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Down in a Hole - 90%

GuntherTheUndying, May 23rd, 2019

Goddamn, this is awesome. Below is a stellar epic doom band sauntering in the stygian mists of dark atmosphere while channeling the energy and style of Candlemass and other grand doom metal bands. I thought “Across the Dark River,” their first album, was a fortified slab of shadowy doom with slow-roasting riffs and an ominous atmosphere lingering above. “Across the Dark River” shows Below did not change the playbook between albums, and they deliver the same type of sinister metal as the first record. “Upon a Pale Horse,” despite this, is probably the better album. No witchcraft granted them magical songwriting abilities; Below is just fantastic at what they do.

This could pass as a second disc to “Across the Dark River” had it been released at the same time. You can almost outline what the band does on a song-by-song basis. Big, stomping riffs slowly roll between methodical drums pounding in measures long enough to take a sip of your coffee between hits. The riffs and rhythms alike bruise with each strike, and man, it all just sounds fantastic. Below nails the atmosphere more than anything, however. “Upon a Pale Horse” has an ambience of horror and dread, like King Diamond or Mercyful Fate enshrined in a Candlemass-like shell. The riffs, rhythms, and melodies create this jet-black tone smeared across the album’s face. Below transmits a feeling of claustrophobia as though the walls are closing in.

I noticed the vocalist sounded like another singer, and I spent a long time trying to figure it out. Finally got it: Michael Kiske. Yep, the Helloween singer, only after having been to Hell and back. Their higher notes sound similar, but the guy in Below is tending to a drearier harvest, obviously. It’s hard to pinpoint what stands out throughout “Upon a Pale Horse”; the final product pummels with dread from start to finish. The massive driving groove of “Suffer in Silence” strikes hard enough to jack up the record’s voltage, and the more reserved yet pulverizing drive of “1000 Broken Bones” yields a similar effect. The horror elements come to a head on “The Coven,” wherein a haunting clean guitar sequence leads the track, conjuring an image of Candlemass writing ambience for an 80s slasher film. The dueling lead guitars on “Disappearing Into Nothing” is pure Mercyful Fate worship (“Nightmare”). Can’t hide those Mercyful Fate nods from me.

“Upon a Pale Horse” is a splendid piece of epic doom metal terror. Together with the punching rhythms and haunting atmosphere at helm, Below delivers more of the same found on “Across the Dark River,” but with more acumen and prowess. The songwriting is improved, the ideas are more fleshed out, and it appears Below is knocking on the door of greatness.

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