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Music is best which shows rather than tells, though strong levels of subjectivity emerge when it concerns what kind of picture one prefers. The more extreme the tendencies of an album, the greater the level of clarity and vividness of the illustration it puts forth. Few would argue against the hybrid of doom and black metal being among the more extreme expressions of metallic imagery, but a young outfit from Wiltshire dubbing themselves Legions Of Crows are pushing the envelope in terms of how this stylistic medium can be presented. Consider the most profane usage of language, the most revolting of imagery, and the most nauseating of odors and roll them together into a stew of horrors with perhaps a slight helping of comedy and that is what lay in the nature of “Stab Me”, an album title blunt enough to depict its contents accurately.
The overall timbre of the album is a combination of expected and unexpected, the former manifesting in frustratingly slow and muddy guitar work with a slight element of traditional doom metal (think early Electric Wizard) and gut-pulverizing vileness that pretends at vocal noises, with or without additional processing depending on the song, while the latter becomes a smattering of gothic keyboard sounds and rather descriptive spoken narrations that would be enough to make Edgar Allen Poe’s rotting corpse vomit. This is an album that doesn’t quite come off as otherworldly, but it is definitely outlandish, even by the standards of a number of bands that obsess over disgusting imagery yet somehow anchor themselves into a musical box that is occasionally consonant and melodic.
Perhaps the most telling influences of this album are among the more unlikely given the genre, namely Dani Filth and Peter Steele. While vocally Attila is a bit too sepulchral and goblin-like to resemble Filth’s witching wails, there is a definite similarity in lyrical content, alongside a few off-kilter bits of stylistic splicing that are oddly reminiscent of Type O Negative. The opening song “Provident Hymn” is all but a direct plagiarized Anglican hymn, painted over with some moderately rough vocal work that all but clashes with the arrangement. Likewise, “Defecate” trails along in its toilet-based irreverence, really bringing home the Type O Negative influences again with a venomous, yet almost bluesy groove right out of the “Bloody Kisses” era, yet with vocals nasty enough for “Cruelty And The Beast”. At times it’s slightly funny, at others serious and somber sounding, but there is a continual sense of literal revulsion and oddly placed irony at work here. Perhaps this is best illustrated in “Bullshit Acres”, which first strikes the listener as a brilliant metaphor of human hypocrisy, yet after repeated listening makes one question if the song is literally describing a multi-acre plot of excrement.
It’s tough to know whether to laugh, cheer, or get sick when listening to this and that is actually part of this thing’s charm. This is an album that actually manages to be both overtly obvious in its intent, yet somehow enigmatic in spite of itself, mostly due to the gratuitous combination of lyrical imagery and bone-crushing primordial metallic sludge. It even mixes up its level of production fidelity from one song to the next, occasionally sounding like massive undertaking, while at others keeping things to a fuzz-heavy independent character. An additional twist even finds Paul Di’Anno, of all people, putting his characteristic vocals to one of these songs (the connection between early Iron Maiden and this band stylistically is nowhere to be found, just for the record). This is far from the greatest album ever recorded, but it is definitely among the more inviting curiosities to crop up out of the swamp of extreme metal, and is worth the time of anyone wishing to take a trip through the twilight zone.
Black/doom metal is one genre that I seldom encounter, with one of the few other bands that I have listened to that play this variant of black or doom metal being Canada's Woods of Ypres. Stab Me then, is my first encounter with UK blackened doom metal band, Legions of Crows, and having seen how bands like the aforementioned Woods of Ypres has managed to fuse these 2 genres together seamlessly, Stab Me would personally, certainly be an interesting listen.
Introductory track Provident Hymn/Malediction transports listeners into a chapel, almost reminding listeners of Ghost, with the organs that are playing in the background, though the clean singing slightly spoils the mood, and while on surface the track provides a sense of calm, underlying this calm is a sinister feel with the distorted vocals beneath the cleans. Without warning, the band introduces listeners to their brand of music, with a heavy, yet fuzzy guitar tone, backed by heavy hits on the programmed drums and the inhuman, tortured shrieks of Attila, before the music suddenly goes back to the original hymn, only this time backed by other instruments like the drums and guitars. The spoken vocals at the end of the track almost tricks the listener into thinking that this would be a pleasant ride, only that once what is spoken is deciphered, one knows that Stab Me would be an interesting journey ahead.
