As my favorite news anchor Morbo once said, “DOOOOOOOOOOOM!!!” That’s right Morbo, today we are indeed sampling some doom. Stoner doom to be exact. Most albums of this genre handle such topics ranging from drugs to spiritual enlightenment to nature. Contrary to the established norm, Chicagoan quartet Sacred Monster eschew the drug-addled tropes to scare audiences with a sci-fi horror/thriller themed debut named Worship the Weird. At the very least I expect the band hopes Worship the Weird will shake things up in this overcrowded field. The real question: is it weird enough?
Before you leave out of frustration or exasperation towards another stoner doom review, you should know this isn’t your typical record. This is some aggro shit, the vitriol of everything blackened coupled with serious bar-room-brawl swagger all wrapped up in lyrical themes ranging from H.P. Lovecraft to Stephen King to The Twilight Zone. Brain-drilling riffs saturate the record (see opener “High Confessor”) and unlike many albums from this pool the songs are tight, succinct even. Further separating Worship the Weird from the crowd are the vocals, which gurgle and spit with all of the venom one can expect from the creature on the album cover. Also featured are some weird falsettos that evoke nightmares of a tortured cat imitating King Diamond (more on that later).
Sacred Monster have crafted an incredibly well performed record for a debut. Many riffs here will get stuck in your head for an amount of time ranging from a few hours to several weeks (“High Confessor,” “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” and “Face of My Father” are likely the most potent examples). You can thank Robert Nubel for that. Ted Nubel handles the kit with aplomb, his performance solid and devoid of cheap tricks or fancy shenanigans (“Waverly Hills,” “Re-Animator”). Bill Moreno’s bass is potent in the mix, slithering between and within the riffs with grace as evidenced by songs like “The Mothman Lives.” When all of these performers team up they generate immense groove that remains consistent throughout all 38 minutes. As a direct result, hitting that replay button becomes a force of habit rather quickly.
The vocals, however, are less consistent in quality. In fact, between his screams and his falsetto, Adam Szczygieł offers a downright dissociated performance. On the one hand, his growling and rasping is pure evil, sounding like death metal in the lower registers and like tortured blackened crust higher up the scale. On the other hand, his falsettos are cringe-worthy. “Waverly Hills” is perhaps the best track to sample for this stark contrast between vocal styles. That twisted wail presents in the chorus, while the verses rely on serrated growls. I could not focus whatsoever on the music during the chorus, unable to parse anything behind the caterwauling. Then the verse begins and I was instantly re-engaged by the harsh vocals, which have a unorthodox sound that inexplicably works well with the instrumentation. If the goal is to attract listeners to this particular band, I recommend replacing the high-pitched cleans with some baritone croons or dispose of clean vocals entirely, because that falsetto isn’t doing anybody any favors here.
One final point: this album does not flow very well from a conceptual point of view. Between the myriad influences drawn—”Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” is based on a The Twilight Zone episode of the same name; “The Face of My Father” is inspired by Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series—and the overall pacing of the record, there is little in the way of continuity. Worship the Weird feels more like a collection of short stories instead of a full novel, which allows each track to stand out on its own more easily but it does little for those who want to listen to albums front to back.
All things considered, Sacred Monster have crafted something that legitimately qualifies as a creative take on the stoner doom genre. It may sound familiar to most, but that’s but an effective lure. Once you take the bait, it becomes apparent that Worship the Weird is different. Whether it is the burly riffs, the thriller-based lyrics or the hideous vocal approach there is no denying the band’s obvious sense of identity. They aren’t essential listening just yet, with somewhat disjointed flow and some questionable cleans, but with time and refinement we could have a real monster on our hands.