Hour of 13 – Black Magick Rites Review

In the dark year of our Lord 2021, reliable sources of trve dad doom are few and far between. Hour of 13 was always a reliable purveyor of such, locked into a sound that dared not stray past the early 80s. They’ve been largely moldering in a shallow grave since 2012s 333 opus, and the once gruesome twosome of Chad Davis and Phil Swanson is now down to a lonely onesome as Mr. Swanson skulked off to other pursuits (Briton Rites, Vestal Claret). With Mr. Davis handling all instruments and vocals on fourth full-length Black Magick Rites, the father figure is back in the doom rigors.1 This is doom for the elderly set, based around the sound of the late 70s and early 80s. It’s not especially heavy nor is it particularly dynamic or powerful. It’s a sort of laid-back, mid-tempo doom with a rock undercarriage. This style worked for Hour of 13 to greater and lesser degrees over the years, but how does it hold up now that it’s entirely a one-man show?

The overall sound and approach of the project remain much the same as always. The material sits comfortably between early Pentagram and the works of Witchfinder General with occasional nods toward Saint Vitus and The Obsessed. Mr. Davis knows this era of music inside and out and effortlessly churns out compositions that reek of the early 80s doom scene. Opener “His Majesty of the Wood” is one of the better examples of this niche proclivity. It’s like something off the Pentagram debut with vocals that wobble between Ozzy and Bobby Liebling tropes. It’s stripped-down, bare-bones, and fairly effective if not earth-shattering. It’s easy listening doom for the greyback masses and there’s a market for that, especially when emotive solo noodling is included. “Return from the Grave” is my favorite piece, steeped in early 80s Saint Vitus-isms with Davis adopting a vocal approach quite like Scott Reagers for a tale of ghoulish antics. It’s sure to trigger memories of Vitus‘ “Zombie Hunger” chestnut, and that’s a good thing.

Unfortunately, not everything here hits the doom bone as sharply and there are some missteps along the cemetery road. “House of Death” is very one-note and monotonous with a lead riff that becomes increasingly bothersome over time, and there’s too much time on the clock (7 minutes) for such a simplistic doomer. The 8 minutes of “Within the Pentagram” run into similar hardships, and while it has a certain droning, ponderous appeal, it’s not enough to make the time fly. These same issues resurface in nearly 7-minute closer “The Mystical Hall of Dreams” but this one works a little better, feeling more dynamic and interesting over its (too) extended runtime. For an album just under 44 minutes, Black Magick Rites ends up feeling somewhat longer than it should and Hour of 13 operate better with shorter song durations.

Mr. Davis is obviously an accomplished musician, handling guitar, bass, drums, and vocals. I’ve always been fond of his guitar work and remain so here. He’s not the finest riff-crafter out there but his playing is grounded in rugged, street-level doom and there’s an air of authenticity that’s quite rare these days. When he finds that groove sweet spot as he does on “Return from the Grave,” good things happen. I’m also quite fond of his free-form solo style which drips with emotion. Vocally he isn’t all that different than Phil Swanson, though he’s less Ozzy-centric and more in the Bobby Liebling “ghoul on acid” mold, which is fine with me.

I’m definitely the demographic for what Hour of 13 does2 and I’m predisposed to enjoy it, but Black Magick Rites still leaves me a bit uninspired. It almost feels like background music, which isn’t what I want from my doom. Maybe the absence of Mr. Swanson threw off the writing dynamic, but things feel too restrained, mellow, and rudimentary. Add some major bloat and this becomes a tough Hour. If things were just a tad more consistent and compelling this would be a shoo-in for winter doldrums spins. As it stands, I’ll be moving on and looking for my old-timey doom friends in other crawl spaces.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps
Label: Shadow Kingdom
Website: shadowkingdomrecords.bandcamp.com
Releases Worldwide: August 27th, 2021

Show 2 footnotes

  1. This album was released digitally back in November of 2020 for a period of 24 hours then pulled down.
  2. Because I’m really fookin’ old!
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