Battle Path – Ambedo (digital+vinyl Inherent Records / Crimson Eye Records, 09 November 2015; cassette Wood and Stone Productions, 24 June 2016)
Hollow Leg – Crown (Argonauta Records, 04 March 2016 EU / 24 June 2016 NA)
Well good morning, readers, and a happy Tuesday to you all. I’m finally back after taking an extra week off from writing — partly to recover from the Independence Day holiday weekend (and that Primitive Man show last Monday night!) and partly because of me being so overloaded at my day job. But as always, there’s tons of stuff to tell you about — both old and new — so here we go again. Today we’ll be taking a look at albums by two different bands from the southeastern United States, Battle Path from Murfreesboro and Hollow Leg from Jacksonville. Each of these albums originally came out a little while ago (Ambedo back in November and Crown in March), but they both just got reissued near the end of last month (the former has now come out on cassette, while following a European release the latter is now also available domestically).
Ambedo is Battle Path‘s third release since they originated in 2008. Debut albut Storm & Stress found its way onto my Top 11 of 2011 list, and I still listen to it from time to time; in particular, “Damn the Skyline” from that album remains one my favorite new songs I’ve heard in the past five years.
This newest record came about during what they have referred to as “a very transitional period for the band.” A couple of founding members had to leave the group — due to amicable reasons like moving away, but still this would naturally have an effect on the overall genetic makeup of the band. In fact, they decided to evolve from a two-guitar arrangement to one that instead incorporated a keyboard player, which would enable them to experiment with even more textural and atmospheric elements, expanding on those that were already emerging in the earlier material.
Four of these six tracks are songs about eight to ten minutes in length, with sections that flip-flop between black metal, doom metal, blackened doom, and doomend black. Or something like that. The other two are instrumentals that really showcase the band’s new use of keyboards: the seven-minute title track incorporates a vibrato electric piano into the mix as well as some reedy-sounding synth/organ leads, while the three-and-a-half-minute closing track “Finis Omnium” is made up entirely of feedback set against a churning, sort of industrial-sounding beat, concluding the album very ominously.
It starts out in a similar manner, though: “Raging Host” opens up with ethereal and atmospheric elements, but more than anything also extremely ominous. The suspense builds as it takes a full four minutes before the drums enter, followed by the vocals; shit gets real heavy here, with a definite black metal feeling being introduced. Atmospheric synth chords hang above the rest of the band, which sounds dirty and nasty, with a few especially dissonant moments. Later, the song turns to a organ-led heavy doom riff.
Many of the other songs follow a similar pattern of shifting gears in one direction or the other: “A Thirst for Blood” follows a buzzy industrial-sounding synth intro with a distorted, bass-heavy root-fifth-octave riff (the same type of interval motif made famous in Richard Strauss‘ “Also Sprach Zarathustra”) but then slips into a more blackened direction, then from there into post-metal or perhaps post-black. “Deep Wounds,” the longest track here, has an introduction that quickly ambles along with a galloping guitar riff, but then slows and becomes a bit more sparsely arranged; after introducing blackened vox and then ultra-heavy drums and distorted bass, this too turns more post-metal later, with wailing/soaring guitars over a bassline marching off toward the conclusion. “Ascension” also includes sections that draw from a range of different genres: first a slow-moving distorted organ follows the guitar arpeggios; then when the slow and massive drums enter, these are in contrast with the carefree, airy feel of the synth part; and then the vocals are a very harshly blackened growl, heading totally into atmospheric black metal territory a few minutes from the end of the song.
From what I’ve read about Battle Path, they had initially set out to be a doom band, but the black metal and other influences kind of crept in over time. As it turns out, it seems to have been a stroke of luck for their listeners, because this incorporation of various different styles tends to give the band’s songs a unique and interesting twist.
Hollow Leg also formed in 2008, Crown is also their third album, and they’ve also undergone some alterations to their line-up: what started as a duo has since expanded into a four-piece. From the very beginning of this Sanford Parker-mixed album — the opening heavy sludge/doom riffs of “Seaquake” — the listener’s head will begin instinctively bobbing immediately. Throughout the album the biggest point of comparison that jumps to mind would be early High on Fire, especially the vocals which are often Matt Pike-sounding. But the band pulls together a wider, genre-spanning range of influences that neatly fits their northern Florida location.
Florida is widely considered the birthplace (or one of the main birthplaces) of death metal. Jacksonville is so far to the north, though — practically on the Georgia border — it makes perfect sense that this band would have more in common with its peers further up the Atlantic seaboard, in places like Savanna, Richmond, and even Washington. And at the same time, they are further to the south than all of those, where the climate would be hotter and more humid — in fact, due east of southern Louisiana’s bayou country, so it also makes perfect sense that the sound here would lean just a bit further in the direction of swampy sludge metal.
Of the seven tracks here, aside from the two-and-a-half-minute instrumental “Atra” which combines a repeated acoustic figure underneath distorty and wavery electric guitar parts, all are at least five minutes long, and most are more like seven to nine. Heavy stoner/sludge/doom riffs are primarily the name of the game here, as I said, with some of the highlights occurring with the transitions between those styles: for example, halfway through “The Serpent in the Ice” when the song turns a bit slower and much heavier; and in “Electric Veil” which follows “Atra” with a similarly mellower introduction, but just briefly, until the heaviness really kicks in again. By the end of the album, with final track “New Cult,” the band seems to have really shifted its focus in a New Orleans direction, veering into more Crowbar-esque sludgey Sabbath-inspired riffs.
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