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I've loved female-fronted metal bands going all the way back to the early days of Karyn Crisis and Alicia 13. Those bands broke ground, pioneering the idea of women in metal as more than mere novelty. They faced hostile crowds, indifferent promoters, misogyny and sexism at all turns. They made headway, however, opening a door that many other women have successfully come through. The idea of a female-fronted metal band is no longer unthinkable, odd, or unique. Unfortunately, the negative responses have mostly remained. Women in metal are still continually seen by many as a gimmick, a novelty, eye-candy, a cheap short cut to easy press. And in some instances that is true, but in the case of Salome, it certainly isn't. Like Crisis and 13 before them, Salome are the real deal, an authentically heavy and disturbing sludge metal band determined to rip your face off.
The first thing that sets Salome apart from their peers is atmosphere, a difficult thing to acquire in this age of digital production. The sound is lo-fi, mysterious, filled with tension. It is unbearably heavy, saturated with a harsh, almost buzzing distortion. The riffs are utterly primitive, almost deceptively simple. They move at a startlingly languid pace, akin to Sleep or The Melvins. It would be sloppy, lazy even, if weren't so precisely designed. The drums bash away in eager acquirement of a rhythm and tone. They push the music along, accentuating, accusing, pulsating, interrogating the music. With a lesser drummer, the music would truly plod and lose its hypnotic throb.
The only issue I have with the music is that, despite the praises above, it lacks a fully-formed cohesion. That will come with time. Their latest split EP confirms it. The band is only just starting to gel here. Some songs go on too long without the variation necessary to make them truly compelling. "The Vivification of Ker," on the other hand, at just under six minutes, and with a kick-ass tempo change in the middle, is the opposite. A nearly perfect song.
I've left Kat's vocals for last. No one else on earth sounds quite like her. She is the first female vocalist since Karyn and Alicia to really blow me away, conjuring a stunning array of demented sounds from within her tiny frame. She can shriek with a pitch like razors, growl with a depth that scares Satan.
That her vocals aren't perfectly recorded here is unfortunate. They are buried too far back in the mix and sound thin, nowhere near as powerful as live or on their more current recordings. Not a total detriment however. As an early document of her progress, this is totally worth hearing.
As the year begins to draw to a close, I find myself complimenting it on its ability to provide us with some fine material. 2008 had been kind to doom metal, in particular and to Salome too. There are aspects of Salome that make me consider them to be slightly leaning towards the funeral doom sub-genre, especially the vocals which are provided by an accomplished female vocalist who goes by the name of Kat and has apparently featured on vocals for Agoraphobic Nosebleed. Her harsh breed of vocals will be well suited to this doom metal band as they tend to play towards the harshest varieties of doom, inducing slow melodies over long songs, particularly the last song which lasts over twenty minutes. America has been particularly kind to us avid doom fans, supplying us with no less than at least three or four of the year’s best records. This three piece band don’t figure in the year’s most sublime artists, or records, but this self-titled effort conveys the sense that Salome could possibly break into the top acts some time in the future if they are to expand upon this style of crushingly long doom songs with a funeral influence. The production adheres to this suspicion too. Although its clean, it allows the distortion to take over and dominate the proceedings with its crushing feel. The production is also quite eerie, which is definitely a trait that will suit the doom style that this band calls home.
‘Salome’ is typical in some senses, but like bands such as Dusk (also American) and Disembowelment (Australian), this American act tend to intoxicate their listener by subjecting them to interesting and dark themes. This band doesn’t hold too many resemblances with the aforementioned two, so don’t piss your panties in excitement too much just yet, but this act do explore darker themes whereas a number of doom metal bands challenge their listener with lighter aspects such as clean vocals, folk inspirations and the use of non-traditional instruments. Salome don’t do this. Tradition is something this band seems to respect and thus, this helps us respect them and their music which is strong willed and suspenseful throughout. There is a fair amount of mystique surrounding this band. Lyrical themes are unknown, lyrics are not supplied and as little information as possible is printed about the musicians. This mystique can only add to the suspenseful nature of the soundscapes, which has been touched upon loosely already. Even the cover art for the record is mysterious. A cultural fellow, in a traditional looking outfit, standing by what looks like a tree or two and looking very suspicious. There is an oddity effect about the entire record in general. It doesn’t adhere entirely to what is normally accepted within its field, therefore the record does acquire an intriguing feel to it, which can only have positive effects.
There are a number of techniques applied to this record in order to give it its sound. First, no bass. This, to me, is unusual. I suppose in many ways the bass isn’t that necessary to the record, but I guess we’ll never truly know. The percussion supplies a fair dosage of it in the form of double bass which aims to penetrate the soul of the listener and poison it with the odd aura that surrounds the records surreal feeling. There is a strange emotiveness about the record too. Take the cold and distant feel of black metal and rub it in to the wounds of the doom metal style which depicts sadness and sorrow and this is where Salome come in. They seem to mix the clichéd emotional values of the differing genres and sub-genres and do it to good effect, particularly on the last song, the twenty minute epic which sounds like a funeral doom anthem, but with underlining percussionist values. The percussion is particularly tight, especially in its use of cymbals and snares which enhance the entrancing penetrative aspects. I’d like to know what the lyrics are as the female vocals, which are distorted screams, are reinforcing and rugged. They match the male variations of distorted screams, but definitely have a feminine touch, which is interesting and unique. This isn’t a record I will come back to often, but when in the right mood, it will suit all my requirements. Slow and churning.