Friday, July 5, 2013

Pylon - The Harrowing of Hell deluxe edition (2013)

Doom metal is one style that I've not taken to as much as other traditional styles of metal.  I'm a big lover of thrash, progressive, power, & death metal, as well as a fair bit of NWOBHM, classic metal, and even a lot of "glam metal", if you will.  But for some reason, though I enjoy listening to doom, it's not a style I've invested a lot of money or time into.  I own a handful of doom albums, most notably the 1st 3 Forsaken albums (vinyl re-issues), but otherwise my collection remains largely devoid of good doom metal.  I really dig bands like Solitude Aeturnus, early stuff by Trouble ("Psalm 9" is a MONSTER record), Candlemass, and so forth, but generally when it comes time to part with my hard-earned money, I opt for something a bit faster, more energetic, or more "immediate" in terms of getting more of that instant audio gratification.

As such, my knowledge of the band Pylon comes only from hearing of them over the last few years, seeing mention of a new release here and there, and briefly checking out samples, but never investing any money into any albums.  I've been concentrating more on a combination of building my vinyl collection, as well as keeping up with newer releases from bands I follow closely, and regaining a number of albums I sold off years ago in a music purge, or at least those that I miss and wanted to have in the collection again.  As this is my first true Pylon listening experience, I hope I can be forgiven an unfamiliarity with their previous efforts.  As it stands, this is a band I think I could get into.

"The Harrowing of Hell" has an interesting sound to it, because it combines the darker, slower doom of bands like Candlemass with a more traditional doom vibe and presentation, like Trouble.  So you get something that is mostly slow and plodding, with occasional energetic bursts, with a production that belies the heaviness of the material by not pounding the listener over the head with a real "thick" guitar or bass sound, and a drum sound that is somewhat understated.  At first blush, it sounds like an album that might have been recorded some 20 years before its time, and perhaps that's what the band was going for.  This is classic doom in sound and approach, so the production values match that.  Apart from the layering of a few elements here and there, like piano/keyboard, & the obvious chorus effect on the vocals, most of this sounds like it could have been recorded "live in the studio" with very little doctoring on the back end.

As I said, the guitar sound on this album is a bit "thin", though it rings out with sufficient reverb and tone to get the job done.  Andy La Morte & Matt Brand do a good job of creating that slow atmosphere with the right repetition in the riffs, melodic solos where fitting, and the occasional mini-jam to break up the monotony and add a bit more interest to the songs.  Bass by Jan Thomas is quite good, and I felt myself listening more intently to the bass riffs more than the guitar riffs in some cases, because the bass sometimes is more complex or has more "movement" than the guitar riffs.  This makes things a bit more interesting at times, and creates a nice interplay that gives the songs more weight.  Bass sounds good here as well, with a fair bit of presence in the recoring.  Drum work by Andrea Tinner is good, though the production has the drumming back in the mix a bit too far.  As many opportunities as the louder cymbal/bass drum or cymbal/snare hits had to create more impact, they are squandered due to the drums sounding a bit too weak in the mix.  In the end, it still works, because the more spare drum sound doesn't mean they're inaudible, but I feel like they didn't quite get enough room in the mix to shine.

Vocally, Matt Brand is a bit of a mixed bag.  His style fits the music, with a gritty delivery that has a fair bit of natural wail to it.  There are times when I think he's being a bit too "loose" with his singing and needs to tighten up his vocals, but I know that a bit more loose approach fits the doom metal aesthetic quite well, so that's more a personal contention rather than a direct criticism.  His vocal delivery can verge on monotonous at times, and there really isn't much he's doing here that stands out all that much, other than noting the emotion in his voice.  Otherwise, I'd say it's a fine performance that gets the job done without wowing the listener.  Lyrically, much of what you'll get is right from the Bible, most specifically, "Psalm 139 A" and "Psalm 139 B".  Other songs are indicative of biblical themes, but from a more personal perspective.  Religion and specifically, biblical themes, are common in doom metal, so if you're used to that you'll be right at home here.  The band's cover of Black Sabbath's "Paranoid" obviously culls from a different perspective.

I rather enjoyed their take on "Paranoid" and found it to be a refreshing approach.  Black Sabbath is not only credited with basically inventing Heavy Metal in general, but also as the chief influence of most bands that fall under the doom metal moniker.  "Paranoid" being the short, frenzied rocker that it is, takes on an interesting, slightly more twisted air when slowed down to the level it is in this interpretation.  It evokes images of a more deliberate, sinister presence than the more manic, lightly psychotic person depicted via the original version.  For the deluxe edition, 2 bonus tracks are added that weren't available on the original vinyl version, that being "Golden Voice" and also "Lines".  The 2 additional tracks have improved production over the original tracks, and showcase a tougher, "meatier" sound that I think fits the band a bit better than the more hollow, distant production that the rest of the release bears.

I've listened to this release all the way through a number of times now, and while I enjoy it each time, I can't say the songs are overly memorable or stick with me much past each listen.  The anguished vocal wail of "You Have Been Warned" tends to play back in my head for a while, and the relatively familiar words of Psalm 139 tend to linger on after listening, but these tracks aren't playing in my head for a while after listening.  "Returnal Etern" (one assumes a play on the words "Eternal Return") is a solid track with some interesting stuff going on, but despite the overall quality present here, the material itself just doesn't stick with me as much as I'd hoped.  I've experienced that with other doom metal too, however, so mileage will vary.  Ultimately, if you're a fan of slow doom metal and want more for your collection, you could do a whole lot worse than this CD re-issue.  If you're not into this style, this release is unlikely to convert you.  Recommended for doom diehards, everyone else should probably consider this a "try before you buy" scenario.


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