Legions of Crows on the album has managed to successfully fused elements of both black and doom metal together. The guitar riffs that are present by Herod are heavy, often presenting listeners with slow, chugging sections, and the solos are also often presented in an unexpected style, being some of the faster moments that are present on the album, and at times even remind listeners of solos that Tony Iommi would have written. Attila's vocals also manage to send chills down the listener's spines, with his screechy, high-pitched shrieks and the decision to utilise such a vocal style certainly helps to put the album in the right mood. The slow pace that the band tends to travel at also at times remind listeners of bands like Black Sabbath, with the intro of tracks like Defecate leaving listeners almost anticipating a song like Iron Man. On the same track, the usage of keyboards also help to keep up the false calm front, and helps to keep up the atmosphere of the track at the same time.
Songs are also structured and hidden with unexpected moments, constantly catching the listener unaware and surprising him. Songs like Fellating the Lamb begin slow, but without warning the band speeds up and slows down again, though it is easy to miss such moments as the listener is easily put into a trance by the almost ritualistic music on the album. The numerous transitions and quirky moments on these songs also keep things interesting throughout. There is also the spoken track Carrion Pond Drove, complete with the usage of sounds of ravens at the background, signifying the themes of death and putrefaction. The melodies on songs like Dull Grey even makes for some depressive and melancholic moments on the album as well, providing an emotional touch to the music.
However, the album falters on a few fronts, with one of the main complaints being the usage of programmed drums. For the most part, this could be hard to tell, but on some parts of the album, the synthetic sound of the drums start to get slightly irritating, like on Defecate, causing the enjoyment of the album to be affected, and this could have been resolved easily had the band included a real drummer on the album, though the whole raw and almost industrial sound could have been what the band was going for. Also, the long track lengths on some of the tracks could also lead to listeners to blank out easily, losing focus on the songs. Fortunately though, the band often makes up for this with superb songwriting and musicianship, making the album an overall pretty enjoyable one if one is in the mood for some dark and heavy music.
Legions of Crows are not a band I have any prior familiarity with, but what I can say is that they've come up with a rather novel debut that spurns the notion of ascribing to any strict genre. Surely most will recognize it's doom and black metal elements, but the UK duo is clearly not afraid to venture into outside territories, and they offer a marginally distinct take on the thick, copious mud and sludge that often accompanies the messier bands in the doom genre. To be sure, most of the 'black' metal influence on this album comes through the rasped, agonizing vocals, the filthy, grim distortion of the guitar tone, and the programming of the drums. You're not going to hear any epic, symphonic structure or blazing tremolo structures here, as the actual riffing tends towards a painful, sluggish drawl.
At first, I didn't know what the fuck to think. A lot of the material here is culled from their 2009 demo Cacophonous Aural Wickedness, but there are numerous additions here, like the opening organ hymn with its mix of clean choir singing and a rasp. I won't lie, it's pretty funny sounding, and revels in its irreverence, but soon the band lurches into this primal, dissonant sludge riff to inaugurate "Malediction". Crawling, crawling, fucking crawling...but the strange thing is that the band brings BACK some of the hymnal vocals over the droning...and it's the most unexpected and unnerving thing on perhaps the entire album. Other songs are equally quirky: like the old school funeral feel of the keys that accompany the Sabbath doom riff in the following track "Fellating the Lambs", or the strange, start/stop low end riffing the band creates through a lot of songs like "Bullshit Acres". Perhaps the strangest song here is "Defecate", which feels like light hearted piano fair that someone might use to back Celine Dion...injected with a heroin overdose of grimy, doomed filth and sinister, squelching vocals.
It's a crazy album, but not without its riffs. Most of my favorite songs come closer to the latter half, like "Legions of Crows" itself or "Dull Grey". Both are rather bloated, over 8 minutes in length, but the band evinces these potent, pummeling rhythms out of their guitars that feel fresh and memorable. Another choice moment was "Carrion Pond Drove", this ghastly and disgusting spoken word piece over some soft, eerie ambient and crows cawing. I can't say I was a huge supporter of the drums...a live skin basher would add some desperately needed dynamics to the tracks, especially those more swollen ones, but otherwise it's a pretty interesting listen. Think of Electric Wizard or Ramesses if they were less straightforward; more eclectic than psychedelic. Not something you hear every day.
Legions of Crows is a black/doom metal act that resides in the United Kingdom. This one piece underground act issued a demo recording back in 2009 entitled Cacophonous Aural Wickedness, but there wasn't really that much attention paid to it. Funeral Rain Records, however, did pay this release some close attention, and issued the act a home for its debut full-length offering, Stab Me. But, is this full-length going to become an album that deserves the attention of the fans of metal, or will it remain in the shadows, hidden from the eyes of many like the previous demo recording?
