When you think of Massachusetts, many images pop into your head immediately. Legendary sports dynasties, people with goofy accents, cities with tough-to-pronounce names, the Big Dig, the entire Kennedy clan… oh, and metalcore. Lots and lots of metalcore… and Converge. You don’t look at the Bay State and think to yourself, “Gee, I’m sure there’s quality doom metal afoot here.” Hell, I sure didn’t! But then, when have I been exactly correct on certain things these days? Today’s exhibit, Conclave, hail from the tiny town of Barre, and have within their ranks former members of legendary stoner doom bands Warhorse and Grief. With Sins of the Elders, they’ve definitely left a boot print.
After a short, ominous intro full of rain, thunder, and a dude talking over a slow riff, we get to the meaty “Funeral Fyre.” And when I say “meaty,” we’re talking chock full of slow, dirge-y, early Crowbar-on-‘luudes elephantine riffs, chewy bass, and pummeling drums. Bassist Jerry Orne (ex-Warhorse) doesn’t sing so much as he howls and agonizes, akin to Anguish but much less goofy. The problem here is that they rely a bit too much on the main riff for the majority of the first two-thirds of the song, and this thing’s over nine minutes long. Thankfully, guitarists Terry Savastano (ex-Grief) and Jeremy Kibort vary things up a bit towards the final three minutes, blanketing the song with some great solos and a quiet ending.
Things do pick up rather nicely from that point onward, adding some much-needed variety without sacrificing any of the asphyxiating heft. “Cut It Off” crawls and howls with a sick Sabbath riff at 4:53. The title track, while the longest on the album, contains the most venomous hooks, especially in the tremolo-happy chorus and Dan Blomquist bludgeoning his drums, giving Des Kensel (High on Fire) a run for his money. Album standout “Black Lines” lurches with intent while possessing some great atmosphere in the beginning. Even this early in the band’s life, Conclave know how to ensnare the listener with their take on stoner doom. The production by the band and Eric Braunschweiger helps immensely, allocating uncompromising heft and girth to the guitars and bass without sacrificing the quality of the drums or vocals.
I have a few issues with Sins of the Elders. The sheer length of the songs is daunting to the point of fatigue, with “Cold Comfort” being the only non-instrumental song under seven minutes. There’s also an over-reliance on certain riffs, dragging the proceedings down a hair. But the biggest hurdle may be Orne’s howls, which can be hit (the title track), or miss (“Funeral Fyre”). Other than The Order of Israfel‘s Tom Sutton, I’m not sure of any other vocalist in doom metal today who can be as divisive. I personally dig Orne’s anguished screams, but your mileage may drastically vary.
Still, this is a very promising debut from the Bay State’s seasoned stoner vets. The pedigree contained within Conclave will no doubt level us once the kinks are worked out a bit. As it is, Sins of the Elders is a welcome, if a bit repetitive, entry into the doom metal catacombs. Let’s see where this goes.