30. Pagan Altar - Volume One (1982)
Before it was dredged from out of the depths of time and obscurity for official release via the band's own website in 1998, Pagan Altar's Volume 1 had been one of the most bootlegged unreleased albums circulating within the heavy metal underground over the previous twenty-odd years. Recorded at the band's own Pagan studios in 1982, these high-quality demos were shopped to no avail for record companies of the day before landing on the bustling pre-internet, underground metal tape-trading network -- then eBay, where opportunistic bootleggers began commanding outrageous prices for them in the mid-'90s. This finally motivated long retired bandmembers to make Volume 1 available themselves, but how is it possible that such an acclaimed band -- even if it was cult acclaim -- slipped under the music industry's radar during one of the most prolific periods for signing heavy metal bands in the genre's history: the early-'80s New Wave of British Heavy Metal? Well, along with a reputation for stubbornness and doing things their own way, Pagan Altar were clearly swimming against the current of most successful N.W.O.B.H.M. bands; ignoring the innovative simplicity and accelerated pace brought on by punk rock, to carry on embracing heavy metal's earliest, largely slothful and exceedingly gothic template, as laid down by original masters Black Sabbath. Amazing as it may seem today, both qualities were radically unfashionable during the rise of Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, Saxon, et al, leaving Pagan Altar's music sounding positively ancient by comparison -- even though all songs contained here had been written between 1981 and the London-based group's inception, in 1978. Gregorian chants from the same intro tape used to open Pagan Altar's highly theatrical live shows launches the band's eponymous song: a doom-laden affair marked by such recognizable Sabbath-isms as foreboding, downtuned power chords, bowel-loosening bent notes, and stunning lead work from guitarist Alan Jones topped with the curiously nasal delivery of his sibling vocalist Terry (later attributed to a bout of the flu!). The comparatively vigorous "In the Wake of Armadeus," meanwhile, splices together slightly altered versions of the riffs from "Electric Funeral" and "Black Sabbath" -- the song -- with memorable results; and the synth-introduced "Judgment of the Dead" arguably qualifies as the album's best track, with its strikingly melancholy melodies and explosive punctuations from the rhythm section of bassist Trevor Portch and drummer John Mizrahi. Along with subsequent offerings like "The Black Mass" and "Night Rider," all of the above epitomize post-acid rock '70s heavy metal at its best (i.e. -- "classic" doom), recalling the work of American also-rans Bedemon and Pentagram, while generally proving more authentic (and better executed) than the work of like-minded British contemporaries Witchfinder General. Only as the end draws near does the album swerve into unfamiliar territory, via Alan Jones' acoustic guitar solo piece, "Cry of the Banshee," before segueing back to habitual sounds for the thundering stomp of eight-minute closer "Reincarnation," which duly reopens the gates of Hell for a relatively up-tempo, but still typically heavy descent through all nine circles. With that, Volume 1 runs its course, and while its D.I.Y. production and old-fashioned metal aesthetic certainly explain why Pagan Altar were overlooked by the chart-minded wardens of the music industry, the band's inspired songwriting, musicianship, and vision also justify their rise to cult status in the eyes of heavy metal fans with little care to commercial success.
Judgement of the Dead
29. Coffins - Buried Death (2008)
(20 Buck Spin)
Coffins are the type of metal band who honor their multiple inspirations to the best possible extent -- they're fully inculcated in an approach and sound, as the album and song titles make perfectly clear, not to mention the album art, but they recombine them in a way to make their own mark where possible. On their second incarnation's second album, Buried Death, the overwhelming sound from their many '80s and early-'90s forebears -- ranging from Justin Broadrick's Godflesh-era guttural grunts, definitely a holdover from the group's earlier work, to high-speed death metal -- continues the pattern started on Mortuary in Darkness. The same lineup of Uchino, You, and Koreeda is in place, and if Buried Death is an extension of the earlier album then it's a brilliantly done one, with the sheer thickness of Uchino's guitars ranking as some of the best-sounding riffs out there. It doesn't hurt, either, that You's drumming, though often high-speed enough for early Carcass (another clear model, especially in the occasional vocal exchanges between Uchino and Koreeda), actually has a full-bodied impact instead of a skittering rampage. All this is arguably the counterweight to the fact that Coffins are working clearly within a wide-ranging style rather than extending it, but this is still the best kind of tribute -- the one that leaves an individual mark. So if the tempo changes on songs like "Cadaver Blood" are familiar elements, the weird guitar effects on "The Frozen Styx" give a sense of what the band can bring to the mix in turn. A definite highlight is "Altars of Gore," with Uchino's riff being the kind of strutting kick, well matched by the rhythm section, more appropriate to Motörhead than many later bands could manage, but still with the deep vocal rumble heard throughout the album.
