Deathbell – A Nocturnal Crossing Review

I’m not going to lie here; when I first saw A Nocturnal Crossing, the second album by French doommakers Deathbell, listed in our promo pick-up software, my brain autocorrected the title into Animal Crossing. From that moment, I wondered to myself what it would be like to have a concept doom album where our hapless main (unnamed) character would strike a deal with The Devil,1 selling his soul for bells while interacting with damned-but-adorable lost animal souls while trying to cross the River Styx on a dragon boat powered by Blathers the Owl. Needless to say, that would make for a bizarre, yet intriguing release that would have Nintendo breathing down the band’s neck in a fashion similar to AMG Himself hearing a writer uttering the word “samey.” But alas, A Nocturnal Crossing is not based on everyone’s favorite anthropomorphic sims game gone literally to Hell.

Also alas, A Nocturnal Crossing happens to not be all that engaging. Now before I dive into that, there are some strengths present. Keyboardist/vocalist Lauren Gaynor possesses a haunting and ethereal voice, and is easily the standout of the band. Her mid-range timbre recalls that of Jinx Dawson (Coven), elevating the material significantly while weaving a delicate, wisp-like tapestry, even if her note range isn’t all that expansive. Also, the closing title track makes the best case for the band’s growth, as it’s the heaviest and most solid out of A Nocturnal’s Crossing’s six songs. The riffs feel gargantuan, the drumming variety increases, and Gaynor’s soothing wails and keyboard melodies tie together into a cohesive, manageable whole.

Too bad the rest of the album is a chore to get through. This becomes readily apparent once opener “The Stronghold and the Archer” slowly rumbles forth, with a steady one-note bassline, one of the few times drummer Robin Draye uses a different drum pattern, and guitar melodies from Fredrik Bolzann and Bastien Commelongue that are best described as “interesting” in the similar fashion of a bad cover of “Stairway to Heaven” on a child’s recorder is considered “interesting.” Speaking of the guitarists, for some odd reason, Bolzann and Commelongue decided to use two almost completely different guitar tones from each other to the point of it being jarring, with one of them abusing the wah pedal so much that Kirk Hammett would like a word or two, and the other… well, sounds like he hasn’t exactly tuned his guitar exactly to the other, and it sounds a bit off. This is heavily noticeable during the second half of “Silent She Comes,” when there’s a mini-jam session between the two guitarists and the intonation and tuning seems different by a minscule-but-still-painful hair.

But the biggest affront on A Nocturnal Crossing is the simple fact that the songwriting could use some serious help. Every song on here goes on for what feels like an eternity, and either they beat a particular riff or drum pattern to the ground, in the case of the nine-minute epic “The Ladder,” there are parts that come out of nowhere that make absolutely no sense, and they disrupt the flow of the song immensely. Look, I fully get that this is a young band on their second album, but at some point, you’ve got to ask yourself hard-hitting questions, such as “does this part need to go on forever?” or “does this song really need to go past the nine-minute mark, when five would work just as well?”, because at the end of the day, tightening things up will only help you down the road.

Given all this, the fundamental basics are all still present and accounted for. It’s heavy, downtrodden, and full of bad vibes. That, and there’s potential in these talented young musicians. Besides, we need more doom in this world, with Black Sabbath gone and the once-promising American doom metal scene more-or-less shitting itself. We need new champions to attain the throne, but in order to stand out among the Windhands of the world, Deathbell has a lot of work cut out for them. Time will tell where they head, but for now, this is a Crossing you can safely pass by.

Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Label: Svart Records
Websites: |
Release Dates: EU: 2022.02.25 | NA: 03.25.2022

Show 1 footnote

  1. Tom Nook, natch.
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