without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
When someone asks you to describe a doom metal band these days it is not as easy as it would have been ten years ago. There is stoner doom, death doom, funeral doom, traditional doom and so on and the diversity is bigger than it used to be. While many people hate these classifications and prefer to refer to the music just as "doom", the classifications are also very much needed in order for one to make a proper description. Italian doom bands, however, always resemble other Italian doom bands regardless of their exact style. There is always this 'old' feeling, the smell of ancient times and this specific Italian flavor to the music that makes it sound Italian.
While I like Paul Chain's albums, I must confess that having Lee Dorrian on "Alkahest" is what made it really pleasing for me. Okay, the truth is that I literally found myself jumping with exhilaration (as if Christmas presents had arrived two months earlier) when I found out that Lee is doing some of the vocals.
To the point. As expected, my favourite tracks are the ones with Lee on vocals plus "Roses of Winter" and "Three Water". If I were to be a superhero I'd definitely choose "Voyage to Hell" for my theme song. Just hear that fucking starting riff, it is one of the most awesome, tight doom riffs and will literally make you piss in your pants from sheer exhilaration. The organ thing in the beginning prepares you to enter the church of evil doom. As if you're on the last level of a zombie apocalypse game - you know the tough shit is just going to come for you. Lee's vocals are excellent again, some of his best performances and sound as wicked as ever, but maybe a bit faster than his usual singing pace. Maybe some of the lyrics will help you emerge in the atmosphere. Prepare, you are going to be dragged to hell and back:
''The Goat of fire in me ablaze
Oh cosmic furnace I behold
In Hades summer you live there
I've pulled you through the seven gates''
I don't even need to mention the solo guitar, it slays. Paul Chain is a fucking genius when it comes to guitar solos, man. So well-fitting, towering, bad-ass doom stuff. Songs like "Sepulchral Life" sound like taken from an early Cathedral record, I almost wait for Gary Jennings to pop up from somewhere with his excellent guitar sound. Records like this one make me wonder how awesome can you get. "Sepulchral Life" is overflowing with awesome solos. You think "Fuck, this shit is too good" and here comes another one. Slow drums, Cathedralesque sound, Lee on vocals, Paul Chain solos - nah, this is too much for my little heart to bear.
Like on every good record that is not "Forest of Equilibrium" there are songs that stand out more than the rest and are obviously better in composition and overall mastership. "Alkahest" is no exception, but overall all songs are good "enough" to pass the ''mediocre'' level barrier. "Roses of Winter" is a sweet nod towards Sabbath's "Children of the Grave", having almost the same pace and everything. It just sounds like other version of the same song. The remaining part of the album is the usual Paul Chain - strange vocals, great guitar experimental work and a lot of velvet magic.
All in all, if you think of yourself as a Cathedral fan or fan of good doom in general, introduce your ears to this. It's nothing too slow or too heavy, but still absolutely awesome, at times creepy and EVIL. Long live evil doom.
In my eyes Alkahest is something of a minor classic in the doom metal world. One possible reason it hasn't had vast amounts of praise heaped on it or at least enjoyed a dedicated underground following in the vein of such acts as Count Raven and Iron Man, might be that so much of Italian experimentalist Mr. Paul Chain's other material is just very strange (that I'm aware of). It's a crying shame, because before he mostly fucked off into wandering improv-oddysey land, he crafted this piece of absolute gold with the help of his Italian ensemble and of course the venerable Lee Dorrian.
Since my discovering it a couple of years ago it has provided me with pretty much everything you could want from a really solid '80s style doom metal album. And more.
Alkahest knits together two disparate chapters; the first half of the record is pretty groovy, slightly space rock-flavoured doom that represents a wonderful and equally psychedelic experience to what stoner doom has generally become. Like if young doomers in the '90s had listened to Hendrix and Vitus more than Eyehategod and Sabs this shit could have happened (except it already had of course... you get the picture though). The vocals are performed in Chain's usual unhinged phonemata, and if I'm honest, this isn't for everyone. His voice is pretty high-pitched, he sounds like a heavily drugged Italian singing karaoke in English without actually knowing much English, and there are no words to speak of. Mad. If you can acquire the taste for it though, songs like the beautiful desert rock-out 'Roses in Winter' and the languid 'Three Water' will make for some of the best doom you've heard. The solos are nothing short of world-class, the magnificent proficiency and intimate familiarity with his instrument that made Chain so well-equipped for his improvisational work blaring through in an avalanche of sweeping, glittering notes.
The last four songs are a descent into madness via grisly, heaving riffs and the alternatively gurning and mournful vocals of Dorrian. The entire record has no lack of heaviness, with even the earlier songs boasting plenty of rhythmic crush, but Dorrian's section is particularly punishing. 'Voyage To Hell', re-recorded from an earlier Paul Chain EP, is all unforgettable riffs and a great howling vocal performance. Meanwhile 'Lake Without Water' features a more yearning performance from Dorrian, and makes for an almost tender break before the album's climax. Which manifests in 'Sepulchral Life', another towering doom metal beast that eventually adopts the same beats as opened 'Roses in Winter' and a similiar, albeit more aggressive, riff. Now things are full circle there's several minutes of silence, then a weird noise, and then it is all over. Fuck, I hate it when bands do this shit at the end of the last song.
