Batten down the hatches and brush aside your assumptions on this one, people. Because if you don’t, prepare to have a number of previous expectations as to what the sound of Doom Metal can be destroyed. If you’ve been paying close attention over the last few weeks, CVLT Nation has been slipping a few choice cuts from the Old Witch / Keeper release to all of you. I was fortunate enough to have been tapped in to review this at times hauntingly somber, occasionally beautiful and most assuredly captivating split. For those that have been sleeping or just have yet to catch up on these two projects, brace yourself, because Doom Metal has just had it’s sonic boundaries pushed a little further into uncharted waters. While both bands sound similar in terms of approach – screeching vocals, heavy use of keyboards and feedback – neither one has the distinction of stealing the spotlight on this release. Keeper and Old Witch blend together a cosmic tapestry of Doom Metal influenced heavily by drone/experimental noise and raw, classic Black Metal. But really drawing comparisons on these two bands gets kind of murky upon adventuring into this sonic bog. With both sides being so impressive, reviewing this record is almost pointless, because it’s that fucking good. But for those who are still in the dark about these two projects, or just want to get a sense of where this split goes, dig in and continue reading.
We’ll start off with Old Witch, a solo projected created by Stephen Heyerdahl. Solo projects, at least in my opinion, can be a toss up. On one hand, an artist doesn’t have to deal with other bandmates’ opinions, which allows an them to fully focus on their vision. On the downside, if that artist isn’t proficient in all the musical tools they rely on it, the end result can turn out to be, well, shitty . Stephen isn’t one of those latter artists. A cauldron of angst-ridden songs compose his half of the split, with a heavy leaning into the experimental aspect of Blackened Doom Metal. I was expecting a heavy dose of hate-filled sludge and funeral hymns from this side, which was delivered far beyond my expectations on the first track, entitled “The Vague Fears that bother my Waking Life…” Never once does this song stop creeping its way across a ravaged landscape. Nor is it forgiving; it is a twelve minute dirge of hopelessness and fatigue that sets the overall theme for the rest of the tracks, which makes the second track, “Broken Soil On An Early Grave,” so surprising. From the fog of noise and feedback, Old Witch emerges and tears through the night sky with a scathing ode to the second wave of Black Metal. “…Early Grave” punched me in the gut when it blasted its way out of my speakers, and immediately had me wondering just what was next in store from this bestial project.
Label: GRIM CVLT
Release Date: July 15th
Old Witch showcases on these tracks above and beyond anything else that Stephen is comfortable in delivering different sounds and styles, while retaining his core vision. Which makes the next track even more surprising. “A Gathering of Strangers” breaks the mold on this side, a quiet, haunting melody that had me instantly comparing it to works by Angelo Badalamenti. This song in particular, and the last song “Gallows,” had me sold to the fact that this project is something special. I have nothing but respect and admiration for metal artists that try to push boundaries and ruffle the feathers of those who adhere to a more traditional approach. The last two songs could have been composed of a more standard Doom sound, but straying from this path and forging into unknown territories is what really sets this side apart. When listened to from start to finish, it’s impossible to argue that these tracks don’t flow together and thus, create an atmosphere and sense feeling that roars it’s away over you like a tidal wave. Old Witch have crafted a decaying, tragic soundtrack on their half of this release. Consider this project (Stephen Heyerdahl) as an explorer into the dark core that extreme music makes us feel, from the hopeless feeling that hovers about the air, to the fury and eventual sadness that arrives as one realizes that they really are all alone in this universe. Old Witch have delivered a grand display on these four songs. Ones that should be turning some heads and raising eyebrows after their initial digestion.
I was fortunate enough to have reviewed Keeper’s last output The Space Between Your Teeth a few months back. So it makes sense that I was pretty stoked to hear this latest offering from these guys. And by all means, they blew me away yet again. “Four Walls; A Home” and “With or Without Part 1,2 and 3” stand as splendid examples of their evolving sound and willingness to delve into the nuanced emotions extreme music can contain. Both songs impart the sense that Keeper are really coming into their own identity as band. “Four Walls” starts off with a heavy, Grief-influenced opening, before they melt into a nightmarish, opium-induced haze. A nineteen minute ride into what feels like a drunken, late night argument between two lovers that quickly turns violent. The song itself feels like a very natural continuation from their last record in terms of of delivery and method, which isn’t a bad thing by any means. It blows my mind that Keeper were able to construct such a long, heavy song without tripping over themselves and repeating any previous ideas. As I’ve come to discover, though, over the course of this release and their previous material, Keeper are capable of destroying any assumptions that I form.
“With or Without,” on the other hand, has a much darker feel than anything Keeper have done so far. This one plays out at an intensely slow pace, dragging your corpse across a fog-choked battlefield over its duration. While not nearly as long as the previous song, this is deliberately slow when compared to their other works, creating a much-needed glimpse into Keeper’s tool bag. Between these two songs, I get the feeling that Keeper might be gearing up to release a full length sometime in the near future. If these two songs are any indication of the direction these young men are heading in, well then shit is about to get really interesting for all of us. If I had one piece of advice for these guys after hearing this album a few times, it would be to keep staying true and honest to themselves. Keeper have tapped into something unique. While their sound teeters on the funeral doom side of metal, they’ve showed such amazing potential in crafting some really atmospheric music on this output that goes above and beyond that what other similar bands are doing these days.
A split release between two Doom Metal based bands could have quickly gone south in regards to repetition. Thankfully, Old Witch and Keeper are two bands that break away from the pack. Both projects pull off their sound flawlessly on this one and act as a perfect compliments to each other’s respective side. I could sit here and continue praising both projects for their various different approaches towards Doom Metal, heaping praises upon them like books on a fire. But what’s the point, really, when it’s the music speaks for itself? If you haven’t had a chance to check either project out, get on this album right now. For those that are familiar with them and have been awaiting this release, your patience will be well rewarded.