Even attempting to articulate just how great a band Moss are at what they do is a fool’s errand. Not only is their sound crushing and brooding beyond any band I’ve ever experienced but every new recording they release seems like a blue-moon event that simply cannot be missed. Horrible Night, Moss‘ latest album, was met with an equal amount of excitement to die-hard fans, me among them — anxiously waiting for the follow-up to 2009’s absolutely monolithic Sub Templum, which is one of doom/drone metal’s best releases bar none. Sub Templum is an hour of the most unforgiving aural assault in its most captivating form with such a cryptic and hateful atmosphere that it can be incredibly difficult to sit through — but a rewarding experience for those who love their doom metal as bleak as it gets. What I loved about Sub Templum was that what they were playing was secondary to the way the atmosphere alone crushed you, and the great production and tone only accentuated everything great and horrifying about it. It’s pure fear, hatred and darkness incarnated into a single sound carried by huge waves of doom metal and in that respect it’s unparalleled in just how well it achieves that. It drones and crushes, broods and destroys, all in equal measure and never too much or little.
The release after that, the great EP Tombs of the Blind Drugged, was rather different; far less in the way of drone metal, and far less ‘difficult’ to listen to in that it was far more straight forward, far more musical, more focused on infectious Black Sabbath-tinged riffs. What it retained, however, was the great dark Moss atmosphere that Sub Templum had: the great ghostly screamed vocals, some of the best drums in doom metal, the massive guitar with great tone, even some fantastic organ work that doesn’t at all get obnoxious (looking at you, Skepticism). Here’s the problem, though, Horrible Night completely changes this. Musically it’s rather similar to Tombs of the Blind Drugged, but it’s a lot more straight forward to the point where it eschews all the drone aspects aside from arguably the guitar tone and goes all out with an hour of simplistic riffs. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, and Moss certainly don’t do a worse job than most any other band out there as far as instrumentation go, but when you consider just how well they did what they did on their previous records, it’s somewhat underwhelming to hear them divert their focus to what to what other bands have already been doing to a high standard for years.
Not that I’m one to halt a band’s desire to progress, but when looked at in a critical light there’s not a lot this album has going for it. The biggest change, and gripe, is the change in vocal styles. Moss had some of the best harsh vocals in the trade, sounding ghastly, like they emanate from beyond the grave in the way they echoed over the mix; as haunting and as torturous as vocals like this can ever manage. For the most part now it’s Ozzy-style clean vocals, and where they’re not bad, they aren’t really all that impressive. The title track sees Olly Pearson really struggling to hit the notes and more often than not just sounds obtrusive and distracting. The screams are all but gone apart from a moment or two, but at least there’s a fair amount of variety — the vocalist often taking on different styles such as almost a snarl-like vocal, in one track actually utilizing a coughing fit — it doesn’t always impress, but variety is pretty essential in a record built on such a simple idea spanning 54 minutes.
The guitar tone, predictably, sounds great. It’s thick, deep and it makes every riff sound all the sweeter, and the drums do a great job of both being a vessel for everything else as well as making up some of the more memorable moments in the album. But this is more or less the extent that the album has to offer as many of these tracks are built on riffs that simply don’t stick with you. Some are fine, some quite infectious — such as in the track “Horrible Nights” — the last track’s riff really ends the album on a higher note than the tracks that preceded it, too, but by then the whole idea is tired out.
As the album goes on though everything starts blurring into one. The first thought coming to mind when “The Coral of Chaos” comes on being “this sounds exactly like track 1…” and the vocal melody in “Dark Lady” simply starts to grate after prolonged exposure. It’s rather difficult to talk about key moments and tracks built on such a simple idea; none of the tracks ever going outside of the norm that they set for themselves. Doom metal is barely the most varied sound palette, but apart from one throw-away interlude track, every track here is built on the exact same principle. Horrible Night is basically a compilation of doom metal hymns constructed with simplistic riffs that finds its way onto an already over-saturated market, where a decent proportion of the competition is doing it better. There’s easily enjoyment to be had for those who really can’t get enough of metal like this, but it’s at least a personal disappointment to me that such a special band seemed to have abandoned what separated them from everyone else. As far as doom like this goes I can’t help but feel you’d be much better off listening to the recent albums by The Wounded Kings, maybe even Pallbearer. I can see enjoyment being had in this for die-hard traditional doom metal fans, but such simplicity in writing needs something else to truly set it apart from becoming just another retro doom album; and Moss, as a consequence, simply get lost in the rabble.