Altars In Gore
28. The Gates of Slumber - Conqueror (2008)
(Profound Lore/I Hate Records)
Although their moniker would suggest the ultimate doom band, Indiana's Gates of Slumber have actually never thought twice about charging down the highway at full throttle when the mood hits them, and their third album, 2008's Conqueror, sees them shifting into fifth gear even more frequently as they idle along in first. Indeed, after peeling out of the driveway via the rollicking juggernaut of "Trapped in the Web," the trio repeatedly gallops into battle (see "Children of Satan," "The Machine"), amidst some midtempo marching ("Ice Worm"), and, yes, yes, sluggish doom crawls like the title cut and "To Kill a King." But whatever tempo they choose, the Gates of Slumber almost always pay out-and-out tribute (whether intentional or accidental, remains unclear) to the Obsessed, Saint Vitus, Spirit Caravan -- heck, any group led by the legendary Scott "Wino" Weinrich. So do countless other bands, mind you, but the Wino similarities found in the vocals and frenzied guitar solos tendered by GoS frontman Karl Simon make such comparisons inevitable -- no matter how excellent his band's songs may be, when considered in a vacuum. If anything, Wino never had the patience, through all of his many projects and years of service, to concoct a multi-part colossus on the scale of Conqueror's closing "Dark Valley Suite," which revisits all of the avenues mentioned above, and then some, thanks to the softly atmospheric centerpiece, "Call of the Black Gods." And, once again, listeners unburdened by the knowledge of the Gates of Slumber's inspirational baggage will likely find nothing but a seriously engaging traditional heavy metal album in Conqueror.
Eyes of the Liar
27. Mournful Congregation - The Monad of Creation (2005)
(Weird Truth Productions)
*My Own Summary*
Mournful Congregation, while not having the claim to the greatest funeral doom album in my eyes are definitely the most consistent band in the genre. Staring from their first record onward to this year's "The Book of Kings". The band has released four epic records of majestic and ethereal funeral doom. The clear cut winner out of the four though is their second, "The Monad of Creation". It's overflowing with melancholia and despair, desolating anything in its path. Huge glacial riffing over deep bowel releasing growls it literally downs you in a sea of pitch black darkness. The acoustic flourishes are of the highest order as well, and just make the atmosphere that more vibrant. Highly recommended, quality funeral doom that never becomes a burden even for genre beginners.
