As a metalhead, I always feel way behind on doom metal and its various offspring genres. It was the last genre I discovered, and further the last one I gained a bone-deep understanding of. Imagine my surprise to find an untouched, independent stoner prog album sitting in the promo bin. Chicagoan band Dark Ocean Society is one of those projects—one-man, home recorded, totally independent; it’s the brainchild of one C.M. Tedor. You know, the kind of project you’d expect to spit out a shitty black metal record. Instead, we have Hymns for the Last Man, a piece on alienation and the pain of life in the modern era. This is potentially a decent, if trite, starting point, but what about the execution?
Hymns, like much stoner metal, builds on the foundation laid long ago by Sleep, Kyuss, et al, but ramping up the old school psychedelic rock elements. Specifically, snippets of “The Last Man” and “Space Cowboys” recall some classic Jefferson Airplane, while the organ segments of “Spirit Traveller” bring to mind Iron Butterfly’s “Inna Gadda Da Vida.” Similarly, the chanting cleans of “Worship the Sun” are reminiscent of more modern stoner prog a la Anciients. The net product of this hybridization is a solidly ride-able groove stuffed to the gills with good (but hardly great) riffs, while the net effect is a meditative album that seeks to draw the listener into its warmth and weight after shocking the system with the discordant, roaring “The Vast Void.”
Unfortunately, Hymns is meditative in a more critical sense as well: unfocused, repetitive, and even eye-glaze-inducingly boring for long stretches. The long tracks (“The Last Man,” “Space Cowboys,” “Spirit Traveller”), while home to easily the most engaging material on the album, stretch on interminably, and unfortunately blend together sonically to the point I had to go back to distinguish them mid-writing. Much of the latter is the fault of the production, but the similarity of the riffs and melodies plays into the problem as well. Likewise, “Interlusion,” a tinkling synthesizer piece, clocks in about five times too long at three minutes, wasting an extraordinary amount of time. In general, the album struggles mightily to engage for its whole runtime, and consequently would have been best served by an editing hatchet, possibly to the point of trimming it to an EP rather than a full album.
Easily the most interesting element in play, unfortunately, is also the worst: production. I’ve referred to production jobs as “minor disasters” before, for love of both humorous dissonance and precision. But there’s nothing minor to this case. All instrument tracks are extremely lo-fi, with the drums coming off the worst by a narrow margin, but even the guitar and bass feel dilapidated and flimsy, lacking the weight the mix is trying in vain to gift them. This is a real shame; as mentioned, the instrumental work is bland at the very worst, but the production is so blurred and muddled as to make even the good stuff sound more-or-less the same on a first pass. The vocals are also hard-pressed to stand out, albeit more deliberately, as drowned as they are in reverb. In fact, there’s enough reverb (and singing that manages to sound off-key even with it) to strongly suggest that poor Mr. Tedor flatly cannot sing. The roars and growls that “Void” presents front and center are rather solid (but again have too much reverb), suggesting a better path forward if a dedicated vocalist isn’t in the cards.
Given the home-recorded, self-funded nature of this beast, it might be suggested that lenience is in order, but no. It was released to the public and has been judged accordingly. Hymns to the Last Man is a bad record—overstuffed, inconsistently engaging, dreadfully produced. There are seeds of potential, but this particular iteration of the concept is dead in the water.
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: ~279 kbps mp3
Releases Worldwide: October 19th, 2018