Depressive black metal and doom metal are genres stereotypically steeped in darkness—and not without good reasons. But man cannot live on dread alone. Witness Farsot, a German troupe whose latest album uses optimistic major chords this time out. And though The Wizards and Beastmaker reside on completely different continents, they both released sophomore albums recently that incorporate catchy punk-rock riffs and attitude into traditional doom metal. All of this proves that sometimes you have to run to the light.
The cover of Full Moon in Scorpio (Fighter Records), a brick red background with a large-breasted, large-horned demon hoisting a bejeweled chalice, seems like a poster from one of those Satan-ploitation horror flicks of the ‘70s. The imagery, courtesy of Branca Studios, is as perfect for The Wizards as the band’s moniker; both evoke long gone hazy daze organically revived for modern consumption.
The band recorded this, their second album, with Brooklyn-based Dean Rispler, the current bass player for The Dictators who previously spent time in Murphy´s Law and The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black. Prior to this record, the group worked with Mikel Biffs, a punk-rock legend in the band’s Northern Spain homeland. Indicative of residing in a smallish scene, The Wizards are as likely to play with Turbonegro or Iggy Pop as traditional metal bands that pass through the country.
This cross-pollination as well as the crisp production are what differentiates The Wizards from other retro-rockers. Others may have riffs, but these guys get theirs from the punks and it’s a palpable difference. “Leaving The Past Behind” features a guest guitar solo from Ross “The Boss” Friedman that owes much more to his time in The Dictators than Manowar. It, along with album opener “Avidya,” taps into the same catchy aggression as classic Misfits, while album closer “When We Were Gods” sounds like Danzig’s melodramatic solo stuff. Everything in between is draped in classic metal tropes, like Blue Oyster Cult’s mysticism grounded with UFO’s Euro-plod.
If The Wizards are in a league of their own, Beastmaker is simply in league. Fortunately, the devil has the best tunes.
The production on Inside the Skull (Rise Above Records) is intentionally fuzzy, giving it a dated quality that sounds like the music is filtered through used bongwater. Black Sabbath is the obvious touchstone for all doom and stoner rock bands, but even more so with this California power-trio. If music could sound like Ozzy-tattooed knuckles, it would sound like Beastmaker. The band’s big break opening for Zakk Sabbath seems more predestined than having a good booking agent.
The couplet “Abomination… of God’s creation” in the appropriately titled “Of God’s Creation” is so damn perfect and such low-hanging fruit you can’t believe this cut isn’t some Vol. 4 B-side. On tracks like the classic and clean “Give Me a Sign” and the swirling psych-rocking “Psychic Visions,” you’d swear that vocalist Trevor William Church was the original Sabbath singer, given his laconic, monotone delivery.
All that said, Beastmaker is far from a one-trick hellhound. Inside the Skull is exponentially heavier than one might expect, falling somewhere between Electric Wizard’s mossy doom and Witchfinder General’s galloping NWOBHM. In between shows opening for Ozzy’s erstwhile six-stringer, Beastmaker is playing headlining sets in smaller clubs. At their show in Philadelphia, the band was pimping out Branca Studios designs (the same folks who did The Wizards album cover) at the merch booth. But more noteworthy, you could clearly see the classic Misfits skull inked at the top of guitarist/vocalist Trevor William Church’s left arm, and the band encored with a spirited rendition of “Am I Demon” off the first Danzig album. If someone would have told me that Glenn Danzig was a founding father of doom metal, I would have raised my eyebrows. But now that I’ve heard The Wizards and witnessed Beastmaker live, it all makes perfect sense.
Depressive black metal is not just a descriptive term, but a sub-genre unto itself, pioneered in the mid-90s by Bethlehem, Abyssic Hate, and Xasthur. Practitioners employ melancholic, minimalist, mid-paced monotony designed to evoke feelings of complete and utter despair; it’s the kind of stuff you might gravitate towards if you found most death metal too cheerful.
Farsot has been lumped in with the depressive types, though 2011’s sophomore release, Insects, showed the German group experimenting with atmospherics and even prog elements. This alienated some, however, the long-awaited follow-up, Fail-Lure (Prophesy Records), shows that the preceding release was a transitional album, initiating changes that only now have been more fully realized.
This time around, the vocals are clearer in the mix and all in English, with most of the songs employing choruses that can be sung along with; to be sure, Farsot has something to say and demands you hear it. Droning has been replaced with a dynamic sound that shines brightness upon the dark black metal tropes previously employed by the group.
Fail-Lure, named so as to blend “failure” and “allure,” has an epic quality to it that most black metalheads eschew. The manner in which acoustic and electrified riffs of “With Obsidian Hands” co-mingle has elements of traditional and power metal, while “The Antagonist” is not just dramatic, but also histrionic and even uplifting. Nevertheless, Farsot remains a black metal band, just one that is unafraid to run to the light rather than cower in darkness.