Planet of the Dead – Pilgrims Review

A doom/stoner album with songs about classic horror and sci-fi books and movies? Sounds right up my alley. New Zealand’s Planet of the Dead take on all sorts of material, from Dune to Alien to Slaughterhouse 5, and do so with a sludgy simplicity here on their second album, Pilgrims. Their debut album, Fear of a Dead Planet, came out just last year, so this is a pretty quick turnaround by today’s standards. Channeling the usual suspects such as Black Sabbath and Kyuss, and coming off a bit Bull Elephant-adjacent, this quartet hits the sweet spot in album length, with eight songs spread out over less than forty minutes, making for an release that’s easy to get into from start to finish. Do they hit the mark on all eight tracks?

Not entirely. As Planet of the Dead say themselves, they keep things simple and at times a bit repetitive, with similar riffs coming and going throughout Pilgrims. There are definitely some pretty excellent riffs floating around, notably on the title track (based on the Vonnegut book) and the monolithic “Directive IV,” which if I’m not mistaken tells the tale of Robocop. The top banger here is the galloping “The Cursed Earth,” a cut that takes us through the Judge Dredd game with catchy ferocity but also provides a changeup in the form of a churning, doomy, delicious breakdown. Elsewhere, songs such as “Gom Jabbar” and “Nostromo” add a touch of sci-fi spaciness to the game, with some swirling effects and vocal augmentation.

These high points are compelling and demonstrate Planet of the Dead’s ability to create dynamic and catchy songs, but they are only scattered throughout Pilgrims, rather than prevalent. Going on eight listens, it’s still difficult to recognize standout moments beyond those I’ve already highlighted. Instead, too often the songs settle into a more monotonous groove. The band’s goal of playing simple and heavy can backfire at times, as the songs blend into each other. Too often I had to restrain myself from simply skipping ahead to “The Cursed Earth.” Despite the at-times monotony, it’s still a fun album for sci-fi nerds to spin. Digging into all the lyrics and listening to the band’s takes on everything mentioned can be an engrossing challenge.

Mark Mundell’s vocal style is firmly in the sludge camp. His guttural baritone sometimes reminds me of aging pro wrestlers, and while it would be lovely to hear the odd changeup in his delivery, the addition of some space echo-y backing vocals does serve to break the monotony. As with the riffs, more variety would be the right spice here. As far as the production goes, Pilgrims needs a much more explosive drum mix. More snap in Josh Hussey’s snare, more thud from the kick drum, and more thunder from those toms. Malcolm McKenzie’s guitar tones are built around some serious fuzz and he certainly shines throughout. The band’s style is crushing, pounding, and heavy, but the production dulls the edges of their attack a touch too much.

Ultimately, Pilgrims is a fine doom-sludge effort with some memorable riffs and shining moments. The references and lyrics telling the tales of old cult classics are a nostalgic draw, and one that certainly had me spinning the album a bit more than I otherwise would have. As a whole the album may not have you yearning for more, but the songs Planet of the Dead have given us certainly showcase a band with some cool ideas and the potential to expand their sound in more dynamic directions. These guys are on the right trajectory, and I’ll be keeping an eye out (next year, at this rate?) for their next instalment.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320kbps mp3
Label: Self-released
Websites: | |
Release Worldwide: July 23, 2021

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