Everybody from Mayhem to High on Fire have been influenced by Celtic Frost, but few have been as blatant about it as Totengott. Let’s tally it up: their band name is a track title from Monotheist. Their cover art looks like a mountain goat version of the last Triptykon album. Even the name of the record, Doppelgänger, implies they’re just a shameless copy of someone else. It’s thus no surprise that this Spanish trio got their start as a Frost cover band in 2013 before deciding to write their own compositions. On this full-length debut, will Totengott make Tom G. Warrior “ugh!” with approval or disappoint us all like a certain record named after a chilly water body1?
For the most part it’s the former. Unsurprisingly given their namesake, Totengott are heavily inspired by Monotheist-era Frost and its spiritual successor in Triptykon. Black, doom, and thrash metal meld seamlessly on Doppelgänger, with a smattering of gothic atmosphere in the occasional synth flourishes and understated crooning. Most of this record leans heavy on the doom, although that’s not entirely the case with opener “Delusion of Negation.” Following the creeping ambience of its intro and colossal opening chords, “Delusion” kicks in with galloping beats and buzzing riffs that are sure to bring a smile to the face of any Morbid Tales fan. Vocalist/guitarist Chou Saavedra embellishes the proceedings with a hoarse shout that recalls Warrior but retains enough character to avoid being an outright clone. Topped off by a deliciously crunchy thrash break and a guitar tone thicker than black tar, “Delusion” is an enjoyable start whose nine minutes feel like half that.
Unfortunately, the remaining two tracks don’t quite reach the same heights. Follow-up “Satan Beside Me” begins promisingly enough with a huge marching riff that sounds like Cyclops shuffling around his lair. It’s a cool idea initially, but returns far too often over the track’s 14-minute runtime. Luckily there are other ideas that redeem things – a set of strained tritones, a few backing growls, a wailing guitar solo that reverberates off the cavern walls, and a turn to funeral doom heaviness with a slowed version of the main riff and a series of steady cymbal strikes. Still, things feel a bit too drawn out and repetitive, especially with the recurring vocal motif. The closing title track fares a little better with its hefty loping chords, menacing chugs, and bobbing up-tempo portions, but even its doomy main riff has no business reappearing again in the song’s final quarter. While the eerie clean picking and distinct rumbling bassline of the closing minutes do offer a satisfying coda, at 21 minutes the track is simply far too long for the number of ideas within it.
Fortunately these songs remain enjoyable despite their flaws, and Doppelgänger possesses an enormous strength I’ve yet to discuss: its production. Normally I’m far more concerned with a record’s music than its mix, but Doppelgänger is the exception. Simply put, this record sounds incredible. The guitars are thick, resonating, and deep, with a tone that melts wonderfully into the fat bass while harboring a biting mid-range that rivals the iconic sound of Monotheist. While the bass drum is a tad subdued, the rest of the kit whacks and clatters with a lively snap. “Thick” is the word that keeps coming to mind, and while there’s certainly plenty of bass presence, things remain totally clear and never veer into overblown fuzziness. Frankly, Totengott could have recorded an entire album of Emmure covers and as long as it sounded this good, I’d still be bobbing my head with a shit-eating grin on my face.
Still, even the best production can’t entirely make up for repetitive songwriting and extended runtimes. But while a few more up-tempo moments would have added some variety, ultimately Totengott have produced an enjoyable tribute whose faults stem from long-windedness rather than lack of originality. Despite the obvious similarities, Doppelgänger is notably more expansive and doomier than Frost, and it’ll be interesting to see where this project goes next. Hopefully not another 44-minute, 3-track foray, but it’s always amazing what can be accomplished when you’re channeling the power of the Warrior.