Oceanlord – Kingdom Cold Review

For someone who holds all forms of doom metal in high esteem, I must admit I’ve struggled to connect with anything of the stoner/psych variety ever since Italy’s Ufomammut put their amp fuzz out to pasture a few years back.1 As the oldest of all metal forms, predictability is baked into its very DNA. No matter how full of piss and vinegar a young band may be, if they play stoner doom, they fight the perceptions of a tired genre. That being said, there must be something in the (lack of) water Down Under, because I’ve seen recent flickers of hope for fans of quality stoner/psych coming out of Australia. Apparently, we’ll have to continue to wait for a proper full-length from promising upstarts Potion, but in the meantime, I’m happy to report that the Wide Brown Land has given us Kingdom Cold, the impressive debut from Melbourne’s Oceanlord, a band inspired by the 70s, the briny deep and those Eldritch horrors that lurk beyond our knowing.

There are plenty of layers to Kingdom Cold’s sound, but if I had to be pithy, I’d say this is a record that splits the difference between Black Sabbath and Neil Young and Crazy Horse. The latter is especially prominent in “2340,” with a slight twang and a big classic rock riff. It would feel perfectly natural to swap out guitarist/vocalist Peter Willmott’s unfussy singing for Young’s reedy countertenor, making “2340” a personal standout. Other songs, like leadoff “Kingdom” and “Isle of the Dead” lean more heavily on a classic doom sound without losing the flavor of 70s psych rock. By the time final track “Come Home” rolls around, Oceanlord are firing on all psych cylinders, with floating warped guitars and a stank-face jam session full of echo and distortion to close things out. Before you start thinking this is all shag carpet and wood paneling in aural form, know that Oceanlord sound far from musty. Case in point is “Siren,” with its easy, resonant guitar line and un-rushed tempo sounding like a lost Low track while integrating seamlessly into the larger album.

Even if Kingdom Cold was nothing but pure 70s worship, and a lot of it is, it wouldn’t matter, because a band that plays music that goes down this smooth can never go out of style. The six songs and 42-minute run time fly by largely because everything fits snuggly into just the right places. No two tracks pull exactly the same trick or repeat ideas too blatantly, but things all feel of a piece. The confidence Oceanlord show right out of the gate with “Kingdom” infiltrates every subsequent track and reminds me, in both approach and a bit in sound, of Pallbearer’s first two excellent albums. There’s even a similar slight prog undercurrent in Oceanlord’s songwriting, though I hope they don’t overindulge that going forward the way their Arkansan brethren have. Kingdom Cold has plenty of fuzzed-out riffs, but they’re never allowed to drag on too long or become too single-minded the way the genre often can. When they do let the guitar jams take over, as in “2340” or “Come Home,” it’s easy to let yourself be borne along the dusty psych highway, with or without the aid of mind-expanding substances.

A relatively minor critique of Oceanlord resides with vocalist Peter Willmott. Don’t mistake me, he’s not a bad singer. Above I describe him as “unfussy,” which is usually my code for “gets the job done, but unremarkably.” But when I’m insistently picturing Neil Young or Low’s Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker (RIP) singing over the instrumentation, it tells me there’s a little something missing. This is more an issue when Willmott is front and center, as he is on “Siren,” than when he’s layered into the fuzz a bit as on “Kingdom.” Is this a nitpick when I clearly like the record? Sure. But what kind of music critic would I be if I didn’t critique?2

So maybe there’s some tread left on the stoner doom/rock tires after all. Oceanlord aren’t revolutionary by any means, but they sound fresh compared to many. Kingdom Cold is a confident debut, and I look forward to hearing where these Aussies go next. And Potion, if you’re reading, hit us up with that debut.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 11 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Magnetic Eye
Website: oceanlord.bandcamp.com
Releases Worldwide: May 26th, 2023

Show 2 footnotes
  1. Shortly after writing this review I discovered that the band reformed a year or so ago and have new material.
  2. Makes pointed eye contact with several metal sites.
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