As the curfew tolled the knell of the parting day, I decided to wander through the dark remains of a graveyard near my home. A thick and heavy fog rolled in, illuminated by moonlight, as I stared into the well of souls. By this point, I was thirsty and miserable and I felt myself slipping further into the void. I was bewitched by the scent of death as the children of the grave emerged from the gloom and approached me. The children carried individual USB sticks that held copies of an album by the Irish band Dread Sovereign. What was this mystical gift? Unhelpfully, they let them fall to the floor and I found myself crying sweet tears as I attempted to recover them. Thankfully, I gathered them all up (along with some sweet leaf), traveled home, and started listening to some evil doom. For Doom the Bell Tolls, Dread Sovereign’s second album, is essentially a thank you letter to the doom metal masters of days gone by. Nemtheanga — that singing fella from Primordial — conjures the ghosts of Sabbath, Candlemass, and Saint Vitus by tolling the bells of doom and dread in this 2017 utopia of ours. Prepare to be doomed.
Containing three very different “original” songs, two doomy instrumentals, and a raucous – though rather out of place – cover of “Live Like an Angel, Die Like a Devil,” For Doom the Bell Tolls is an E.P. disguised as an album. “Twelve Bells Toll in Salem” is a thirteen-minute track that combines the epic doom of Candlemass and Solitude Aeturnus with psychedelic and space-rock undertones. Although two or three minutes too long, “Twelve Bells” is a mighty song that’s intensified by Nemtheanga’s woeful cries and husky lamentations. Nemtheanga’s tubular bass twang and gruff vocals are supported by lurching riffs and bass-heavy drumming that bellows and echoes overbearingly. It oozes atmosphere. Dread Sovereign utilize the silences and lulls between riffs excellently, too, intensifying the overwhelming sense of dread by extracting every ounce of despair available. Following seven minutes of build-up, the song unleashes its space-rock flavor as an extended solo unfurls over a somber backdrop before fading out into oblivion.
Though not bad, the rest of the album falls short of “Twelve Bells in Salem.” Follow-up track “This World Is Doomed” discontinues the grandeur of the previous track, erring more on the traditional/heavy-metal side of the doom spectrum. Though occasionally thriving with heavier doom riffs, like at the Electric Wizard-esque end of the track, it lacks melodic hooks and interesting riff progressions to stick in the mind. Nemtheanga’s gruff vocals feel out of place at times too. The song cries out for a more melodic overlay to harmonize with the guitar work, but Nemtheanga’s passionate cries lack the required subtlety. That’s not to say that they detract from the song, they just don’t contribute enough to make this a great track. Nothing here managed to grasp me and wrap me in a shroud of woe and wonderment.
Dread Sovereign channel their sound through a thick, old-school production that should have been left for dead a long time ago. They’re trying to evoke a classic sound but the plasma of the dead is a dangerous substance to control. Its unpolished, bottom-heavy sound is too bottom heavy for my liking and songs suffer because of this. The distractingly bellowing bass drum saps away the life force of the songs, the guitars lack a bite and sting, and the fuzz and buzz of keys and synths — particularly in “The Spine of Saturn” — overwhelms the weak guitar tones. I’m not asking for sterility, just something with more balance. “The Spine of Saturn” has a hallucinogenic allure created by an acid-wash of psychedelic electronic sound effects, however, these sounds are too unwieldy, drowning the guitars and drums under their sloppy, shimmering haze. Beneath all of this, the song saunters along dreamily with light melodies, sweet Ozzy-esque vocals, and a vibrant bassline, however, these have to jostle to find room to breathe. It’s a real shame.
For Doom the Bell Tolls is a peculiar beast. I wanted so much to like it, I really did, but the beast could not be tamed. It’s an inconsistent and disjointed affair that attempts to merge the epic with the psychedelic and the hard-rocking with the ambient. Each song is decent enough as a standalone track, however, we review albums as wholes here. Rather than serving a complementary peanut butter and jam (jelly for you yanks) sandwich, Dread Sovereign served a mash-up of orange juice, toothpaste, and beetroot.