goth is a nice surprise. The song sounds like something Tiamat would come up during their darker moments, the riffing sounds borrowed from old Misfits demos and the whole thing is drenched in an eerie, spacey feeling that’s highly intriguing. They keep the weirdness going with “The Source” which sounds like club/pop era Paradise Lost mixed with Type O Negative and Killing Joke, so naturally it kinda rocks in its own off-kilter way.
Other oddities worth noting include the Queens of the Stone Age-like stoner swing of “Color Me Blood Red”; The Prong meets Type O goth rock of “Night of the Long Knives” and the glum “Science Fiction” which steals ideas from Tiamat and Lacrimas Profundere and Pink Floyd and stiches them all together in a winning way.
Sadly, the album fades a bit on the back nine and tunes like “Shiver” and “Flesh of the Lotus” underwhelm and fizzle. The overall brevity of the songs lessens the blow however, and since most run between three and five minutes, even the lackluster ones go by quickly without disrupting the album’s flow too much.
As with the debut, Anders Magna delivers a respectable vocal performance and really surprises on the gothic material like “The Transit Begins” and “Science Fiction.” He still sound a lot like Phil Swanson (Hour of 13) and he’s still fairly limited in what he does, but it feels like he’s growing and developing as a singer. Zoltan the riff-meister is also back and he’s stepped up his game considerably here. The riffs are generally more memorable and engaging and though it’s all stuff you’ve heard before, he keeps it as interesting as possible, especially during his trippy, Lava-lampy solos. The keyboards by Devallia are more subdued than last time, but still add a charming 70s atmosphere to the sound without getting tedious.
Points are fully awarded for all around improvement and for keeping a naked witch as their mascot. If it wasn’t for a few slightly flat inclusions, these guys would have gotten a juicy 3.5. Even with the suspect material, this is a considerable step up from the debut and if they keep up the development, they’ll be the Mack Daddy of the retro occult rock scene before you know it. Now THAT’S something worth fighting for…ish.