Being a music reviewer comes with a certain set of challenges. You receive a promo, plunk yourself down for anywhere between 20 to 96 minutes (more towards the latter, in my case), and give the album a good listen, or six, before writing an informed, honest opinion on it. Sometimes, labels and bands make it easy on us with genre labels and comparisons to other bands. In the case of Malta’s Forsaken, often cited as their country’s answer to Candlemass and the long-dormant-and-sorely-missed Solitude Aeturnus, it should check off all the tick marks for a good-to-great album. And with their fifth full-length (and first album since 2009’s After The Fall), Pentateuch, it would seem like a solid grand slam of Epicus Doomicus Malteseum Metallicus.
Thankfully, on a musical level, it performs admirably. “Serpent Bride” displays some incredible riffs and chops by guitarist Sean Vukovic, amplifying the dreary, heavy atmosphere like a doom metal pro. Each of the non-instrumental tracks contains a powerful chorus that sticks in your head and refuses to give release, all made powerful by the incredible pipes of Leo Stivala. In fact, Stivala’s vocal acrobatics rival the likes of Ronnie James Dio, Robert Lowe, Messiah Marcolin, and Sebastian “Zeb” Jansson (Below), and give songs like the colossal “The Dove and the Raven” that much needed oomph that sends those songs to the stratosphere. So it’s great to report that a band that’s labeled “epic doom metal” is actually that beast. So far so good, right?
But this is where the needle violently scrapes across your favorite record. The two interludes, “Phaneros (Coming to Light)” and “The Banishment,” while not bad, don’t really serve a purpose compared to the strength of the actual non-instrumental tracks, especially when they’re the first and third songs, respectively. Elsewhere, the fifteen-minute closer “Apocryphal Winds” could shave off a few minutes and leave a lasting mark. The shorter songs tell a morose tale better than the repetitious, stretched-out longer tracks do, with the exception of the awesome “The Dove and the Raven.”
Speaking of needle-scratching, let’s talk about the production. But before I discuss the biggest hurdle the album voraciously trips over, let’s give a list of the production credits from their official website, shall we?
- Guitars recorded by Sean Vukovic, at Vukoville Studios, Sliema and Gharghur, Malta between 2013 and 2014.
- Bass recorded by Chris Grech, Mellieha, Malta, June 2015.
- Vocals and drums recorded by David Vella at Temple Studios, Mistra Bay, Malta, August 2013.
- Narrations, female and additional vocals, effects and keyboards recorded by Sean Vukovic at Vukoville Studios, Sliema, Gharghur, Malta, March 2017.
- Produced, mixed and mastered by Sean Vukovic.
Folks, this album was recorded by three different engineers at three different studios, during four different stretches of time, stitched together Dr. Frankenstein-style, and soaked in a vat of battery acid because fuck your eardrums. Seriously, this is one of the worst production jobs I have ever heard on a doom metal record. Each song has a different-yet-equally-bad snare drum sound from the next. Speaking of drums, in “Sabaoth (The Law Giver),” Simeon Gatt’s bass drum and cymbals, as well as Vukovic’s guitars, are mixed hilariously front-and-center, effectively smothering everything else. During “Decalogue,” Albert Bell’s bass pops. I don’t mean “stands out and takes charge,” but rather “pops.” Like popcorn. And yes, Virginia, this is enough to bring Pentateuch down from a good-to-great album to one that you’re better off avoiding.
And I fucking hate saying that, as the music on here ranges from enjoyable to downright stellar at times. Given a better production job, at one studio, during one stretch of time, and by someone outside of the band, Pentateuch would be praised as loftily as one of the greats in Epic DOOM Metal. That said, I can’t recommend anyone exploring this if it means destroying their eardrums at a low volume. This should have been a no-brainer 3.0-3.5, and, instead, I’m asking that you give their other albums a chance, because Pentateuch hurts both souls and eardrums, and not in the “that’s fucking AWESOME!!!” sort of way. I would give my kingdom to trade the “disappointing” label for this score for “heartbreaking,” because that’s what this is.