deathCAVE – Smoking Mountain Review

Momentum is a funny thing. We all know it when we see it. A sports team on a winning streak; a string of jokes landing during a date; a hyper-productive streak at work. When you’re riding the wave of momentum, it all feels so effortless. But for every yin there’s a yang, for every Master of Puppets a St. Anger, and so it goes for momentum with its opposite: inertia. Inertia can feel impossible to escape; an invisible weight that saps energy and creativity. Some bands never escape. Some manage to reinvent themselves. But one thing’s for certain: momentum has to be established; it never just arrives. These thoughts came to me as I listened to the debut album of Seattle outfit, deathCAVE. Smoking Mountain bills itself as a heady mix of doom, sludge and psychedelica. It’s named after a mountain just south of Seattle, which sounds suitably ominous. It also gives the listener a good idea of the density they’re about to encounter. In reality, it’s a fascinating spectacle of a band in a constant tug-of-war between glorious movement and the densest inertia. Will this turn out to be like a rugby scrum – full of effort but going nowhere (unless it’s England being pushed over by the mighty South African pack in the World Cup final)? Or do these competing forces light a serious fire?

Smoking Mountain consists of 5 tracks of sludgy, doomy goodness, featuring harsh vocals and an assortment of guest appearances. On the side of momentum, tracks like opener “Deathcave” effortlessly hum. Smoky, catchy riffs slither around with an impressive feeling of mass, augmented by brutal vocals and thunderous drums. It’s righteous and it’s backed up by some foot-stomping riffs. “The Road” continues this trend, with dense yet compelling melodies, and time changes that maybe don’t make a whole lotta sense, but are compelling, nonetheless. Tracks like these exude confidence, purpose, and drive. They shift and move, and as a result, the listener is inexorably carried along as well. It’s top-notch doom.

Unfortunately, not everything is of this quality. Too many songs simply grind to a halt in the muddy mire of their compositions. The worst offender is the 12 minute “The Seer,” which shifts jarringly between up-tempo rapid beats at the beginning, to a second half that slows down to a crawl from which it never recovers. I get that it’s supposed to be “psychedelic,” but without anything compelling to hold the listener’s attention, I simply found my mind wandering. It’s got nothing to do with speed and everything to do with – you guessed it – momentum. I, perhaps unfairly, contrasted this with Yob. Even at its slowest and most introspective, there’s palpable movement in Yob’s albums. It’s something that’s hard to define, but deathCAVE need to find it.

Perhaps what contributes to the inertia of some of the tracks is the sense of deja-vu. There’s nothing here that’s particularly original or boundary-pushing, and compositionally, the tracks seem somewhat haphazardly constructed, with differing elements sometimes lurching inelegantly into each other. “Last Breath” features an awkward combination of upbeat doom, then crushing meandering doom, before devolving into psychedelic doom. It ultimately all turns into mush rather than the crushing experience deathCAVE was no doubt aiming for. This awkwardness is mirrored by the track order. The great songs are cushioned in mediocre ones, which manages to leach their power and muffle the drive.

Ultimately, listening to Smoking Mountain is like watching a talented but erratic team have a maddeningly erratic season. There are moments where it clicks: where elements combine effortlessly to wash away all resistance. Too often, however, deathCAVE simply gets bogged down and the guys seem to find it very hard to recover. When things are kept up-tempo, the album soars. When it slows down, it crumbles apart like a stale cookie. 2 cool songs out of 5 ain’t bad. But it won’t win you any trophies. Let’s hope that going forward, these guys can find a way to maintain the momentum. Watching the South African rugby scrum should give them some pointers.


Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Satanik Royalty Records
Websites: facebook.com/deathCAVE206/  |  deathcave.bandcamp.com/
Releases Worldwide: August 14th, 2020

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