Demon Incarnate – Leaves of Zaqqum Review

What is this? Holden is reviewing a doom album for the second week in a row? What madness has befallen our mighty hero, that he should delve deep into the depths of sorrow, into the realm where Viking apes, Canadian cowboys, fake Minnesotans, and junk-science pharma whores do normally dwell? He’s decided to rebrand himself and elbow his way into the doom game. Holdeneye is no more. Henceforth, he shall be known as Doom_et_Hol…of Doom! All shall love him and despair! [I let you people edit yourselves for a few months and this is what I get? Stop it! – AMG] The simple truth is that for two weeks in a row, I found promos that claim Candlemass as a major influence, and I simply had to have them. Last week saw me positively handling former Candlemass vocalist Rob Lowe’s new project Grief Collector, so I was hoping to ride that slow, bludgeoning wave into this week as I tackle the groovy doom of Germany’s Demon Incarnate.

The first thing I noticed about Leaves of Zaqqum is the beastly guitar tone. It immediately brought to mind the monolithic sound of Victor Griffin (Pentagram, Place of Skulls, In-Graved). Guitarists Jan Paul and Donny Putra have filled Leaves with hard-rocking, doomy grooves á la Sabbath, Candlemass, and Pentagram. Check out the embedded video below for the stoner doom of opener “In Disguise,” a track that rumbles through riff after riff and includes some classic lead guitar work. It’s a formula from which the band rarely deviates throughout the album’s ten tracks and 41 minutes, making Leaves an easily digestible and repeatable listen musically. And above it all hovers the smooth voice of Lisa Healey.

But Healey’s voice is a little too smooth. Just look at the doom masters of old—Ozzy, Messiah, Lowe, Wino, etc.—and you’ll see that they all had voices that complemented the music over which they sang by containing an element of unhinged madness. These singers had grit, power, and/or the ability to force the listener to take part in the terror that the music conveyed. Not so with Healey. Her voice is pristine and beautiful, but lacks the dynamic elements that made the aforementioned vocalists so effective in the genre. While the rest of Demon Incarnate is blasting and riffing away, Healey puts in a performance that is just simply there—present, but lacking presence. She has a great voice but it just seems so out of place for music like this. I’ve listened to this thing around 15 times, and although I kept waiting for the vocals to click, they unfortunately never did.

The production is big and beefy, just like the riffs, reminding me of an obscure personal favorite album of mine, The Black Is Never Far by Place of Skulls. It’s an unfortunate comparison for Leaves, because that album had ground-shaking guitar tone, a dark atmosphere, and the gritty vocals of Victor Griffin adding the cherry on the top of the depressing cake. As they stand now, I probably won’t be coming back to Demon Incarnate, but “In Disguise” and “Over the Under” are the most decent songs here.

It hurts to mark an album down for one aspect of its sound, but the vocals for doom metal are pretty damn important. I’m hoping that Demon Incarnate’s future output will contain more vocal character than I’ve heard on Leaves of Zaqqum, because the band is extremely solid musically. Of course, there’s a chance that some listeners will think that I’m way off-base here and will actually like the vocals. Those folks can feel free to bump the score up a full point if they wish, but I’ll be moving on.

Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Label: Metalville
Releases Worldwide: June 18th, 2021

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