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Emerging from the intriguingly named Slab City, California, are Jex Thoth, with their self-titled debut album which brings forth a different take on the classic Doom format well-trodden by many bands before. There is no hiding the fact that this band is all about its female singer of the same name whose husky voice is it's defining feature and leads a lot of the discussion about the band and its music.
Rather than following the classic Doom template to the word in the manner of Reverend Bizarre or The Gates Of Slumber, Jex Thoth come across as a Sabbath-influenced (obviously...) 70's sounding folky-psychedelic Doom band with Bjork on vocals. Infact their bass-heavy and keyboard-backed sound can be most closely compared to not one of the godfathers of Doom, but the 21st Century's own 1970s band: Witchcraft. The importance of the bass guitar permeates throughout, being far more noticeable at times that the guitar, which in the likes of "Equinox Suite, A) The Poison Pit" at times merely adds flourishing melodies or can be heard following the footsteps of the keyboard. Though the trippy spaced feel of classic Sabbath and Pentagram can be attained pretty much throughout, those bands legacies are mostly plundered for the softer and less 'angular' riffing more-often-than-not utilised by Jex Thoth. Just listening to "Equinox Suite, B) Thawing Magus" instantly sends this writer drifting off to the thoughts of bygone Sabbath classics such as "Planet Caravan" and "Orchid".
The speed of proceedings is somber throughout with the term 'Doom' being the only fit under the Metal spectrum but at times not even that applies - Jex Thoth are more than happy to deviate into moments of pure psychedelia ("Seperated at Birth", "When The Raven Calls"), helped immeasurably by a thoroughly un-modern recording sound. The importance of keyboards on the album is most felt in the Reverend Bizarre tinged "Equinox Suite, D) The Damned and Divine", where the mood reaches its lowest point for a bout of melancholic shoegazing. In the likes of "Obsidian Night" and "Warrior Woman" Jex Thoth ride a delicate balance of sounding disturbingly fragile at times whilst laying some of the heaviest riffs this side of Electric Wizard, thanks both to the superbly deep bass sound and Jex's haunting vocal melodies. Her best comparator, Bjork, highlights the fact there are no female vocalists within the boundaries of Metal who fill her territory, all being either basically pop singers (Nightwish, Within Temptation stand up) or men in disguise (Arch Enemy).
"Jex Thoth" emerges from my stereo having being a really down-right pleasant listen, resulting in me feeling more than a little attracted to the combination of Jex's husky delicacy and a bass rumble to remind one of Doom's bygone greats. The slightly imperfect mark more resembles my feelings that I know Jex Thoth haven't reached their peak yet, and whilst this is a commendable start, anticipate hearing an album from them in the future that will have earned the right to sit comfortably with all the bands mentioned in this review.
Originally written for Rockfreaks.net
What was known as Totem became Jex Thoth, and is now offering the retroistic world of doom and gloom with a very open-minded and an atmospheric release. The eerie opening passages of the record lead us down the path to the revered and plentiful creative stream of the seventies.
Progressive and bluesy tendencies of such acts as Blue Cheer, Curved Air are brought to one's mind. There are even spatial but acidic reminders of King Crimson, at best very modest, though.
Jex Thoth belongs roughly to the pack formed by Witchcraft, Burning Saviours, sharing the same retroistic approach and reverence towards the decade of Sabbath. In the modern scheme, the soundscapes this debut album utilizes, resemble those of Witchcult Today of the mighty Electric Wizard.
This is not music of ultimate, crushing heaviness. I would argue if it were a metal record in the purest sense at all. For a doomster expecting old school in the vein of Pentagram and Sabbath, stoner-vibed fuzz of EW, it should be a contrary experience. Unlike Witchcraft or Burning Saviours, Jex Thoth are not as creatively void and don't borrow as outrageously from their forefathers.
It is music heavily laden with emotion, with an atmosphere that is gloomy for sure. Yet there is a more light-weight, hopeful even, feeling brought about not the least due to Jex's powerful and very emotional vocals. Instrumentation of the band, guitar and bass most prominently maintains a laid-back, folkish approach throughout the slab and rarely embark on a riff mayhem that could come close to being outright metal.
Album's opener, Nothing Left To Die, is very eerie and powerful in setting the mood for the ride. Even for heavier and more depressing numbers, such as The Banishment and the closer, Stone Evil (which was featured also on the split with Pagan Altar), Jex Thoth remains very much afloat, and don't dirge at all. The band as a whole peaks in performance on the shorter numbers, Obsidian Night and Seperated At Birth. The vocals are up the ante, and the guitar is delivering very Electric Wizard-esque fuzz here for us.
What is to be said of drumming and rhythm section, is that it is the stable yet flexible foundation where Jex's vocals and Paine's and Jim's guitars are well set. The band has a very warm sound and an emotive stance on their performance.
If the retro-drenched approach to things is not your piece of the pie, don't be let down. This is the Witchcult Today approach to things. Traditional, relevant and mind-blowing. This goes straight to top notch of 2008 releases so far, and is one of the best debut efforts.
While I'm probably speaking in sweeping generalizations here, it seems that the early 70's were a good time to get into music. Whereas the psychedelic music and general outlook of the mid/late 60's was perhaps a bit too flowery and just annoyingly-happy, a few more years of LCD abuse and a realization that perhaps we weren't anywhere near the age of Aquarius had given the start of the 70's a decidedly darker and more pessimistic outlook. That's my theory anyway as to why guitars got a good deal fuzzier and everything got a bit more minor-key around this time.
Anyway, I'm not entirely sure where exactly Jex Thoth come into this, but it certainly seems like they came out of that early 70s come-down era. It's all pretty down tempo and while it's not quite as fuzzy and heavy lidded as, say, Bardo Pond, it's still all very smokey, down tempo doom stuff that's pretty solid and overall extremely enjoyable.
It's a rather nice sound that's fairly relaxing, quite pretty even, especcially when the band slows things down (The Equinox Suite in particular sounds FANTASTIC). Hardly what I'd call a 'dissonant' album- perhaps this might've been edgy 40 years ago but now it's pretty mellow and relaxed. The vocals are straight ahead and quite solid, while the guitars and organs float around in a pleasing and not particularly threatening manner. It's hard to describe it as anything else but "early 70s", but that's really what it sounds like. There's plenty of good rocking out moments but as with most releases of that era (or styled on that era) there aren't a lot of moments that I would say are genuinely heavy. It's all pretty consonant and laid back, the guitars occasionally pounding out some huge riffs ("Obsidian Night", for one) but generally just standing there and fuzzing out.
Still, despite the lack of any really metal moments, the album is still pretty solid. As with most of these Neo-Psychedelic (HATE that term, but it fits quite well) bands, it's not really about huge riffs but slowly sinking into a deep, preferably weed-induced trance, and this achieves that quite well. "Stone Evil" has a great intro that's extremely hippie-ish (Bongos? Check!) but brilliantly executed, and the lush organ action throughout the album is really, really nice, filling the sound out and kind of giving everything a drugged out, blurring kind of fvibe.
So overall this is pretty nice stuff. While I don't really have any way to fault these guys I admit I'd like it to be a bit crazier maybe, and overall it's perhaps a bit too compact- certainly a 20 minute long fuzz and delay pedal jam somewhere in the album would've been nice. I can't complain though, it's pretty solid psychedelic stuff that most proto-metal/early doom metal fans will enjoy.