So, With The Dead are the result of what seems to be an obvious alchemical process. It only seems logical that such a band should, at some point in time, exist. Comprising of ex-Electric Wizard members Tim Bagshaw and Mark Greening (also founding members of Ramesses) and joined by Lee Dorian, legendary vocalist of Cathedral and Napalm Death, With The Dead seems to be now the focal point of the three musicians. With Ramesses currently on hold and Cathedral calling it quits in 2013, this trio was brought together in order to fill a certain void.
The pedigree should be quite well known, just by the mention of these names, and on the debut album of With The Dead you get pretty much what you can imagine: massive riffs, a slow pace, horrific inputs along with Dorian’s trademark vocals. The origin of these tracks is mainly instinctive, with the structure pointing towards some demonic jam session, which has the advantage of being recorded with precision. Therefore, you do get the best of both worlds in that aspect.
The guitars are simply massive in this release, laying waste from the moment they appear on “Crown of Burning Stars.” The amount of distortion results in a dirty and humongous characteristic tonality, with a fair amount of fuzziness also lurking underneath, as is the case with “The Cross.” There are even moments when that dirty aspect becomes quite astounding, as happens in “I Am Your Virus,” where you can almost picture the band digging up your grave while throwing the mud straight at you. Of similar attitude is “Screams From My Own Grave,” with the more exploding parts really causing aural damage, as the feedback roars and the huge drones are let loose upon the soundscapes of the track. And when you thought that you have experienced all the heaviness that With The Dead are able to conjure, you find yourself in front of the terrifying beast that is “Living With The Dead,” a true massive black hole where all light is lost.
Label: Rise Above Records
But all that dirt and weight would be nothing without that old-school attitude that overflows from this album. The riffology of the band on “Nephthys” is a sickening fusion between the early days of Electric Wizard and the early-mid period of Cathedral, something that is also reflected in big part in Dorian’s delivery. And With The Dead are very good in complimenting the main guitar parts with some lead work. That can appear as an old-school doom melody, as happens in the opening track, “Nephthys” as well as “Living With The Dead,” but there is also a darker side to this aspect of the band. The more dissonant and almost schizoid guitar parts of “The Cross” are equally impressive, while when they go on pushing the boundaries, they come up with some sickening results. The piercing feedback in “Screams From My Own Grave” radiates with the disturbing element that lies within the core of the band. Its creeping effect and roaring quality makes the whole process even more distressing.
Given the band members and their history, it can be easily deduced how they approach the groove of the album. Most of the tracks follow down in the lines of “Crown of Burning Stars,” creating a circling effect with few variations in parts, boosting the relentless ingredient of the music. However, the major change occurs in “The Cross” which features an almost drunken groove, almost like a ship desperately trying to get back on course amidst a storm. The effect is intriguing, as the band shortly resumes the more decisive and in your face pace, but that moment of intoxicated urgency is one of the very interesting moments in With The Dead.
So as Greening and Bagshaw take care of the heavy riffs and groove of this album, Dorian stands behind the mic and really unleashes a storm. His vocals are some of the most unique in doom metal, that much is certain, and his performance in With The Dead is absolutely stellar. With the vocals slightly different in terms of tone from what we were used to in Cathedral, Dorian still brings all that is so distinctive in his performance. A bit lower in the mix in the opening track, they still have the same effect they always had, with some faraway cries thrown in there to add the necessary despair. “The Cross” draws much more power from the vocal performance, while the feeling on “I Am Your Virus” is found in the more retro domain, with some death grunts also making an appearance. But especially on “Screams From My Own Grave” and “Living With The Dead” are raised to another level in terms of his voicing, and they will have you uttering along each word that he spits out.
Again, looking at the pedigree of this group, you can expect a couple more “surprises.” The obvious one being how essential the horror element is for them. That comes from the Cathedral and Electric Wizard playbook, with the addition of samples and spoken parts, as well as the raising of an unearthly ambiance. With The Dead do not really waste time in establishing this side of the band, and that is how actually the album begins as the horror element is brought into perspective with the samples. Then there are also some bizarre, almost majestic sounding moments, making an appearance, as is the case with parts of “The Cross.” The complete vision is unveiled when the samples join in once more, bringing the terror up close. Of course, it can also be the case that the entire track is a horror anthem, as happens with “Screams From My Own Grave.” From the insane pace and the constant guitar chugging to Dorian’s demented performance, it is one of the most demonized tracks in the album.
The other “surprise” of the album are the switches from the horrific side to a more mysterious element. That is also the aspect of the album that is strongly reminiscent of Ramesses, specifically with the Chrome Pineal EP (the title track especially.) The switch in “Living With The Dead” just occurs naturally, from the imposing, heavy riffs to the clean guitars and more laid back drums. The change is great because it offers a change of pace and at the same time, it does not take anything away from the distressing feeling that the band is building on. A similar shift occurs in “I Am Your Virus” even though this time around there is an even more morbid feeling about the part. But that is not even the highlight of the track, with the more psychedelic input coming in and really laying waste with the effects making an appearance and piercing through the heavy veil.
In With The Dead you get exactly what you thought you would: an album filled with heavy riffs, old-school doom groove and a disturbing horror element. Through the tracks of this album, the band goes through a devilish, doom-oriented jam session without limits or boundaries.
P.S. Also, that instrumental fucking track is just awesome!!!