“Good luck with this one. – E.E.“
What an ominous message to leave me when it comes to checking out a promo. “E.E.,” of course, would be none other than Eldritch Elitist, connoisseur of fine metals of power, black, and doom. I saw Divination, the third full-length by New Brunswick trio Zaum, and noticed the album’s description as “atmospheric doom metal.” Seeing as how no one else grabbed it, I lunged towards it all cat-like. Problem was, Mr. Elitist reviewed their prior album, 2016’s Eidolon, and wasn’t all that impressed by it. Normally, we don’t grab promos by bands reviewed by other writers here, but he didn’t fight me for it whatsoever. That’s never a good sign, but hey, they added a visual artist/synth player, and three years is a long time to hone one’s art, so what can go wrong? Well…
Let’s get the good out of the way first. The first four minutes of opener “Relic” contain some pretty atmospheric noises. Birds chirp at the rising sun, a warm wind gently blows in the background, and a single bell rings out to celebrate the coming of the morning. Flutes and a woman wailing set the tone for an adventurous romp in the jungle, lending a docile air while drums pound, giving warning that war looms just over the horizon, and all tranquil thoughts must be shelved aside for preparations. With the build-up from peaceful feelings to an impending cataclysmic event, all signs pointed to an enchanting, atmospheric ride of quality doom.
Too bad the remaining 44 minutes stumbles with the grace of a water buffalo performing parkour in an overly stuffed Aldi. When I read the words “atmospheric doom,” my mind goes to one of two places. Either the music takes you to a land rife with raw, primal druidic energy that pulses with every note (Morgion), or it levels you with tense build-ups and explosive climaxes that raze you into ashes (Inter Arma). Divination does neither. Apparently, “atmospheric doom” now means “play three riffs max per song, and drag them out way longer than their expiration date allows,” with “Relic”‘s remaining 14 minutes showcasing the album’s critical flaws. The bass and sitar1 follow each other, note for agonizing note, without any sort of counter-melody or deviation. The drums keep time, and do nothing to inject some much-needed life into a shambling corpse. The bizarre chant-singing of Kyle Alexander McDonald comes across as off-key, and his growling sounds like someone who just started learning to growl, as it’s both breathy and comical.
The other two songs don’t help matters. Closer “Procession” goes to great lengths to not actually go anywhere, dragging an already long album to new levels of tedium. “Pantheon,” the lethargic creamy center of a stale Oreo, succeeds in making a nine-minute long song2 feel like a half-hour marathon due to McDonald’s vocals, tepid drumming, and a distinct lack of quality riffs and melodies. The greatly compressed and noisy as fuck production only enhances the annoyance factor, as the sitar sounds loud, the bass is punchless, and the drums hit with the power of wet cardboard. If your one-sheet is hyping up the inclusion of a literal what’s what of Middle-Eastern instruments and ideas, you might want to hire a producer who’ll make sure that those instruments and ideas aren’t smothered half to death, and that they’ll take the time to recommend more than two or three riffs repeated ad nauseam. Otherwise, what’s the point?
I was looking forward to experiencing an otherworldly journey to exotic lands, heady landscapes, and pummeling doom. Instead, now I’m looking forward to the warm, dulcet tones of Eldritch Elitist shouting, “HA, I FUCKING TOLD YOU.” I tried to find something, anything, to enjoy on Divination, but other than the promising intro, I was bored to tears. If you want some quality atmospheric doom, go here instead.