If there is an overarching ethos for metal in the Year of Our Jørn 2019, it very much resembles the foundational principle of Vulcan philosophy in the Star Trek universe: Infinite Diversity In Infinite Combinations. Genre and sub-genre have become moving targets as new bands build their sound from an ever expanding metal lexicon like grandpa going through the buffet line at the Golden Corral. There’s a band for every stylistic combination you could possibly want and ten bands for the ones you don’t want. And while the Inter Armas of the world practically defy you to categorize their metallic melange, other bands take a more binary approach to their alchemy. Hailing from the bovine infested English Channel island of Guernsey, Byzanthian Neckbeard combine sludgy stoner metal with old school-minded death doom. Yes, these styles come from very different places and mindsets, but the rather large overlap on this Venn Diagram of Doom is labeled “big riff energy.”
Minaton is Byzanthian Neckbeard‘s second release of 2019 following September’s Extinction EP, and their second self-released full-length overall. As is fitting for the season, the album peddles B-movie horror and fantasy themes replete with werespiders, devil worms and the eponymous magical robot minotaur from 1977’s Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. And while their content may tend toward the campy, their riffs are deadly serious. Fans of the recent sludgy death doom release by Warcrab will find a kindred spirit here, but with an infusion of loose-limbed stoner metal. First proper song “The Werespider” strikes this stylistic balance with heavy riffs that effortlessly split the difference between stoner groove and death chugs. This instrumental dexterity continues throughout the album, while the dual vocals by guitarist Phil Skyrme and bassist Dan Robilliard keep things squarely in death growl territory.
If you’re looking for a verdant field of riffs to graze on like the fabled cows of Guernsey, Minaton will have you fattened for slaughter in no time. Aside from the spoken recital of opener “The Tale of Raymond,” you won’t find a single track that doesn’t boast a memorable riff or three. This is doom metal comfort food, with easy grooves unfolding naturally over 40 minutes that feel more like 20. The consistent song craft makes it difficult to pick stand outs, but “Devil Worms” boasts a particularly satisfying two part riff that switches from swooping tremolo to caveman stomp throughout. Later track “Necron 5” features Minaton‘s most stoner moment, as an effects laden guitar line wobbles with a psych rock flair before the full wall of distortion kicks in. On that topic, Byzanthian Neckbeard have crafted a massively heavy album that should be listened to LOUD.
Beyond striking a perfect balance between stoner and death doom, a neat trick to be sure, Byzanthian Neckbeard does little to break out of either genre’s tropes. There’s no experimentation with song structure or overall sound, which means to anyone not especially taken with this brand of riff worship, these tracks will mostly feel interchangeable. There’s a ceiling to how much an album like Minaton can transcend its influences, but then not every album or band needs to be transcendent to be highly enjoyable. These well-worn grooves of sludgy distortion are easy for a listener to fall into and Byzanthian Neckbeard know how to keep you down in the muck until the last chords fade. There’s a looseness to transitions, especially in the drumming, that may have some wishing for more tightness, but I find the slightly ramshackle feel charming.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I chose a self-released album by a band with a ridiculous name from an island mostly known for cows. What I got was a surprisingly solid mix of two of my favorite genres and an album I could enjoy on the one year anniversary of my first n00b review here at AMG1. If you’ve got an itch for big riff energy, Minaton will scratch it, and I’d be highly surprised if the next time Byzanthian Neckbeard put out an album, they do it on their own dime.