Like a demented Doctor Who, a lot of modern metal continues to spiral backwards through time, seeking inspiration in all things “retro.” Currently, the trendy place to set the dial on the trusty Way-Back-Machine™ is the 70s. With bands like Ghost, Devil, Castle, Jex Thoth and countless others revisiting the 70’s rock/metal scene for inspiration, it seems retro is destined to get even more retro-esque. You can count New York’s Occultation among this new wave of 70’s “occult metal” with their debut Three and Seven. Borrowing extensively from Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult, Iron Butterfly and the 70’s sound generally, they strive to create mysterious, eerie songs loaded with dark atmosphere. They blend elements of gothic-rock and doom and have nods to Mercyful Fate and early period Tristania as well. While they nail the dark atmosphere quite effectively, they largely fail at penning memorable songs to take advantage of the creepy mood they took such pains to create. What we’re left with is a collection of ghostly songs that don’t really register on the brain or stick the mental landing. That’s a shame, because these cats have the germ of an interesting style.
The very first thing you’ll notice upon spinning Three & Seven is the production. It’s soupy, hollow and cavernous with TONS of reverb. No doubt this was done to give it a horror movie sound and make it all mysterious and enigmatic. It’s also very trebly and tinny, without much of a bottom end (though the bass is quite audible). This sound is good for a scary vibe, but weakens the impact of the music overall. Since they’re going for a variant of the retro doom sound, they need a big guitar sound, but the guitars and bass have almost no muscle or heft. The riffing sounds light and fragile and floats away into the ether. This undermines things from the get go and the reverby, tinny sound gets tedious after a few songs.
As for the songs themselves, they’re a frustrating mix of cool ideas, bad ideas and clumsy, awkward execution. There are some undeniably cool moments interspersed throughout the album, but they never congeal into good songs. Usually, there’s a riff or vocal hook that peaks the interest, but they cart-wheel away into an ill-conceived segment that breaks the spell and derails the listening experience. Opener “The Sea of Snakes and Souls” starts well with a haunting riff that draws you in, and the dual female vocals from Mal and V are haunting and effective, but then the song degenerates into drone and drags along limply (and this is one of the better ones here). Others like “One Who Sleeps” and “Double Walker” drone by without interest or novelty (and this is coming from someone who likes drone). “Shroud of Sorrows” and “Dreamland in Flames” are better and have more interesting moments (largely supplied by the vocals and keys), but still fall short of being good songs. By album’s end, it dawned on me not one song in the bunch was good from start to finish, and even at a short 37 minutes, this thing feels WAY overlong and tedious.
The guitar playing by E.M. (Negative Plane, Lunar Reign) is rooted in black metal, so there’s a good deal of trem-picking involved. Sadly, most of it doesn’t really impress. The guitar sound is annoying, high-pitched and overly shrill and a lot of the riffs themselves are instantly forgettable. The vocals by Mal and V are generally haunting and ethereal, but they seem to have no idea how to craft vocal patterns and their placement seems haphazard and chaotic. By way of comparison, Worm Oroborous uses the same dual female vocal approach, but in a much more refined and effective way. The best part of the album ends up being the moog synth lines, which lend a nicely evil, satanic vibe.
As much as I like the general idea Occultation is going for, Three & Seven ends up missing the mark for good, listenable music. This would be much more effective as a soundtrack for Halloween parties than for actual listening. Oh well, at least the black metal hipsters will love it. Skip this cult and check out the new albums by Castle or Jex Thoth instead.