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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.