As I Drown In The Loveless Rain
26. Sunn O))) - Black One (2005)
(Southern Lord Records)
Although claiming that Black One is the darkest Sunn 0))) album yet may be a little overzealous on their label's part (unless, of course, its meant as a not-so-subtle play on most recent predecessors White1 and 2), there's certainly a good chance that it's their most diverse. Whether that's a simple case of there being more and shorter songs present (all of seven, and only shorter by these guys' standards, mind you), or an unprecedented volume of outside collaborators (mostly underground black metal buddies lending their vocals), Black One experiments with a number of new tricks to go with the by now expected ultra-droning aspects of Sunn 0)))'s sound. For example, both "Orthodox Caveman" and "Cry for the Weeper" drink from the same old, Earth-derived dead-water pool that inspired Greg Anderson and Stephen O'Malley to start melting their amps in tribute to begin with; while the improbably brief "It Took the Night to Believe" (featuring blood-curdling shrieks and croaks by Wrest) may well be Sunn 0)))'s most unapologetically black metal moment ever, taking a page from Burzum's bloody book with its spooky loop of buzz-picked guitar melodies to go with a reliably subterranean foundation. Keeping with the black metal mindset, the pair then proceed to deconstruct Immortal's "Cursed Realms (Of the Winterdemons)" into a barely recognizable primordial soup of tonal thrumming, before calling Xasthur's Malefic down to the basement to supply additional screams for the splendidly named "Candlegoat" and megalithic closer, "Báthory Erzsébet." (For the latter, in fact, he was supposedly locked inside a coffin, microphone and all, so as to inspire a suitably suffocating feeling of horror -- proving that extreme sounds sometimes truly do demand extreme measures.) In other words, Black One is a cautious but unquestionable departure from Sunn 0)))'s pre-established m.o., and arguably their most accessible effort to date, in the bargain. But even though there'll always be those purists looking for a bone to pick, its difficult to imagine too many original fans not embracing these still remarkably blackened sounds.
It Took The Night To Believe
25. Hour of 13 - Hour of 13 (2007)
(Shadow Kingdom Records)
Tempting as it is to label Hour of 13's eponymous debut a doom album without even a second glance, fact is it's actually a pure heavy metal album in the genre's most fundamental, unadulterated definition, formulated in the early '70s by Black Sabbath. And even though this essentially rules out the possibility of true musical innovation, Hour of 13's sheer mastery of the style's every last aesthetic nook and cranny -- from the devilishly occult lyrics and bare-bones production to the simultaneously simple yet towering power chords from which everything derives -- easily transcends mere imitation, and ultimately reminds us that all subsequent metallic subgenres are ultimately dilutions, for better or worse, of the original, flawless monolith. The proof is in the riffing, as they say, thanks to the improbably fresh-sounding sequences conjured by lead visionary Chad Davis, who handles all instruments (save for the odd solo played by album engineer Corey Leonard) on sinister offerings like "Call to Satan," "Submissive to Evil," "Hex Harm," and "Missing Girl." Yes, ultra-specialized heavy metal historians will of course recognize occasional scattered touchstones like Pentagram ("Endurement to the Heirs of Shame"), Pagan Altar ("Grim Reality"), and even Budgie ("Allowance of Sin"); but, if not for vocalist Phil Swanson's warbling delivery and recurring Satanic invocations (which invariably smack of Ozzy Osbourne, more often than not), even Sabbath's irrefutable influence affects the template more so than the duo's songwriting imagination. And for those incapable of buying that last sales pitch -- check out the exceptionally forceful opening riff of "The Correlation," which hasn't an ounce of doom about it as it chugs along to the snappier tempos of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, or even -- dare we say it -- American '80s metal! The point being that Hour of 13 are anything but a surprise-free nostalgia act, but rather proud carriers of heavy metal's timeless flame, from the past into the distant future.
Allowance of Sin
24. Spirit Caravan - Jug Fulla Sun (1999)
Jug Fulla Sun, Spirit Caravan's debut, follows a sonic continuum that began in the late '70s when Scott "Wino" Weinrich emerged from the outskirts of Washington, D.C., with the Obsessed, his stripped-down hybrid of biker rock and metal. That outfit made tremendous strides in bridging the gap between the long-haired metal contingent and the still developing, though already rabid, D.C. hardcore scene. Jug Fulla Sun shows Wino augmenting his trademark brand of doom-laden guitar work and slow-fuse vocal ferocity with greater lyrical depth and overall textural breadth. The songs are rich, refined, articulate, and created by a lifer, a true veteran of the hard music scene. Wino has obviously gone to great lengths here to subordinate his outlaw vision to a more expansive, comprehensive view of mankind, and of greater truths. The somewhat nebulous scope of his lyrics is enhanced by Lungfish vocalist/tattoo artist Dan Higgs' cryptic cover painting. An excellent album.
