Monday 16 March 2020

Smoulder - Dream Quest Ends (2020)

Country: Canada
Style: Epic Doom Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 13 Mar 2020
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Having thoroughly enjoyed Smoulder's debut album, Times of Obscene Evil and Wild Daring, I've been eagerly awaiting their new EP, which is finally with us. While they're calling it an EP, it's a mere 21 seconds shorter than the full length album, so it's serious value for money. However, only half of it is new, the second half being their three track demo from early 2019, two of which tracks ended up on the album.

Before those are three new songs: the title track, Warrior Witch of Hel and a lusty cover of Manilla Road's Cage of Mirrors, which originally appeared on that band's Metal album back in 1982. This release is dedicated to Mark 'The Shark' Shelton, vocalist and guitarist with Manilla Road, who died in 2018. As usual for Smoulder, their original songs are sourced from fantasy literature, Dream Quest Ends presumably from Lovecraft and Warrior Witch of Hel from the Bloodsong novels that C. Dean Andersson wrote as Asa Drake.

Listening to the three new songs and the three demos offers very little in difference in sound, whether in song construction or production. That makes this flow much more than I thought it would, which is a major positive. The production is by Arthur Rizk and it's spot on. The guitars crunch, the drums pound, the bass prowls and the voice of Sarah Kitteringham constantly fights for supremacy.

And those new songs aren't just pretty damn good, they build as the EP runs. I like Dream Quest Ends, but I like Warrior Witch of Hel more and the cover of Cage of Mirrors reminds me just how great Manilla Road used to be and how I really ought to listen to their early albums more. These songs are so big that I feel like I'm experiencing them from the inside, power chords echoing around me.

While there isn't a song here under five minutes, the only epic on offer in running time is the cover at almost nine. The rest just feel epic because of the way they're built and the way they sound. Dream Quest Ends is elevated by some duetting between Kitteringham and whoever's stepping up to provide the clean male voice. Warrior Witch of Hel thrives on epochal riffing and a chorus that's just as heavy. Like the full album last year, this is far too alive to be regular doom. Epic doom works as a description but it's so alive that simply heavy metal would work too, with heavy underlined in blood.

I went back to the Manilla Road original of Cage of Mirrors to seek context and a few points made themselves immediately obvious. Manilla Road clearly spent a heck of a lot of time listening to Rush from the mid-seventies. The technology in studios in 1982 totally sucked compared to what bands can use today. And the Smoulder take on this song is pretty close to the original, the less theatrical but just as heartfelt approach to the vocals being the most obvious difference. It feels more complete too, the original being five parts that add up to a piece of music but this version a song in five parts that flow together better.

I'll skip over Sword Woman and Voyage of the Sunchaser, as they appear in a slightly more developed form on last year's album. The one that didn't make it onto that is The Queen is Gone, perhaps because the opening riff is a slow doom version of the Inspector Gadget theme tune. It's another chugger of a song and I have a feeling that, if the band re-recorded it now, it would be a little faster and a little more overt. It's still a good song though and wouldn't have been out of place on the band's excellent album last year.

Now, when will this coronavirus pandemic be done so Canadian bands can tour down here again? I'd pay good money to see Smoulder live with Shadow Weaver.

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