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“Souls of Charon” by Relentless is a very unpolished doom metal album with clean reverberated female vocals that lend a slight occult rock vibe while also lending a very strong vibe of amateurism and incompetence. Emotionless, bored, off-key, shaky, and even cringeworthy at times; these vocals destroy what would otherwise be a relatively suitable release. As the singer mumbles along, it is almost the kind of performance you can tune out, as if Relentless were playing in a bar while the listener is far away from the stage and attempting to engage in conversation. Any such conversation would at times come to a screeching halt because vocalist Carlee Jackson often slips from bored to piercingly inadequate. This is especially true on “Forever Damned” where the vocals are painfully strained and the lyrics “Take my hand and follow me We’ll leave this place of misery” are absolutely butchered as the vocalist tries and fails to hit notes well above her mumble-register range. Even later in this song, as in most places on “Souls of Charon,” one can easily imagine that the lyrics are “meh meh bleh bleh meh” since the vocals are always mumbled and almost never articulated. One strikingly incongruous lyrical moment is towards the end of the album with the line “trapped for eternity,” a bold statement, starkly contrasted by vocals disinterestedly delivered as if those words mean nothing. At one point in the album the vocals even start off with some lyrics that appear later in the song and nervously fade away abruptly. Maybe Carlee missed her cue and the band never bothered to edit the track or ran out of time to re-record it?
Vocals aside, that band has a rather doomy overall flavor and approach and the guitar riffs and solos are frequently in the traditional metal vein. The song structures are also a bit rock influenced, yet the consistent strumming of the same handful of chords and over-reliance on repetition may instead indicate amateurism. Things are as if the band hasn’t been writing music long enough to recognize when to introduce changes or playing music long enough to get bored with repeating the same couple of notes for half of an entire song, e.g. “Better off Dead.” Along with the excess repetition, the songs also saunter along due to the conservative drumming, which is more interesting than a metronome would be, but infrequently anything more than that. The guitar solos could be much better and take cues from the singer, in that they are lacking enough emotion, although they are much more tolerable due to giving a semblance of hitting the appropriate notes. Guitar solos, and the tone as a whole, could also be improved because the band quite foolishly decided to hard pan the rhythm and solo tracks, which removes a lot of punch from the music. None of these other particular issues are major enough to make Relentless a bad band, but their current vocalist easily decides that question and moots other considerations.
Originally written for Contaminated Tones.
Relentless is a Chicago based doom metal outfit that was formed in 2012. The band's debut album, Souls of Charon, was released in November of 2013 through Do or Die Records and features six tracks of doom metal that brings Sabbathian riffs, classic rock styled guitar solos and smooth and clear female vocals. The band features past and current members of notable acts They Die Screaming, Scythe, Deathcult and Cryptic Fog, to name a few, so although the band is a newcomer to the scene, the members already have some street cred.
Like many acts in this genre, Relentless is able to summon their inner Black Sabbath while managing to stay somewhat fresh. All six tracks are plodding, doom-laden dirges that fully embrace the mantra of “less is more”. The drums are fairly minimalistic, sticking to a plodding approach that makes heavy use of the toms in it's slow rolling, feeding life to the plodding bass lines and palm muted riffs. The guitars and bass have that classic Sabbathian layer of fuzz that gives a nostalgic, almost analog feel to the music. There's an almost psychedelic, stoner metal feel to the guitar and bass, because of all the fuzz, but their sound stays firmly rooted in the doomy depths. The music is nothing original; not by a long stretch, but Relentless are able to keep your head banging with their rhythmic plodding and heavy riffing. The guitar and bass are tight and the riffing is solid. While most of the ride is relatively slow paced and dirge-like in approach, there are an abundance of faster paced riffs and solos throughout. These faster sections, while still from the Iommi school, call to mind the work of traditional metal acts like Accept and Judas Priest. Just check out the riffing during “Better Off Dead” and “Final Wishes” or the cyclical lead guitars and syncopation during the title track to see what I mean. On the other end, some of the lead guitar lines and solos do actually add more of the bluesy psychedelic vibe, sounding more inspired by Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton, as evidenced on “Forever Damned”, but it manages to sound more fresh than dated.
Hands down, the album's highlight lies in vocalist Carlee Jackson, whose clear delivery is strong yet modest. Rather than storming to the front, Jackson's vocals range from a quiet, breathy style, at times calling to mind the delivery of Janis Joplin, to a higher register, crystalline style that sounds exactly like what I imagined a female counterpart to most classic doom singers would sound. Her delivery accentuates the band's minimalistic doom perfectly and her vocals never drown on the rest of the instruments. I can tell that Jackson has a solid range, but she never really lets it go with any wails. I think the performance could be utterly stellar if she let herself loose. Regardless, she has a unique voice for doom metal that works wonders with the band's style. “Forever Damned” shows how the band's union with Jackson is near perfect, as her voice harmonizes with the lead guitar lines with ease.
Relentless has the potential to make a huge impact on the doom metal scene. Their solid mix of doomy dirges with traditional metal riffing, a few psychedelic touches (but not too much) and the excellent vocals of Carlee Jackson show Relentless to be an act to watch. This may be a debut album but it is a contender for one of my favorite doom albums of the year. This is solid music that throws back yet manages to steer clear riff necromancy. I'd like to see the vocals a little more loose and wild, but they are still stellar the way they are. Bottom line: Souls of Charon is an excellent debut worthy of your attention.
Written for The Metal Observer: