Friday 27 January 2023

Faetooth - Remnants of the Vessel (2022)

Country: USA
Style: Doom Metal
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 28 Oct 2022
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Intellectually, of course, I know that not everyone in Los Angeles plays hair metal and pretty much everyone stopped doing that decades ago, but it still seems somehow surprising that this band of unusual doom metallers hail from that city. There's something northern about their sound, and it would make more sense if they were from Seattle. They have a dirty take on doom that's not quite sludge, even when they ramp up the distortion, and the vocals on Echolalia, the first full track, are flavoured with grunge, even if they're melodic and drenched in melancholy.

I should mention that I have no idea who's singing there because there are three vocalists in this band, each of which plays another instrument as well: Jenna Garcia the bass and both Ari May and Ashla Chavez-Razzano guitars. They have different voices, because there's a harsh one that shows up late in Echolalia and adds a whole new level. It's a sort of hoarse emission of pain, closer to the shrieks of black metal than the growls of death but a long way from either. The difference in these voices is mirrored in the intensity of the music to make this a highly dynamic album.

There seem to be two primary modes. The most common one is a slow and warm reflection, a sort of look back at darkness. This singer isn't out there somewhere buried in the snow fighting off the wild animals, she's safe inside with a fire blazing in the hearth, but whatever experience she went through damaged her and she's trying to deal with that. The other mode is when she can't do that and the harsh voice takes over, screaming out not in agony but in trauma. With the guitars aiming to mirror that shift, it adds a real bite to the impact of the album. It makes it feel like these songs aren't over when they're over. They're always hanging over our shoulder.

The slower, warmer sections can be beautiful. The opening to She Cast a Shadow is a delight, those two guitars combining to unusual effect and the bass wandering between them. That beauty isn't always on the way out when the crunch hits, though that harsh voice is always ready to leap in at a moment's notice and remind us that that's a serious darkness here. I love She Cast a Shadow, but I recognised the melody in the middle section—it's Yallah by Page and Plant—and it bugged me for a while until I figured it out. Now I know, this one's solid without being distracting.

I'm reviewing it because it Spin magazine decided that it should tie with Messa's Close as their choice for the number one slot on their Best Metal Albums of 2022 list. Given that I was massively impressed by Messa, I clearly should check this album out too and I'm happy I did. However, it's not the songs per se that grabbed me but the mood. The more effectively they calm and soothe us and the longer a song runs in that mode, the greater the impact when they crunch up and crush us.

I'd call out Strange Ways for waiting the longest to do that. It's almost five minutes in when it has enough of being calm and the ritual turns dark with cavernous slow chords. This isn't doom to sing along with. It's a doom that's come for us and we feel the draw in our soul. The deceptive ending is particularly destroying because everything is whisked away to be replaced not by peaceful respite but by a hollow emptiness. It's beautiful but it sears us, just as Saturn Devouring His Son does as it closes out the album with a welcome violin.

This is strikingly mature for a band on their debut who have only been around for four years. None of the musicians involved—the fourth is drummer Rah Kanan—have other bands on their resumes and that's a real shock. It seems that they found some sort of magic when they founded their first band and that means that Faetooth is definitely a name to watch. This is hardly mainstream, but it ought to have quite the impact on the doom metal scene, especially given how well they nail this sound. It's harsher than doom but smoother, for the most part, than sludge and others will follow suit in mining that middle ground for gold.

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