Friday, June 28, 2013

Demon Lung - The Hundredth Name (2013)

It was in July of 2012 that Metal Hammer conducted an interview with Las Vegas based doom quartet Demon Lung, catching up on the band and their debut EP, "Pareidolia." Drummer Jeremy Brenton talked of his love of Iron Maiden in his early metal years, something you wouldn't necessarily have guessed given the borderline Satanic tones on the bands new album, "The Hundredth Name." But like many young acts, influences don't always add up to what you get. And thankfully, this doom four piece, with their love of the cassette medium and infatuation with the occult, didn't go in the soaring power metal route. On their new album, they've constructed eight tracks that could be the soundtrack to any horror movie. They aren't like the almost cheesy films of the seventies, though. Their sound is like a streamlined remake of a classic, but without all of the Hollywood bells and whistles. They manage to bridge the gap between the original and the sequel with great ease. It might be hard to understand what that means now, but one listen to the album, and it all makes sense.

As the screaming feedback builds from silence, so to does "Blinding Of The Witch" creep up your spine into your brain stem. What seems chaotic is cold and calculated, each crawling chord like taking a step further into the dark basement, unsure of what lurks there. So when you are hit squarely on the bridge of the nose with a swirling groove, it may come as a shock. But it is the vocals of frontwoman Shanda Fredrick that bring the most fiendish date to the party, her voice coming to you from what sounds like the fabled "other side." While the band provides the score for the horror movie, Fredrick gives the ambiance, her voice creating moods well beyond the basic happy and sad. On "The Devil's Wind," it's almost as if the backing band, with squealing harmonics and the light crashing of cymbals, is being commanded by some otherworldly force. As Fredrick sings, "I will slaughter them in time," the air around you feels still and stale. Guitarist Phil Burns and bassist Patrick Warren are a devastating pair, synced up to one another through verse and chorus in a way that prevents you from ever turning away. Standing as a monument to great production in modern doom, "Eyes Of Zamiel" boasts a sound that manages to be both crisp and haunting. Each kick drum beat blasts through your speaker with a finely tuned emphasis. Yet, at the same time, Fredrick's voice sounds brilliantly distant, something that only strengthens the grave tone of the album. How they manage to complete the balancing act between melody and overwhelming sadness is beyond me.

Quite possibly the most disturbing track on the album, "A Decade Twice Over A Day" is the stuff that nightmares are made of. Between bending strings of Burns and the light plucked bass strings of Warren, you are taken to a future past, transported back in time. But none of the instrumental would hold up to the task with the precise drumming of Brenton who, with the use of only a set of drum sticks and a reasonably large kit, fills out the bulk of the foundation. It is through the combination of ominous riffs and an unconventional voice that you can feel completely surrounded by whatever it is the band has planned for you. That becomes most apparent in the opening stages of "Heathen Child," where ritual sacrifice or blood letting could easily be kept. If you've managed to be unaffected thus far, the middle portion here will convince you of the dark powers you are now witness to. Rolling double kicks and evil tinged guitars ring out, all the while coated with the ghostly lyrics and voice of Fredrick. The simply whine of a fading guitar in the outro chills you to your bones. In a more uptempo piece, "Hex Mark" sees the speed of the band increase, without sacrificing any of the groove. Clocking in at just over four minutes, this is by far the shortest track on the album, but by no means an uninspired one. In fact, some of the most detailed drum work resides here, with Brenton filling out the mix with an array of cymbal taps and booming kick snares combos.

It's bizarre to say, but the way the album is constructed, you can feel the sound coming full circle, particularly as "Hallowed Ground" comes into view. This doesn't mean the band have run out of steam here, because that couldn't be farther from the truth. But much like a horror movie, you can sense that the final killing scene is afoot, and the scene is being set beautifully. Fredrick wails and croons, her voice rising and falling over a bed of healthy distorted riffs. The distant whispers she lets out at time are just plain terrifying. They hash out the traditional doom style to perfection in the later stages of the track, nailing down the tempo, the feel, and the arc of some of the greatest acts in this genre. And whether you think the final thirty seconds represents repeated stabbings of the victim, burying the body, or simply an intense chase, it does a tremendous job setting up the acoustic opening to the finale, "Incantation (The Hundredth Name)." Every downstroke, every squealing guitar harmonic drives one more nail into the coffin, the snare sound acting as the hammer. There is an atmospheric element at play here, largely in part to Fredrick and her airy vocal track. It would be difficult to find an example of pure doom better than the last minute here, culminating in a quiet, soothing acoustic outro.

You would be hard pressed to find four individuals who sound more perfectly matched than the members of Demon Lung. Fredrick, Brenton, Warren and Burns have a cohesion and comfort with one another than simply boggles the mind. And more importantly, it shows in their music. These eight songs aren't cobbled together or forced through a sieve; Instead, they seem to be planned, orchestrated, executed and perfected over time. Perhaps the hot desert winds of Las Vegas helped to round out the edges, and smooth over the rough spots. More likely, though, you've stumbled on a band who have a clear and unbreakable vision for themselves and their art. Whatever the case may be, "The Hundredth Name" may soon be viewed as the seminal doom album of this generation. Blasphemous, perhaps. But after eight tracks and nearly an hours worth of haunting riffs and vocals from a place that I dare not go, it makes sense. I'm not sure about the other ninety nine, but one listen to "The Hundredth Name," and I'll be checking under my bed and in the closet for things that go bump in the night.


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