Friday 29 October 2021

The Sonic Overlords - Last Days of Babylon

Country: Sweden
Style: Heavy/Doom Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 22 Oct 2021
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This is an interesting sound! I see the Sonic Overlords listed as heavy/doom metal and that's entirely fair, but this still isn't quite what I expected. Sure, this Swedish quartet have obviously been listening to a lot of Black Sabbath and Utopia opens up proceedings with a four minute slab of energetic doom but there's a fuzzy tone to Morgan Zocek's guitar taken from stoner rock and the chorus is taken right out of the Blue Öyster Cult songbook, even though there's a lot of Rainbow in the chord progressions. It's a fascinating opener and I love it.

In My Darkest Room slows down a little more and loosens up considerably, but I heard Magnum in the melodies. And yes, that Magnum heavied up considerably, but Magnum nonetheless. Would this be how Sacred Hour would sound like at 16rpm instead of 33, once adjusted for pitch. Four minutes in, it heavies up again, though, and we're right back with heavy/doom and another solid riff. Even here though, this sounds more like a doomy take on classic rock, so fitting in the American doom mould a lot easier than it does alongside other established Swedish doom bands like Candlemass or Sorcerer.

And so it continues. It's always heavy, even when it's not driven by really heavy riffs, which it often is. I love the opener on Lords of No Tomorrow, for instance. It's always doomy, even when it's reminding us of classic seventies rock bands who could never have been considered as playing doom in the slightest, even proto-doom. I got blues-based arena rock bands like Journey from World on Fire, again heavied up considerably, though there's a lot of Dio in its quieter moments. And it's always energetic, however slow it becomes. It's never a fast album, but these energy levels sometimes make it feel faster than it is.

All that said, the longer I listened, the more I split the album up between heavy and doom. I think the most overt example of that is the double bill of Shine and Children of the Night on the second side. I'd certainly say that the former starts out doomy and the tone is heavy, but it sounds like the Scorpions, perhaps as heard from outside the stadium they're playing in. That's no bad thing but, when Children of the Night starts out with a quintessential doom metal riff, we can't fail to notice the difference. It's a prowler of a song, that riff stalking us with menace in its eyes. The Scorpions never sounded like this and I should emphasise that this song stays quintessential doom metal throughout.

As if to underline this dichotomy, the final track features a guest appearance from the second longest serving vocalist of Black Sabbath. That's Tony Martin, surely the most underrated Sabbath singer but also one of the least iconic. We all remember Ozzy and Dio and maybe even Gillan, but Martin should be just as memrable because those albums were strong and often outstanding. If you haven't listened to Headless Cross recently, pull it off the shelf. Past the End of Time is very much in that vein, which is a great way to highlight that, while Sabbath are a major influence here, as they always are with doom metal bands, the Sonic Overlords aren't just listening to their first half dozen killers, especially given that Fools has a Dio-era Sabbath vibe to it.

And that means that you can pick and choose what you might like from this. I think the opener is still the strongest track, not just black for Sabbath but blue for Öyster Cult. The heaviest track is probably Children of the Night which is as pure doom as anything else here. The most commercial are Shine and World on Fire, while the most varied sonically is surely In My Darkest Room, with its major escalation four minutes in. But this is an impressive album throughout, all the way to that Headless Cross-era Sabbath closer with Tony Martin. It's also a debut, so I wonder which of these varied directions they're going to move in next.

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