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A truly magical beginning. - 85%

hells_unicorn, June 7th, 2022
Written based on this version: 2013, CD, Metal on Metal Records

Sweden's impressive doom metal scene has been one of its chief fixtures since the 80s, and some would even go so far as to say that in the years since that it has supplanted the sub-genres birthplace of England and their U.S. rivals in terms of its qualitative and prolific output. But with every triumph comes the eventual downside, and it tends to be that a number of highly proficient newcomers to the style struggle to make any headway due to the extremely saturated field into which they have entered. Such a fate seems to have fallen the Skåne based quartet Stonegriff. Bringing in a heavy affinity for the melodic sensibilities of classic heavy metal, the resulting sound that they bring to the table bears a fairly strong resemblance to 80s Candlemass, though they present it in a more rustic and minimalist manner that puts them into territory closer to the likes of Count Raven and Saint Vitus. Then again, there are a few highly unique points to their 2013 debut Prologus Magicus that puts them in a category all by themselves.

When taking the musical content at face value, this outfit is about as by-the-numbers as one might expect a band of limited visibility that has adopted a sound motif that arguably peaked about 2 decades ago. The generally gravely slow tempo and dank, bluesy riffing meshed with lamenting melodic and metallic melodies could liken them to dozens of other bands that have been at it for years prior to their 2009 formation, though it's tough to deny the fact that guitarist Molde has a highly expressive approach that makes for more than just a cookie-cutter Iommi doppelgänger. But after being introduced to Jakob Kramsjö's wildly dynamic vocal work and colossal range, a true picture of how much of a diamond in the rough this band truly is becomes crystal clear. Basically merge the operatic sorrow of Messiah Marcolin, the gritty metallic edge of Robert Lowe, and some utterly insane high notes would rival Bruce Dickinson during his 1982 prime, and what emerges is a truly spellbinding orator who happens to be raving from the pulpit amid a more static musical backdrop befitting a eulogy.

Those who prefer their doom in an almost droning sense of murkiness and agony will find plenty of extended odes to unrelenting sorrow to choose from here. Extended trudging crawls through the slower end of the swamps of sadness like "Black Magic Circle" and "Impossible" recall the most downtrodden moments of Candlemass' Nightfall while presenting a slightly less overpowering atmosphere, save for the heavy reverb-drenched production of Jakob's vocals, which often become so flashy and pronounced that they could stand in place of a guitar solo, of which very few are present on this entire album. Likewise, the somewhat more atmospheric but generally straightforward march of "In The World That You Rule" sees some droning low chants popping in and out of the macabre procession of sound. It almost becomes too much slowness to handle, though mercifully there are some more up tempo numbers in "Mercenary Bay" and "Devil's Daughter" that recall the shuffling rage of some early Saint Vitus offerings meshed with a more punchy, Master Of Reality execution.

Any consumers of the art of doom that are getting a little tired of all the retro-70s psychedelic knockoffs that have been cropping up over the past few years and are yearning for something more metallic will want to give this fold a chance. It's not quite the most innovative thing to come down the pike in recent history, but more often than not a solid slab of musical goodness can come by injecting some needed fire into a pre-existing formula, and boy does the vocal work on here check that box something fierce. Fans that are particularly bent towards the old school likes of Trouble, Candlemass, Iron Man and Pentagram will want to hear this album, and even those who go in more traditional heavy metal directions might find something to like. Prologus Magicus stands as one of the more interesting debuts to come out of the 2010s in this style, and while it falls just shy of utter greatness, it gets close enough to it that it stands deserving of a much wider audience.