Death the Leveller – II Review

Every now and then you stumble across a young band and find yourself in the presence of enormous potential. Sometimes that potential is on full display and impossible to miss, and sometimes it’s partially concealed behind flaws or kinks yet to be worked out. My experience with the promo for II by Ireland’s Death the Leveller has been an odd combination of both these scenarios. Featuring current and former members of Primordial and Mael Mórdha, II is billed as their debut full-length despite an earlier 38 minute release they call an EP (II runs just shy of 39 minutes, so go figure). LP/EP issues aside, II is an intriguing mixture of epic doom, moody alt-metal and goth rock, and there’s definitely something big brewing here. When the mixture is done properly the result is amazing, but the alchemy is tricky and the ingredients unstable. The measurements aren’t always consistent and lab explosions do occur at times, injuring both the music and the listener’s immersion factor. Still, there’s something here that needs to be examined closely.

As a very big fan of Primordial‘s To the Nameless Dead magnum opus, its DNA was easy to detect on mammoth opener “The Hunt Eternal.” It doesn’t sound like them exactly, but the references are unmistakeble and omnipresent. It’s a dark, moody piece with mournful riffs and highly dramatic vocals that remind more than a little of Primordial‘s A.A. Nemtheanga. The writing is sharp, emotional and grimly beautiful, dragging you along wherever the dark storytelling takes you, and its nearly 10 minutes flies by in a weepy flash. It’s a Song o’ the Year candidate and the sound of a band I could throw all my steely support behind. 12-minute album centerpiece (there are only 4 songs) “The Golden Bough” is more or less the same high quality biscuit, both gripping and impressive, and the use of vaguely blackened, Marduk-esque churning, ominous riffs and Aoira-like bleak, meandering passages pair very well together. However, the extra minutes take a toll, dragging some ideas out too long and making a constant focus more challenging. Another issue becomes noticeable here beyond the overly long length. As good as vocalist Denis Dowling is, he can become too emotional and theatrical at times, driving his delivery up near 10 on the Maudlin Scale whereas I need him around a hard 6 for maximum impact. When he overdoes things he begins to sound hysterical, as if someone needs to give him a hard slap to get him back in control, and that’s not a selling point for me.

This issue resurfaces on the semi-ballad “So They May Face the Rising Sun.” The song has a lot going for it and it’s so close to being another winner, but the sheer weight of the vocal theatrics wear out their welcome before its 7-plus minutes expire. The song is solid and you like a lot of what you’re hearing, but certain aspects hold it back from really dropping the Anvil of Momentousness on your noggin. Moments like this make II a frustrating listen at times. Closer “The Crossing” incorporates mild alt-metal influences with a bit of Tool‘s dark noodling undulating beneath the doom riffs and emotive vocals, and you’ll hear vintage Paradise Lost creep into the picture as well. It’s another mostly successful blend of elements, but again, little things like overdone vocals and unwisely extended length steal defeat from the iron jaws of victory.

If it seems like I’m being hard on Denis Dowling, I don’t mean to be. He has an excellent voice and can convey a great deal of raw emotion with his singing. When he’s operating near peak form he reminds me of Darkest Era‘s Krum, but wilder and less controlled. His delivery on “The Hunt Eternal” and most of “The Golden Bough” is superb and the songs would be less for his absence. He can and does overdo things though, and a little more restraint would pay enormous dividends going forward. Gerry Clince (Mael Mórdha, ex-Primordial) impresses greatly with his downtrodden, despairing guitar-work throughout II. He tends to eschew the classic Sabbath/Candlemass style of weighty doom riffs in favor of more discordant, haunting leads, often borrowing from drone, goth, black and alt-metal, making his style a unique listening experience. There’s no disputing the enormous talent the band possesses. The question is only one of how much they can refine their music and send it at the listener in its most effective form.

II is a flawed but impressive album by a young, extremely promising band. The blend of styles is intriguing and they come oh so close to delivering a knock out blow of an album. This is clearly a band to watch closely and I for one am very eager to hear what comes next for Death the Leveller. May the luck of the Irish be with them on their future endeavors.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Cruz Del Sur
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: March 13th, 2020

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