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Of the whips and scorns of time. - 60%

Empyreal, December 10th, 2012

Reverend Bizarre are a curious case for me, because on the one hand I enjoy their aesthetic and sound. They have all the right pieces of the puzzle, that’s for sure…they have a great old school guitar tone, cool deep vocals intoning lyrics about witches and demons and funerals, and most of all, riffs that sound like Black Sabbath on a drug-fueled rampage, which is the mark of any good doom album, the riffs. If your riffs aren’t good, then you pretty much just become boring trudging slop, which is a stigma that Reverend Bizarre avoid pretty well. I can’t exactly say an album like So Long Suckers is boring, because it’s not – they do a pretty good job of churning out boiling, seething, sludgy doom riffage combined with the kind of mysticism that good old school doom needs, bringing to mind arcane golden sunsets over thorny, overgrown graveyards and hanging, spindly, clawlike trees that look like the hands of withering demons from the ancient past. That’s always cool. That’s the kind of atmosphere I want in my doom metal.

But on the other hand, aesthetic pleasures do not make a good album all by themselves. Reverend Bizarre’s third and final album is the result of a failed ‘five album project’ they were originally going to embark on but decided not to for reasons I don’t know and are not my place to really question. So Long Suckers is a monolithic doom record lasting over two hours and is, consequently, incredibly difficult to sit down and find the time to listen to in full. Who the fuck has the time? I get it; a lot of people don’t listen to albums in full and just play one or two songs at a time; that’s fine. But I think the only real way to judge an album is to listen to it front to back. If you can’t do that, then you have no business reviewing or talking about a full album – the band intended the album a certain way to have certain songs placed before others and after others, and the purpose of an album is to be taken as a whole – all the good, all the bad; everything. A great album is one that is cohesive and flows well to create whatever emotional meaning the band was trying to convey. In this aspect, So Long Suckers is a failure because it is simply too damn long to find any time to listen to, and if you can’t even find time to listen to it all together as one, how are you supposed to get anything out of it?

And keep in mind, I’m not speaking as a man with a short attention span here. One of my favorite albums is Iron Maiden’s The Final Frontier, and another is Symphony X’s Iconoclast - two works that are also ridiculously long. But those albums have purpose and they flow like real, genuine epics, with atmosphere and meaning to what they do – the former creates a big adventurous, sweeping vibe taking its listener through tons of different worlds, and the way the songs are set up makes it a slow-building, emotional journey. The latter is a great example of consolidated songwriting, and manages to entertain and engage its audience even over a 90-minute runtime, with the songwriting getting exhausting by the end, but in a rewarding way, with the songs arranged so that the listener never gets bored and so that you get appropriate climaxes and denouements just like a good novel or film would have. Both Iron Maiden and Symphony X understand the dynamics of telling a story and of making such a big musical adventure of an album. For an example closer to home, how about Briton Rites’ For Mircalla, an album only half the length of So Long Suckers, sure; but also one that exemplifies epic, moving songwriting and a thematic genius that ties every song together. Doom is like any genre; it works if you write great songs. Albums of any length require some kind of momentum and purpose tying them together as one; lest they otherwise become nothing more than collections of songs. A full album has to have a purpose.

I don’t get that from So Long Suckers. This is a long, slow album only because doom albums are notorious for having long, slow songs. In and of itself, this only exists because Reverend Bizarre loves doom metal, not because they’re trying to convey any larger purpose. Reverend Bizarre here take on a weirdly parodic attitude towards their genre; a loving parody, but parody nonetheless. The proclamation “Doom Metal is Dead” that they attached to this album is evidence enough of that. These guys love doom metal, that much is undeniable. They know what makes doom metal tick. But their only purpose here was making a doom metal album, not writing great songs – the doom metal genre and ideology was more important to them than writing their best material. Doom metal contains lots of long-ass songs and slow-sung vocals and trudging tempos, so that’s what Reverend Bizarre did on this album – in excess times 1000. Restraint wasn’t a concern to them. But just because they can make an album like this and go, “Hey! Look at us! We made the be-all-end-all of ungodly slow doom metal!” doesn’t mean it’s anything more than a self-referential parody of the genre they toiled in for so many years.

