Head of the Demon – Deadly Black Doom Review

I haven’t had a great run with doom lately. The new Ocean Chief was the last out and out doom record I reviewed, and my high hopes were dashed quite badly upon its rocky shores. I am hoping that, despite a blackened death tag, a record entitled Deadly Black Doom might tickle that slowest and most insistent of itches for me. Its creators, Swedish quartet1 Head of the Demon, were unknown to me when I picked up what is their third full-length outing. Thus far in their career, the occult-themed doomsters have kept a healthy four years between releases, dropping their self-titled debut in 2012 and its follow up, Sathanas Trismegistos, in 2016. Can 2020’s Deadly Black Doom deliver on its oh so tantalizing title?

Deadly Black Doom is actually a rather curious beast. The blackened death tag attributed to it in the promo sump is wholly misplaced, so we’ll put that down to a clerical whoopsie somewhere in the process and move on. But not only is Deadly Black Doom not black(ened), somewhat more curiously, it’s also not very deadly. Doom it is but rather ponderous, at times whimsical, mid-paced doom. Neither crushingly heavy nor funereally slow, it’s actually surprisingly melodic – for doom – and in places (“En to Pan,” for example) slightly unsettling. Without doing anything startling (or quickly), Deadly Black Doom has a slightly off-kilter edge to it that enlivens what could otherwise become monotonous. For those familiar with Head of the Demon’s back catalog, the Swedes are basically picking up here where they left off four years ago on Sathanas Trismegistos.

Hypnotic and repetitive, Deadly Black Doom reduced me to a borderline-catatonic state on occasion and if that sounds like a criticism, it isn’t intended as such. Head of the Demon manage to inject swathes of unnerving atmosphere into their Lovecraftian world, while making use of only a few simple, yet mesmerizing, riffs, often aided by mountains of feedback and layered onto a spine of echoing drums and percussion. Without straying into the same levels of claustrophobic heaviness, there is something of Unearhtly Trance about Deadly Black Doom, intertwined with the occult menace of Arkhaaik. Head of the Demon make relatively sparing use of vocals, with lengthy instrumental passages across the album’s six tracks. When vocals are deployed, they range from haunting chants, through throaty barks (“En to Pan”) and hoarse cleans (“St Cyprian”) to ragged, rasping bellows (“Set-Sutekh”).

I don’t quite know what to make of Head of the Demon. When I am listening to Deadly Black Doom, I find there is a lot to like about it. From the skin-crawlingly awkward melodies that edge parts of album highlight “En to Pan” – including some sort of pipe that closes out the song – to the record’s resolute unwillingness to resort to crushing heaviness to make its point, Deadly Black Doom has something oddly compelling about it. And yet, its reliance on repetition, coupled with the lack of crushing heaviness or any real shifts in pace or tone across a fairly hefty 50-minute runtime, mean it’s also curiously forgettable once it wraps. The production works well for the tone that Head of the Demon are looking to generate. The sound feels capacious and rich, with the percussion loud and high in the mix, giving it a semi-primal feel.

Head of the Demon have not managed to truly scratch my doom itch. Rather, they have just tickled it further. Deadly Black Doom is a good record but it feels like it is on the edge of being a great one, with the lack of any true standout moments holding it back from crossing that divide. A little more deadliness or perhaps a hint of blackness could have really lifted Deadly Black Doom.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 11 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Invictus Productions | The Ajna Offensive
Websites: https://invictusproductions666.bandcamp.com/album/deadly-black-doominvictusproductions666.bandcamp.com/album/deadly-black-doom | facebook.com/HEAD-OF-THE-DEMON
Releases Worldwide: April 30th, 2020

Show 1 footnote

  1. The promo blurb claims there are four members but declines to name them – as do the band’s Facebook and Bandcamp pages – while the usually-reliable Metal Archives lists them as a five-piece. #tiltsheadtotheside #shrugs
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