Style: Occult Rock
Release Date: 20 Mar 2019
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One of the surprises I received after starting to dig back into rock music at depth was the resurgence of occult rock, which sounds like it shouldn't even be a genre but has somehow become a burgeoning one. It occupies a distinctive space at the crossroads of a number of genres.
Most occult rock bands cite Black Sabbath as an overt influence, though the true originators were an American band called Coven, whose 1969 album called Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls predated Sabbath's debut by a year. A string of coincidences include the opening track being called Black Sabbath and the band's bassist being called Oz Osborne.
From Black Sabbath (or Coven, if you know them), it's hardly a long trek into either doom metal or stoner rock territory. Occult rock encompasses both and often adds a folk influence too (and that's traditional folk rather than folk metal) or a psychedelic one. Topping all that off is a focus on Satanism and the occult as an overt lyrical theme.
Green Lung are a quintessential example of occult rock. This debut album of seven new songs, none of which were on their EP from last year or their demo from the one before, is very much like early Black Sabbath with the heaviness toned down just a little by production, which makes it sound like the band are performing to us from the other side of the veil between life and death and that's subduing everything. However, the riffs are there, the vocal sneer is there and the psychedelic edge is there.
The most obvious comparison, though, are Cathedral, who chose to channel the Sabbath sound through a knowingly cheesy filter, especially with the copious use of clips from horror movies. Green Lung use samples on three songs here, plus the intro, and that helps them to be as clearly cheesy as Cathedral ever managed. However, Tom Templar's vocals are a little lower in the mix so the lyrics are accordingly a little less obvious until we pay attention.
And, when we do, we realise that Templar Dawn or Let the Devil In aren't too far removed in tone from, say, Cathedral's Hopkins (The Witchfinder General), even if there's nothing here as blatantly over the top as the doom exotica of Voodoo Fire. That's more obvious on the video for the catchy single Let the Devil In, which combines footage from films like Häxan, some nunsploitation and one of the Dennis Wheatley Hammers.
There's more folk apparent here and not only during the intros to tracks or the album itself, courtesy of a two minute Initiation. The folk tinges help set the scene for these five or six minute stories. It's no coincidence that May Queen is at once the most evocative song on the album and the one with the most folk on offer. It's hard not to imagine the band in a studio here; surely they're recording the song from a clearing in the middle of a wood.
There's more psychedelia too, especially a fantastic section three minutes into The Ritual Tree, which adds a whole new level to that song. Everything musical here is aimed at building moods. While Templar's vocals tell stories rather than conjure up ritual, the music does a pretty good job of the latter while he's setting the scenes. The combination is impressive.
I've seen a lot of wild praise for Woodland Rites and I can't say that I find myself sold to the same degree. The best debut album of 2019? Come on! We're still in March and I'd be surprised if it's the best debut of this month. It is, however, clearly an impressive album, mature and well crafted. For them to be this good on a debut bodes very well indeed. Now, just "open your heart and let the Devil in."