Tuesday 12 December 2023

Green Lung - This Heathen Land (2023)

Country: UK
Style: Occult Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 3 Nov 2023
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I came into this with high expectations. I liked Green Lung's debut album in 2019, Woodland Rites, and I loved their follow-up a couple of years later, Black Harvest. Well, it's two years on again and here's another one, as if to schedule. I like the cover, which is a neat taken on Penguin paperbacks. The green colour rather than the traditional orange is surely because of Green Lung's name, but I know they published with green covers too, albeit mostly for crime, if memory serves. I also liked the ethnohistorical prologue, as if the band's culture is being explored by the BBC half a century ago, with a combination of fascination and quiet establishment judgement.

It took a while for this album to meet my expectations though. The Forest Church is a solid opener but it's a little overt and with a riff/melody combination that annoyingly reminds of the Inspector Gadget theme tune, even if there's a great instrumental section in the second half. Maxine (Witch Queen) features a glorious organ line behind the riffs, but then turns into a pop song. It's overt as well and highlights how the band is pushing a gimmick, which takes a little of the magic away from me.

In other words, for a while, this is just as blatantly occult rock as their most obvious comparison, Cathedral, were blatantly doom metal. Now, the band as a whole, especially vocalist Tom Templar, play it straight, refusing to acknowledge that this is cheesy but also knowing that we can hear the nod and a wink. There was a lot of this on the debut album but not so much on the follow-up. I was hoping that they'd left it behind.

Fortunately, before long, they do. The Forest Church and Mountain Throne are solid openers, the latter being decent stoner rock bearing its Black Sabbath influence proudly. Maxine (Witch Queen) is pop music but it's a fun pop, always elevated by John Wright's organ. But then they get serious, with One for Sorrow taking things up a level and Song of the Stones adding a quality folk counter. Suddenly we're in the album we should have been in all along and the best news is that we remain there until it wraps with the epic Oceans of Time.

My favourite songs are the first two of those and it's not remotely surprising to see a comment on the album's Bandcamp page about how well these played on a small stage. One for Sorrow is a big song, dipping overtly into the Cathedral songbook to give us doom metal that's tempered for the verses. It's the first song here that feels like it means it, which infuses it with power, and a delicate keyboard line over crunching riffs late on is absolutely delightful. Song of the Stones is absolutely not a big song. It's a very personal song and it's an able folk counterpart to One for Sorrow.

I mentioned in my review of Woodland Rites that it felt like the most overtly folk song, which was May Queen, could have been recorded in a clearing in the middle of a wood, instead of within the walls of a studio. That very much applies to Song of the Stones too, which builds from a slow ritual hand drum beat and soft guitar into a real chant. It simply commands that we listen and it has to be magnetic played on stage in a small venue. If we close our eyes, we ought to feel the leaves.

The final three songs can't match that pair but they do play very well indeed. The Ancient Ways is a doom metal song that retains a folk rock feel. It feels honest and heartfelt and plays so maturely that it's a real grower. There's lots more Cathedral in Hunters in the Sky. Was that a death grunt to kick us off? I think it was. I love the drums behind the riffs during the midsection and there's an impressive organ solo too. And Oceans of Time is the epic I mentioned, going for that feel from the very outset, built with keyboard melody over a soft drone. It's the longest track here and it does a lot with its almost seven minutes.

And so this isn't the killer third album that I was hoping it would be, but it gets there midway, with a couple of absolute gems. The tracks after them feel mature and worthy, but those before them don't. I enjoyed them anyway, don't get me wrong, Maxine (Witch Queen) being highly infectious, but they don't feel like they belong on the same album. They're a level behind what follows them, if not a couple, and would surely have felt even more out of place had they been dotted amongst those other tracks. Every time I listen through this, it truly begins for me with One for Sorrow.

I guess that leaves Green Lung at a crossroads. They can go the cheesy route that Cathedral took, playing serious with over the top material, and become a gimmick band. They have the chops that would make that work, as these first three songs suggest. Or they can treat their occult mindset seriously and merge folk music with metal power like the rest of the album. Those songs right at the heart of the album underline how well they do this and the rest back up their ability. The key point is that, while either way would be valid, choosing both ways feels like a real cheat. Let's see where they go in another couple of years with album number four.

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