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It takes a special kind of touch to do doom metal right. And I’m not talking about the more modernized depressive stuff with growling vocals and keyboards; no, no. I mean the real stuff. The heavy, fistful-of-riffs, occult-prayer variety with lyrics about Satanic rituals, old Lovecraftian gods, vampires and fantasy tales, vocals that sound like they’re coming out of the mouth of a demonic priest or some kind of witch hunting renegade…it’s the kind of sound that beats you over the head with the overpowering sensation of DOOM. Few bands really nail it, but Briton Rites have, and their debut For Mircalla is just a huge amount of fun.
A new project from Cauldron Born-mastermind Howie Bentley, Briton Rites is a deeply inspired band. Just listening to this, you get the idea that these guys all knew what they were doing: him and drummer Corbin King and vocalist Phil Swanson. The basic sound is huge, twisted slabs of distorted guitars so thick and impenetrable that you could use them as a substitute for the Berlin Wall if you wanted. The vocals from Swanson are his usual very limited, warbly doom bleating, but they are entertaining, and they fit the sound to a tee. The bass shines through numerous times on every song, adding a darker, more elegant touch to the unfurling vampiric madness from the guitars. Atmosphere is conjured, mixing with unstoppable hooks to create a dense and layered sound that will reveal new little nuances with every listen. And what a long album this is! It never gets old, though, feeling about fifteen or twenty minutes shorter than it really is. You will look at the clock after it ends and marvel at how a whole hour has passed while you were immersed in this doomy masterpiece.
“Carmilla” instantly hooks in the listener with its unbearably catchy musical ideas and the huge, adventurous vocals. The riff hits you like a barbed and spiked gauntlet, and it doesn’t let go for the entire 8 minute duration of the song. It is so infectious that it will draw you back time and time again to hear it, and when you’re done, you still have another hour of great metal to go! “A Meeting in the Woods” is a darker, creepier crawler, slugging on for over 9 minutes and luring you in with more subtle musical hooks. And then we get the 10 minute epic “Vampire Hunter, 1600,” which rumbles on with a huge, Earth-shaking riff and a denser thicket of musical prowess to dig through – a grower, for sure. And just listen to that bass line; isn’t that awesome? It literally sounds like the footsteps of a hunter as he ventures into some dark, velveteen castle, in search of a seductress who has taken the women of some small, helpless village. Great atmosphere, great crushing, suffocating heaviness…great song.
“The Right Hand of Doom” brings things back to Earth with its grooving, Sabbathine romp and catchier chorus, but we are quickly whisked away again by the mystical, bubbling cauldron of occult fire and brimstone that is “The Exorcism of Tanith,” which is probably the most writhing and lively track on display, with its wrathful, fiery soloing and head-crushing riffs. “All Hallowed Vengeance” is more amped up Sabbath worship, spiced with a hefty helping of sorrowful, poetic gloom. I like how it builds up from its slow dirge to the more upbeat rocking at the end. I also must say this track was the hardest to get into of all of them here, probably due to the more linear structure - almost folksy in a way due to the lyrics adapted from Robert L. Tierney’s poem of the same name.
But all bow before the grand feast of this great work, titled “Karnstein Castle.” It makes me sad in a way that Bentley did not contribute more to the vocal work on this album himself, but he did for this song, and it helps. “Karnstein Castle” is…simply epochal, reaching into the depths of doom and darkness and shadows and coming out with one hell of a song. Monstrous, colossal riffs slog out of the gates like Lovecraftian devils the size of continents. Howie’s vocals are a deep, clean rumble that sounds really, really good. Just the perfect doom voice for the perfect doom song. Epic, enchanting and foreboding. What a way to end an album!
This is the work of a band that really understands not only the technical aspects of metal songwriting, but also why it works, and what makes it so good. When I listen to this, I really get a sense of exactly what makes heavy metal such a wonderful style of music. It’s this spirit, this intangible rebellious, yet also intelligent, raw and offbeat kind of quality that intrigues me so much that I get hooked to it for weeks once I get a whiff of its dusty, archaic riffs and leads. I can connect with this kind of music on a higher emotional level. It simply fills me with this really enthusiastic joy, and that’s the best reason I can think of to recommend this to someone else. The best album I’ve heard this year so far.