In the world of occult-themed, vest-clad doom metal, Castle has been on quite the run, seemingly defying the Law of Diminishing Recordings. From their hard-hitting 2011 debut through to 2014’s Under Siege, they pushed all the right buttons to make their doom rock resonate and chill the soul. Traces of Sacrilege and Danzig coexisted with the expected nods to Sabbath and Pentagram, and at times they even drifted into the biker rock territory inhabited by the likes of Fireball Ministry and Orange Goblin. 2016s Welcome to the Graveyard, though still quite good was the first release to feel like a retread of prior ideas. Now comes album number five, Deal Thy Fate, and as expected it’s another solid outing with all the classic Castle building blocks, but diminishing returns seem to be catching up with the band, despite a few new bells and whistles to their sound. I hate it when these things happen to good bands.
If you’ve enjoyed any of the previous Castle releases, opener “Can’t Escape the Evil” will feel like a comfy old grave slipper. The same dark, ominous and gritty sound is here, with Liz Blackwell’s witchtastic vocals and Mat Davis’ sharp, smart, and often offbeat riffing patterns setting an evil scene. You’ll likely notice the presence of some very Slayer-esque riff phrasing popping up, and this occurs quite often across the album. While the song is what we’ve come to expect from Castle, it doesn’t feel as impactful as usual. Followup “Skull in the Woods” corrects that issues with an aggressive, crunchy attack that, oddly enough, opens up almost exactly like Slayer‘s “Seasons in the Abyss.” It’s a fun song nonetheless with a mood that hints at Mercyful Fate even as it hip checks biker rock into a dark corner of a dive bar. In fact, the album often feels more like a Fireball Ministry outing than the creepy occult worship of past platters.
The things I really love about the band can still be found on “Hexenring” which gives Liz more room vocally to beguile the listener with her gritty singing as Davis crafts intriguing guitar lines before uncorking a wicked solo to seal the deal. “Haunted” is a standout cut, more straight up hard rock than their usual fare, and Liz kills it vocally with a big delivery and a chorus that sticks like Gorilla Glue®. Another high point is closer “Firewind,” which is like a moody Janis Joplin ballad amped up several degrees. The dark vibe is very appealing and poignant too.
While there are no bad songs, the album carries a certain “been there, done that” feeling which the first few Castle albums did not. Even the increased Slayer-isms and burly rock don’t fully alleviate this feeling. Don’t get me wrong. I’m certainly not looking for a wholesale renovation in their sound, nor does Deal Thy Fate offer one. I just want more of the songs to hit as hard as the best moments do.
As always, Liz sounds great. She’s perfected the whole “dark and dangerous damsel” dynamic and she can scare as easily as seduce with her bi-polar vocals. Mat Davis holds up his end with another record full of interesting riffs, borrowing a bunch from Slayer yet still adding his own off-kilter style to the proceedings. The band as a whole is as tight and capable as ever, it’s just the writing that lets them down at times, though most bands would kill for a collection of songs this solid and consistent.
Castle remains one of my favorites in the doom/occult rock genre, and Deal Thy Fate should please fans. Are there worrisome signs their sound may be getting bogged down? Possibly. Will I be spinning this album a lot in the next few weeks? Yes definitely. When you start out flying as high as Castle did, you have some room to drop down and course correct. Now might be the time to do just that.