Of all the myriad concoctions of subgenre blends present in metal, few have the potential to be as heinous and vile as black and doom metal. The ominous gloom of the latter mixed with the foul malevolence of the former can make for some horrifyingly ugly textures, something I discovered when reviewing Vile Creature last year. Though I tend to stay away from black metal if I can, this particular cocktail has shaken and stirred something in me, and thus I had no qualm fetching Zohamah from the promo bin, a one-man Israeli band whose debut combines black, doom, and death metal into an unholy platter of terror. Or that’s the idea, anyway.
The idea, as it turns out, has definite merit, particularly when compared to the average one-man black metal artist. H.M. has the benefit of some experience, being bass player for Israeli death metal act Spawn of Evil, but he does well on all instruments. His vocals are consistent in tone, delivery, and unintelligibility, a basic but effective black metal screech that oozes a dark rage. His drum work is great, and he foregoes the usual one-man band drum machine shenanigans; it sounds very natural, switching tempos between doom and death/black often and adding nice flair with small fills. The guitars switch nicely between blasting tremolos and shambling doom riffs, and occasionally the bass gets to play bridge as well, though it largely remains in the background.
Yet something is missing from Spread My Ashes, a certain X-factor that’s hard to pin down. It feels too safe to attack any boundaries or sensibilities, too paint-by-numbers to generate feelings of depravity, ferocity or evil. The melodic undertones make the album easier to listen to, removing a barrier for entry, but at the cost of depth and intensity. Maybe I’m speaking from my own prejudices here, but Zohamah sounds like music that should project the embodiment of body horror: repulsive and beyond all sense of what is pure and right. Yet it never treads beyond the outskirts of Terror Town, looking in with envy.
Maybe I’m being too harsh on the band. After all, most never get to the point of discussion about the emergent effects of their music on the listener. It requires a baseline of competence, and Zohamah clears that bar with ease. The three-pronged attack of doom, death, and black metal is skillfully interwoven, tremolo melody integrated with prolonged bass drum attacks, interspersed with the gloom of stretched-out doom riffs. Even the production is respectable, if a tad muffled, which is forgivable from a one-man bedroom project like this. But the frustration remains, as I catch glimpses of the perversion I feel H.M. is capable of without ever really nailing it.
I keep limping on two left legs when it comes to appraising Spread My Ashes. I have a lot of respect for its maker: creating a competent album by yourself is no mean feat, especially when it’s black metal and you live in Israel, I imagine. And competent the album certainly is; there’s plenty of decent riffs and nice atmospherics to be found. Yet it makes me feel… barely anything at all. When it comes to doom and black, I want it to creep into my soul and dig a hole there to nestle in. Zohamah so far barely chafes the surface and can’t bring itself to cross the boundaries of truly gruesome visages and auditory depravity. If H.M. can get that far next time, gimme a call.