Aside from that tiny niggle though there isn't a song here I can bring myself to skip, I've listened to it loads, there is in my opinion no finer Paul Chain album (that I've heard at least, so I may be jumping the proverbial firearm), and were you to ask for a recommendation for doom metal albums in 1995, it is this, The Angel and the Dark River and Die Healing.
Paul Chain had been lingering around my “music I’m sure I’ll love, but have yet to hear” list for quite some time prior to actually hearing this, Alkahest, which is perhaps one of the more ‘well-known’ Paul Chain albums; meaning literally tens of people have heard it rather than just Paul and his chickens. Mr Catena’s style -- on Alkahest, at least what with it being the only of his works I’ve heard -- is one that should pose no problem for any traditional doom fan to get into (acquiring actual copies of his work, however, well don’t ask): it’s steeped in the traditions that came from the smoggy midlands of some pale and insignificant nation. I am, of course, not referring to Budgie at this point and perhaps a band whose name rhymes with “Slack Babbath”. However, the ease in which I found myself enjoying this is not at all reflective of the uniqueness in style here, which often lays closer to the surface than you’d think with this album. But, I must stress I’ve barely scratched the surface with Paul Chain.
Firstly, with the distinctive nature of Alkahest comes from the fact that Paul’s from Italy, not the place in which the weather varies between rain or a heavy sense of damp in the air at all times, and thus we get a certain sonic quality that I can only describe as “Italian”. There’s something about his vocal styling that is identifiably recognisable as such, a lot softer than most other traditional doom metal vocalists (let’s say Lee Dorian, for instance); but not at all lacking for it. Especially with the sort of “Softly softly catchee monkey” mood present here. I’m thinking this “Italian” vibe I get from Paul’s vocals comes from the fact that he sings a phonetic mumble-jumble that may or may not resemble English in an Italian accent. Got that? Good.
Anyway, about that; I personally think it’s very interesting that Paul just witters his way through this album. Of course, you could just say “He’s not saying anything, it’s all nonsense!” but that would be missing the point here somewhat. I personally like a more cryptic lyrical approach at times (see: Guardian, Awaken the), and so the Italian-babbling-nonsense doesn’t faze me one bit. See, though, something of a novice when it comes to Paul Chain (I’ve only heard one Death SS album, too), I’d guess that this lyrical approach -- which is utilised until Lee Dorian spoils things with actual words! -- is so the listener can attach his/her own meanings to the ‘lyrics’ and thus having a greatly personalised listening experience! Either that, or Paul had a very cruel English teacher at school who didn’t actually teach him proper words and as such Paul thinks he’s made a lot of very profound points about alchemy when in all actuality he’s just making a soothing murmur.
I get the feeling that Alkahest is one of Paul’s more straightforward albums (if you’d like to help me procure more Paul Chain albums, please, be my guest and send me some). It’s not laboured or predictable, at all, but rather confident stuff from a man who possesses a deft touch in his work. It’s not all great, though, ‘Voyage to Hell’, suffers from a riff that I could only really call “bouncy” and Lee’s vocals get a bit too dramatic (especially in the ‘preaching’ section, which brings to mind Sabbat’s ‘The Church Bizarre’). But otherwise, Alkahest is a solidly enjoyable album; I think my personal favourite might actually be the ballad, ‘Lake Without Water’ -- it’s very cool to hear Lee sing like this, as his voice actually has a very beautiful quality to it when he’s not indulging in some of his more maniacal, stoned warbling. It actually brings to mind ‘Solitude’ from Master of Reality -- which Cathedral, tellingly, covered in fine form for one of those otherwise abysmal Sabbath tribute albums. ‘Roses of Winter’ would be another stand-out, with a more NWOBHM-bent to the riffs and with Paul’s vocals at their ethereal best. It's really entrancing stuff, and typically, the lead guitar work is absolutely stellar. Though, I don’t want to dwell too much on the Sabbath comparisons -- I’d say Paul sounds like Iommi’s Dio-era style playing to Ozzy-era riffs. He’s perhaps one of the more overlooked great metal guitarists; but that silken playing just needs to heard!
So, Alkahest has certainly piqued my interest further in Paul Chain’s work. On the surface it might appear a rather straight-up (down, surely?) doom album, but there’s a wealth of ingredients -- some more cleverly veiled than others -- that I’m guessing (and this has been a review of much blind speculation) comes out with its true colours showing on some of Paul’s other works. Sometimes, it is the little synthesiser pieces and other assorted swirling noises that I want to come into the foreground more often, and if anything I’d like more ‘Lake Without Water’-styled songs here. But, minor gripes aside, Alkahest has well-and-truly whetted my appetite for more.