The effort starts off with what sounds like a prayer inside a church for the introductory track "Provident Hymn", which goes into a doom-heavy track of matching choir-like vocals one would expect in a church, but in the background a black metal drum loop is played at a very low volume that does not fit the general slower pace of the vocals, keyboard, and much louder drumming that is layered over that random background drum loop. This makes for one of the most peculiar song you will ever hear, and it's honestly the most annoying thing in the world because you have no idea if you want to focus on the background black metal drum machine loop that sounds like it's being performed by Speedy Gonzales of Looney Tunes fame, or the matching slower paced drumming that works with the overall church choir approach to the music. Thankfully this set up doesn't represent every track on here, as there's a short supply of dual-layered drums that don't work with each other, and eventually lead to some solid tracks that blend together black metal and doom metal well with each instrument sticking to the beat in the main mix. The only element of the recording that really feels raw or underground are those random drum loops, whereas the rest of the music here does have a more clearer modern quality to them.
Vocally, the choir singing is also left behind. While the music can sometimes still feel similar to the atmosphere and performance of "Provident Hymn" sans the background additional drum loop, many of the following tracks definitely feel darker, and for the most part remain true to the general flow of the song. There are times where the slower pace will be interrupted, which seems to stem largely from the moments with the guitar solos, such as with the following track "Fellating the Lamb". The track builds up from that general choir vibe, picking up in intensity as well as speed until the track seems to lose control of its own restraint and belts out blistering black metal drums with a more heavy metal sounding guitar solo. "Defecate" is actually another strong track for much of its time span, and really lays the groundwork to introduce a melancholic black metal atmosphere to the mix that "Provident Hymn" and "Fellating the Lamb" sorely lack. However, towards the end of the slow, soul crushing song of utter despair, that illusive random background low volume drum loops kicks back in again are clashes horribly with the music once again, and just really hurts the atmosphere of the track by the end. So, clearly this is something that apparently occurs randomly on the album.
Aside the atmosphere shattering random drum loops in the background, the album isn't too bad. The vocals are your typical raspy black metal style, though for the most part have a pretty strong distortion to them, as well as a heavy echo effect at times. This leads them to become more haunting in some cases, or at times can feel more like a stylish approach similar to today's symphonic black metal artists, whether that was the intention or not. Aside the vocals, the music can often not quite sound human, as in you can tell sometimes it's a drum machine or the keyboards sound a little more digital then they really should, like with the track "Defecate". However, many of the songs here come at the listener with a crushing atmosphere that can break anyone's soul, like "Carrion Pond Drove" and the more atmospherically melancholic "Bullshit Acres". Though, not all the songs on here have that hopeless vibe to them, like "Dull Grey" which, sadly seems to convey the atmosphere of the title well through rather dull music that feels a little more artistic thanks to the keyboards utilized. The song does have some period of aggression in the guitars at times, which works to make the song stand out a bit more.
Stab Me comes to an end with the song "Coventry Carol", which is worth taking a special look at it due to the guest musician involved. The track essentially brings the album full circle, and has a strong choir vibe to the music, mostly thanks to the keyboards having more of an organ vibe to them, and the general sound coming off similar to "Provident Hymn". This track also features a performance from Paul Di'Anno, which seems to be a clean vocal performance that gives the song a bit of a more epic vibe to its existing choir foundation around the half way point. This all works to really make the song stand out compared to the rest of the album, of course aside some of the more soul crushing tracks on here that have already been mentioned. The traditional black metal vocals do continue in the background at times, but seem to be masked largely through a lot of white noise and distortions. It becomes a song that closes the album nicely, and even in a manner that, on repeat, feels like a natural track to go right back to the start with.
Is Stab Me a revolutionary new album? No, not really, and in fact some of it just feels like traditional doom metal with a black metal layer added. At times it feels a little experimental, but that's in the clashing background drum loops that seem to randomly appear. It's not a bad album, but it's also not the most impressive either. The funeral vibe you can take from the album's choir-like passages and the melancholic, soul crushing tracks make for a nice atmosphere to the release, and it does allow the album to stand on its own a little more. Because of that general feeling to the music, chances are good you will go back to it now and again, but those random drum loops in the background are very annoying, and can actually ruin the atmosphere, becoming the equivalent of going to a spa for a day of relaxation, only to have a wrecking crew suddenly start slamming wrecker balls into the building and knocking walls over with bulldozers. But, luckily that's not every track of the album, leading the way for some well executed black/doom metal tracks you can come back to at a later date and still appreciate.
Originally posted at Apoch's Metal Review