Wednesday 9 March 2022

Deathbell - A Nocturnal Crossing (2022)

Country: France
Style: Doom Metal
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 25 Feb 2022
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There are a lot of reasons why I end up listening to this new album by someone I've never heard of over that new album by someone I've never heard of, but this reason's a new one on me. I couldn't not review an album by a band called Deathbell, though I now have to wonder where they sourced that name. It's also the name of one of my favourite books by one of my favourite authors and it's entirely coincidental that I reviewed it in March as part of my Guy N. Smith runthrough. That book wasn't published in Deathbell's native France, though other Smith books were, but then the band does sing entirely in English. Who knows? Maybe they're fans of the Korean horror movie instead.

The styles in which they play are entirely appropriate, because the Deathbell in the book brought doom to the people of Turbury when it was rung. This Deathbell have a fascinating take on doom, which starts out psychedelic on The Stronghold and the Archer and gets all bluesy in Devoured on the Peak, but always remains firmly grounded in doom. The songs are mostly long, four of six here over seven minutes, and they have a hallucinatory quality to them, one ably assisted by the occult feel to Lauren Gaynor's vocal, which is a little lower in the mix than we might expect and is largely built without hooks but with lots of sustained notes, almost like ritual.

What's perhaps most notable is the lack of Black Sabbath in the sound. It is there, because it kind of has to be with a doom metal band, but it shows itself much more sparingly than would normally be the case. It's there in some of the riffs, but the progressions and tones are very different. That isn't a Tony Iommi tone on the guitars of Bastien Commelongue and Frederic Bolzan, even though that's exactly what the majority of doom metal guitarists want to mimic. There's Hawkwind in The Stronghold and the Archer and a lot of early Pink Floyd in Devoured on the Peak, in the keyboards and the guitar builds. There's My Dying Bride all over a bunch of these songs too.

So Deathbell aren't interested in doing the expected, which I always appreciate. It doesn't matter how good you are, you're not going to out-Sabbath Sabbath, so try another approach that's yours and only yours. Precious few doom metal bands do that, but Deathbell too, not just by adding the psychedelia but by often upping the tempo beyond the usual for the genre and doing interesting things like dropping away entirely midway through The Ladder to a surprising pastoral scene. That shows off Gaynor's voice in ways that just aren't possible when the band is in full flight. She feels limited by the mix and the style until we reach moments like this one.

They also keep it varied, each song consistent with but different from the last. The Ladder is most introspective and also probably my favourite song here. Silent She Comes feels like a classic rock song doomed up, like Vanilla Fudge did to You Keep Me Hanging On. Shifting Sands adds an ethnic lilt to the vocals which I really like, along with some glorious heavy organ and a psychedelic guitar over the riff. There's an absolutely gorgeous slowdown in this one a couple of minutes and change in too. And that leaves A Nocturnal Crossing to wrap everything up.

All in all, this is an album for the discerning doom fan who isn't looking for purity of the genre but interesting things done with it. It's rather like its cover art, in that there's some traditional doom in there, like the gothic castle to the right, and hints of space rock, like the stars behind it, but it's colourful and full of change and emotion. That imminent dawn at the top left is about to take over from the ominous clouds underneath it but it hasn't done it yet and that's a tough combination to mimic musically. Deathbell are up to the task. And whatever the upside down archer hanging from a ladder to the heavens is doing is probably in here too. I presume he's the opening track.

This is a second album for Deathbell, following 2018's With the Beyond, and I'm intrigued to check that one out too now. I like this a lot for its unusual and immersive take on a genre I'm especially fond of, especially given that it was apparently recorded live, albeit not, I presume, in front of an audience. And hey, the band's name doesn't hurt either.

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