For what is probably the most unaccessible strand of metal out there, the whole "Scream over really slow guitar riffs and/or repetitive drumming for a very long time" vein of Metal has generated a fair bit of material. Being a fairly gentle, delicate sort of person, I tend to avoid most of this kind of stuff, but here and there it's good to get a bit depressed and just dive headlong into an hour long song of despair or whatever.
HIGHGATE don't really do anything groundbreaking here, but it's still a worthwhile. The guitars cycle through a few riffs but rarely get all that fast- it's hard to think up a good description but I think a slightly sped up KHANATE sounds like what these guys for, another apt one would be a much, much darker early ISIS covering some SUNN O))). It's slow and extremely pounding, and while most people would likely be bored witless by such a long, fearsome doom song, there's enough variety here to keep some very dedicated doom fans interested, and as the song drags along there's a few mid paced riffs here and there that nicely up the intensity. While I would call this one song, there's the definite suggestion within the song that there's movements here and there with plenty of (surprisingly un-boring) Ambient parts and slower, clean parts being scattered throughout.
Naturally, through the album the mood stays as ominous and tormented as possible. Honestly, it probably wouldn't be quite as evil and unsettling and whatnot if the vocals wasn't quite as nuts as he is- but he does sound genuinely tormented, and even when the rest of the band takes thing down a notch, he's still there, sounding a lot like KHANATE's vocalist, but maybe less controlled and a bit more unsettled and chaotic.
One problem I find with these super long, super bummed out kinda Doom/Sludge bands is that often there's little in the way of exciting or interesting musicianship- it's not hard to write an hour long song that's all depressing, just give your drummer a metronome at 40bpm and play 3 chords over and over and over again while you scream a bit- but these guys do seem to have a genuine skill at what they do. There's a few moments of relative speediness as the album goes on which help a huge amount- admittedly, they do occasionally reduce the otherwise crippling tension, but they sure help keep it more interesting (especially the excellent riff around the 38 minute mark)- and the drummer does really well on his end, mixing in a number of different tempos and feels will often returning to a well developed theme- definitely something I like to see within this kind of genre.
So overall, this is an album that's been done pretty well in an often difficult-to-pull-off genre, and HIGHGATE are to be commended for that. Not recommended for Power Metal fans, perhaps, but if you're a sedated Doomhead OR you have a lot of patience then you'll probably enjoy this album a great deal.
(Online March 27, 2008)