If you were to tell me a decade ago, when I was still in college in New Hampshire, that there would be a glut of doom metal bands here in America, I would have laughed heartily in your collective face while avoiding my Statistics homework for the umpteenth time. Yet, ten years later, here we are. Once a genre that Americans deemed too slow for its own good, with only Pentagram, Saint Vitus and Solitude Aeturnus, standing out as anomalies in a long-neglected field, the United States has been pumping out doom at an alarming, almost tribble-like rate. With that increase in popularity and production comes the grim reality of over-saturation. So when Louisiana quartet Forming the Void threw down their third album, Rift, I can’t help but feel a bit worried about what the outcome will be.
Turns out that there’s room for a little bit more worship of The Good Riff after all. Of course, by “a little bit more,” I really mean “packed full” of The Good Riff, as Rift takes no shortcuts in terms of hooking the listener with them. “Extinction Event” marches forth like a long-lost Vitus cut, only slowing down to offer some ambiance and air before leveling the listener with another lurching riff that plows with the gentle groove of a drunken mammoth. Guitarists James Marshall and Shadi Omar Al Khansa know when to lay on the heft and when to back away from the gas, which is key when it comes to standing out in a crowded subgenre.
And stand out they do, on many tracks. Closer “Shrine” opens with a Middle Eastern motif, building tension and atmosphere before lurching with more crushing riffs, even closing with some of Thomas Colley’s more interesting fills. “Arrival” brings in the warmth of Kyuss with some bright tones and punishing bass grooves by Luke Baker. But it’s on “Ark Debris” where Rift shines. With a slow build in the first half and the second half bringing forth an almost gut-wrenching finale with some of Marshall’s best vocals, the song sprouts its wings and soars. Rarely does an album get better as it progresses, but in the case of Rift, it works out in the band’s favor that the album is back-loaded with the best tracks.
But it still draws attention to the fact that the songwriting, strong as it is on the second half of Rift, could still use a little bit of marinating time. All too often, the songs in the album’s front side tend to hover too long in one place and in one tempo without building into much of anything new or exciting. “On We Sail,” for instance, relies a bit too much on one riff to keep going. Another major sticking point would be in Marshall’s vocals. While they’re not bad per se, he does hover on one note for too long, often sounding monotonous and predictable, with “On We Sail” and “Transient” being key examples. That said, his performance on the second half of “Ark Debris” is nothing short of stellar and powerful, so it sounds more like someone finding their footing and confidence than anything resembling lack of talent, as he’s showing he’s got plenty of ability there.
So while we have heavy hitters like Pallbearer, Spirit Adrift, and Khemmis leading the way in American doom metal, Forming the Void proved there’s room for at least one more. While not quite on the same level as the preceding three in terms of songwriting impact, Rift showcased that they’re on the right path and could definitely go on to amazing things in an album or two. Definitely one to keep an eye on, folks.