23. Ahab - The Call of the Wretched Sea (2006)
With their ambitious debut album, 2006's The Call of the Wretched Sea, Germany's tellingly named Ahab embark on a treacherous voyage to reinterpret Herman Melville's immortal whaling adventure, Moby Dick, through the suitably equivalent sonic leviathan of funereal doom metal -- or, as they are eager to dub it themselves: "Nautik Funeral Doom." Of course one need only look back a couple of years to find Mastodon's more oblique treatise on the very same literary subject, via their own Leviathan album; but what Ahab lacks in outright originality, they handily make up for with The Call of the Wretched Sea's meticulously assembled husks of words and music (plus, in terms of pure heaviness, this leviathan makes Mastodon's sound as light as a sparrow!). The titanic tandem of "Below the Sun" and "The Pacific" steers listeners away from port, and casts them directly down into the darkest ocean abyss with slothful, somber synthesizer melodies, cataclysmic downtuned guitar waves, and echoing percussive thunders. These provide a formidable frame for lyrics frequently adapted directly from Melville's writings and delivered in an impossibly deep, guttural vocal style that sounds as though it was performed by Moby Dick himself -- har-har! But it's surprisingly clean-droned baritones substituting these rumblings on "Old Thunder," which features an unusually uplifting, orchestrated central portion, bridged by an atmospheric interlude called "Of the Monstrous Pictures of Whales" to yet another colossal epic in "The Sermon," itself boasting a shimmering central passage of near-silent melodic ripples that temporarily interrupt the album's prevalent, monolithic guitar grinds. The Call of the Wretched Sea subsequently achieves a dual climax via "The Hunt" and "Ahab's Oath," both of which are marked by keening, rather infectious melodies, but which still leave the listener feeling as if crushed under the pressure untold fathoms. What's more, their words reveal that Ahab's musical retelling of Moby Dick is only just begun here, with a lot more story from the novel's original argument yet to be set to music on ensuing albums. If and when that comes to pass, Ahab will have their work cut out for them, because The Call of the Wretched Sea has set the funereal doom bar especially high -- or low, as it were.
22. Warning - Watching From A Distance (2006)
(The Miskatonic Foundation)
*My Own Summary*
An amazing traditional doom album filled to brim with melancholia and somberness. This is the closest album I've seen that has come to a funeral doom-ish atmosphere without the chocking despair if that makes any sense.
21. Solitude Aeturnus - Beyond The Crimson Horror (1992)
Solitude Aeturnus obviously saw no reason to alter their favored formula for Euro-inspired doom (featuring frequent flirtations with both thrash and power metal) when the time came to record their sophomore album, Beyond the Crimson Horizon, in 1992. Having been previously introduced by the group's excellent debut, Into the Depths of Sorrow, said formula had immediately saddled them with the not altogether fair reputation of being America's answer to Candlemass, so there was little they could do about that. But there was definitely room for improvement where this second album's production standards were concerned, and so Beyond the Crimson Horizon's first noteworthy -- and quite possibly lasting -- impression was infusing a punchier mix, and crunchier metallic thump into new numbers like "Black Castle," "The Final Sin," and closing instrumental "Beyond..." -- all of which also revealed some welcome self-editing, as compared to that first album's lengthy excursions. Unfortunately, with the exception of primary highlights like the uncommonly energetic "It Came Upon the Night" and the uncharacteristically mellow "Beneath the Fading Sun," Beyond the Crimson Horizon simply lack as many compelling riffs, overall, as its predecessor. And vocalist Robert Lowe's more prominently mixed banshee vocals actually come off way too over the top, even recalling Fates Warning screamer John Arch at times, with their less disciplined exertions. Indeed, Lowe's only major attempts at showing restraint come during the moody introductions to impressive opener "Seeds of the Desolate" and the aforementioned "Beneath the Fading Sun," proving that more isn't always necessarily better -- even in the realm of heavy metal. And despite a strong showing by most any definition of American doom of the time, Beyond the Crimson Horizon arguably falls just shy of the band's first outing, in the balance of things, making it a recommended, though not utterly essential purchase.
It Came Upon One Night