Just because an album has a purpose, does not mean that purpose is particularly artistic, and So Long Suckers, for all its good points, is one of the least artistic albums I have heard in the metal genre while not being out and out terrible. It has no artistic purpose beyond taking the conventions of their genre and blowing them out of proportion with the articulation of a giant wrecking ball smashing into a building. So Long Suckers is primarily a work that reacts to its genre and fans without really doing much artistically on its own. The songs and lyrics aren’t exactly lazily done, but the presentation of this whole thing, from “Doom Metal is Dead” to the songs that clearly do not have to be as long as they are, is essentially nothing but a big self-indulgent send-off to their fans and, more importantly, their own egos. Since the music on here isn’t that bad, I don’t really care if they’re doing some extravagant ego-stroking, but confusing that with actual masterful songwriting would be a grave mistake.

These songs don’t have much to do with each other, and could have been arranged in any manner and had roughly the same effect. This album doesn’t give me the feeling that it is long for any reason beyond cramming as many long-ass doom jams they could fit into one album. The flow just isn’t there. Instrumental “Kundalini Arisen” is a four minute stoner-rock jam that doesn’t particularly go anywhere and could have been omitted entirely without any great loss to the album, and songs like “Funeral Summer” or “One Last Time” didn’t have to be where they are in the album – they could have been placed anywhere else in the album for the exact same effect as they have here. There is really no logic or order to the placement of songs, which is essential for any album tackling a longer-than-average length: there has to be some kind of poetry to the way the songs flow together, which is absent on So Long Suckers, and not just because of the length. The songwriting is not arranged in a way that really sweeps or flows naturally. Everything just feels thrown together. You could rearrange these songs in any order and it wouldn’t change a damn thing.

I’m not trying to say any of these individual songs are unpleasant to listen to. Certainly they’re not, and as I said in the opening, they’re not boring either. But the economy of songwriting that a great band needs isn’t here. Sure the whole point of this is to be ridiculously long, and I guess criticizing that might be missing the point of this, but hell, just because an album HAS a point doesn’t make it GOOD. “Sorrow,” at its 25-minute length, could have easily been 10 minutes and been much stronger for it…and the opening half hour long journey of “They Used Dark Forces/Teutonic Witch,” despite the propulsive faster riffing they lapse into at the opening and close of the song being really good, could have been trimmed down by at least half of its length and been much more engaging for all that. Closer “Anywhere Out of This World” has some good riffs, but by the end it’s just tiresome. The best points of the album are the “shorter” songs, like the 11-minute drawl of “Funeral Summer.” And “Caesar Forever” is a bona fide excellent tune with its stately melodies and building riffs, with the most memorable lyric on the album: “Christs may come and Christs may go, but Caesar is forever!” That’s pretty awesome. It was also coincidentally the only song written by guitarist Peter Vicar, rather than band mastermind and vocalist Albert Witchfinder. Maybe that says something. The production is a bit weak, too, with a cool guitar tone, but everything else just sounds too hollow – everything is kind of buried by the guitars. The vocals in particular are almost buried by them, which is a shame because Witchfinder has a very agreeable deep, doomy slur to his voice that I find quite cool. Again, the aesthetics are very good on here and if wrapped around better songwriting, could have made for an A-class album.

The spirit and style they’re going for is evident, and the songs are never unsure of themselves, but I just can’t say this is something I can listen to all the time. I’m all for a long musical journey, but this is just too much and since I can’t see myself listening to it all at once very much, that means it’s not a good album for me, because a good album is one that I can listen to front to back any time, and find time for it even when I’m very busy, no matter the length or genre. Who has time to sit through this whole thing very often? Not me. In a way it’s almost pointless to even review this because, hey, you can’t say it’s boring and long because that was exactly what they intended. There isn’t really anything to “get” with this. It is what it is. Reverend Bizarre made this album because they wanted to write the biggest and most overblown doom metal album ever, but purpose and intent alone doesn’t signify a great work of art; seeing what a band meant to do doesn’t mean it worked.

There isn’t anything out there like So Long Suckers because it is about more than just the music – it is, in a way, the band’s farewell letter to their fans, and was not meant to be judged in a normal way, but here I am doing that anyway. This whole thing is paradoxically meaningless and full of meaning – it is meaningless as art because there is no point to it beyond the band basically giving the finger to anyone who tries to judge this from any point outside the confines of being a love letter and parody of doom metal, and full of meaning because it is a sort of personal farewell, flawed as it is, to the fans and to the band itself, from the band. It’s so personal that, from a different point of view, it could be considered a masterpiece for that; however the flaws are just too much for me. If you’re the kind of person who is really into this band, in some life-changing, holy-shit euphoric way, then maybe you’ll see it from the other side of the coin. Everyone else will probably agree with me on this.

Doom metal is dead. Reverend Bizarre is dead. Everything is dead, nothing has meaning and I just spent two hours of my life listening to this to review it. At least my review is a fitting metaphor for the experience of listening to the album! There is that.