As per the usual and against all wisdom, I judged an album by its artwork. I liked the high detail monochrome planet-scape. I liked the logo. I liked the name of the album. And just like that, all requirements for entry into TheKenWord’s listening queue lined up in perfect syzygy. Anyway, here I am with Damnation’s Hammer and their sophomore record, Unseen Planets, Deadly Spheres, knowing absolutely nothing about the band or their sound other than that they call the UK home and that their label tags them “heavy metal.” What do I discover? This is far more complex than just “heavy metal.” Yet, it’s all so simple. Let me explain.
I looked at the artwork and the logo and expected death metal lined with doom. What I got was the inverse: heavy doom metal ensconced within a thick pelt of old-school death riffs and groove. However, there’s also a bit of blackened darkness in Damnation’s Hammer, which comes across in feel more strongly than it does in sound, while a thrashy kink presents more clearly in sound than in feel. You’d think that would be enough to over-encumber most but the band further applies an atmospheric component that complements Unseen Planets, Deadly Spheres in its own subtle, delicate way. The same holds true for the intermittent instances of dissonance the group utilizes throughout. Needless to say, there are a lot of contrasting elements at play but Damnation’s Hammer seem to use each source only where it would be most effective.
All the same, you would expect a record that draws from so many pools to be erratic. Not so with here. Damnation’s Hammer are consistent in identity and stalwart in execution, the evidence being a galactic fleet of devastating riffs they summon to navigate through and around the nebula of seemingly disparate influences (see “Hammers of War,” “Gates of the Necronomicon,” “The Eternal Harvest,” and especially “Entrance to the Final Chamber”). If you want a visual aid for how fucking demolishing the riffs on this thing are, simply imagine the Moon crashing forcefully into the Earth while Temple of Void echoes in the background.
While Tim Preston (guitar and vocals) and Ady Farnell (lead guitar) beat your face in with bludgeoning riffs, Jamie Fowler (bass) administers low-end abuse to make sure you never get back up again while Gary Bevan directs the whole endeavor with his intimidating drum presence. The result is a stone-solid record that never runs out of steam. Even seven-minute songs like “Wolves of Aquarius,” “Gates of the Necronomicon” and closer “Entrance to the Final Chamber” pass with flying colors because the band keep their performances tight and brimming with swagger. This effect compounds with interest, reducing a 52-minute monster into what feels like precisely 37 minutes and 12 seconds. Before you know it you’ll have replayed it five times and it’s three o’ clock in the morning.
The only element I wasn’t very happy about was Tim’s vocal approach, which is more like barking than it is singing or growling. But you get used to it and eventually start to like it in context with the rest of the music. Or at least I did. Results may vary, so I suggest an open mind to prevent undue concern. The record is also a bit crushed, and would have benefited greatly from a dash of extra dynamics.
When it comes down to it, those criticisms would be bullshit reasons to pass this up. Damnation’s Hammer have penned the first great heavy doom record of 2019. Nobody else has riffs like these, and so far I’ve yet to encounter a doom metal record with more hooks than this one this year. You don’t believe me? Hear it for yourself. The embed is right up there, between paragraphs two and three.
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Massacre Records
Websites: damnationshammer.bandcamp.com | damnationshammer.co.uk | facebook.com/damnations-hammer
Releases Worldwide: February 22nd, 20191