Epitaph - Claws - (8/10)
Published on September 18, 2017
In the late 80s and early 90s, Italy was home to a healthy scene of doom and trad metal bands, including Death SS, Sacrilege, and Abysmal Grief. One of the more overlooked cult bands to come out of this era is Verona’s Epitaph, who have existed in some form since 1988 but didn’t release their debut album until 2014. That album, Crawling Out of the Crypt, was mostly made up of old compositions and ideas. Now the band is back with their sophomore album, entitled Claws, which is a marked improvement over their debut, although still marred by some unevenness and inconsistencies.
On some level, if you’ve heard Candlemass or Saint Vitus (and really, who hasn’t?) you’ve heard most of what Epitaph is going for on Claws. Those two influences are very prominent on the album, and the album is full of long doom songs that are big on slow, creeping riffs and eerie atmosphere. But the band does a good job of mixing in other influences as well. There are some really bluesy old school heavy metal riffs that sound like something off the first three Danzig albums and Epitaph has a stated influence of 80s Sabbath that comes through really well also. I’ve always though Headless Cross was an underrated album, so I’m happy to see the darker, more occult focused Sabbath getting some attention.
Instrumentally, Claws is a tight album. There are plenty of big, hooky riffs that are both familiar and memorable. The rhythm section is pretty solid, but bassist Nicola Murari deserves some extra attention. “Sizigia” has an excellent funky solo before guitarist Lorenzo Loatelli busts out an equally impressive Iommi-esque solo himself. Overall, the band does an excellent job of balancing sharp riffing and horrific occult atmospheres.
While I felt the album was strong instrumentally, I found the vocals somewhat lacking. Emiliano Cioffi’s voice does help give the album a horror edge, but his voice a little too high pitched and warbling for my tastes and his delivery is a little too loose to be a good fit for this style of doom. It’s certainly a matter of personal preference, but I found the vocal style a little odd and felt the album would have benefited from a grittier approach.
Still, Claws is an easy recommendation for doom fans. Epitaph is a veteran band and Claws is their best composed work to date and another winner for High Roller Records.