There’s been an awful lot of discussion over the past year and a half regarding this whole notion of hipsters invading the Metal scene within purist circles. Here they come with their fashionable sensibilities, capricious personalities, vapid tastes and banal humor, in some sort of Entryist style conspiratorial endeavor to subdue and ultimately culture the beast of metal in a manner that a virus would the cells of a host body. It sounds absurd enough, seeing as most of these types stick out like a sore thumb in a group of real Metal fans, as they embody the mirror opposite of the concept through which a hipster exists. A lot of this alarmist energy is focused on this particular album, due in no small part to the flock of fans that it has attracted, most of who wouldn’t know what metal is if it gouged their eyes out with a plastic spork.
Naturally it’s a little unfair to knock a band just because the majority of their audience make fun of most of the cultural make up of our favorite genre and it’s more extreme styles, and usually coming off as total numbskulls while doing so. The thing that really matters, at the end of the game, is the quality of the product itself, and it is here where even the most pretentious of the hipster archetype takes a backseat in the revulsion department as far as I’m concerned. Some might call this an either intentional or unintentional fit of musical self-parody, or perhaps a horribly botched attempt at marrying Stoner/Doom Metal of a quasi-traditional manner to a halfwit’s mishmash of disorganized fantasy/mythological themes, but no matter what you call it the ultimate result is something that is utterly torturous to the ears and the mind.
I’m something of a newcomer to the Doom sub-genre, so it’s kind of sad how easily I can pick out all of the recycled ideas guising as what some Metal veterans are surprisingly calling a fresh take on Metal. The annoying as hell substitution of the crash cymbal for the ride cymbal is right out of SLEEP’s playbook, although THE SWORD thought it would be a good idea to turn the cymbal tracks up even more and bang on them as hard as possible, resulting in about 70% of this album sounding like nails on a chalk board, although being just short of overpowering so you can hear all of the other unpleasant aspects of the music. The riffs have some semblance of SABBATH worship, along with about a half dozen other older Doom acts ranging from TROUBLE to ELECTRIC WIZARD, all just thrown together like a random stew of half digested meat, none of them coming close to resulting in memory retention. The hipster band charge really starts to show some signs of accuracy here, as most of that sort may be able to identify a song, but can hardly be asked to recall it independent of hearing it at the time of being asked to do so.
Now if the band being completely indistinctive isn’t enough, the contents of this album don’t fully qualify as Doom metal in the sense one would guess by the label, but instead some odd version of half-Doom that also tries to employ various elements of post-black album 90s METALLICA style Alternative Rock and some extremely sloppy imitations of early 80s, pre-Thrash, Speed Metal. Although “Barael’s Blade” tries to act like an old style SABBATH emulation presented in a muddled, SLEEP sort of atmosphere, that redundant as hell principle riff sounds like something swiped off of one of the “Load” albums. “Freya” starts off with something that sounds closer to a SABBATH riff circa “Vol. 4”, though again it’s so indistinct that you’ll find yourself going back to that opening riff before all the meandering and stylistic confusion that follows to confirm this a few times because despite its simplicity, it doesn’t lend itself to immediate recall.
On and on this thing plods and goes through its disorganized yet ironically predictable motions, almost as if begging the listeners to either recoil in disgust or laugh their asses off. I have to admit that I did the latter upon first hearing “Iron Swan”, which I am guessing is regarded as some sort of innovative hybrid of Doom and Thrash Metal by fans of this band. In truth, what is heard is an extremely bland set of speed riffs, sometimes sounding like METALLICA’s famed almost return to Thrash Metal “Fuel”, at other times exhibiting a stew of recycled and slowed down SLAYER fragments presented in a messy, “Dopesmoker” era SLEEP meets “Load” era METALLICA fashion. Now to be fair to both of those bands, during that particular time period those albums did have a level of merit despite being fairly lackluster, which is more than I can say for this.
One could go on about the obvious issues this album has and fill a small book without even touching the most fatal flaw of this beneficiary of the advent of hyped novelty, namely the vocals of J.D. Cronise. It’s fitting that this guy is the mastermind of this whole affair since aside from his meandering riff composing and colorless solos, not to mention the pedestrian and utterly random George R.R. Martin quote splicing at play here, the man has no vocal identity to speak of. Maybe it’s just my own status as a Sci-Fi/Fantasy geek and a lover of Norse mythology, but when I see even half assed lyrics paralleling these subjects in the album booklet, I at least expect a voice that has the eccentric qualities necessary to stand out in the crowded halls of Heavy Metal. Whether it’s Fabio Lione, ZP Theart, Erick Adams, Ronnie James Dio, Elise Martin or Jari Mäenpää; love them or hate them for their respective styles or the heroic lyrics they vocalize, you know who they are the minute the first note hits the microphone. The same thing goes for all of the best Black, Death, Symphonic or straight up Heavy Metal singers that have ever sang about the stories conjured up in the heathen lands of Northern and Western Europe.
And what does Cronise bring to the table you might ask? The answer is one of blandest, driest, and most utterly plain of voices to ever be recorded in Metal’s near 40 year history. Picture any guy that could have been in a high school choir and learned how to sing on pitch, well, mostly on pitch at least, but who never went beyond blending in with 70 to 80 other trained singers. Now take the rest of the choir away and put a guitar in his hands and you’ve got what’s on here. There’s no passion in these notes, no attitude, no attempt at sounding either wicked or stoic, there’s only low and high notes sung at a singular volume with a flat, mostly clean inflection. The Ozzy imitator allegations thrown at this are utterly baseless, regardless to whether he’s even attempting to do so or not, because there is no discernable similarity to be found. For all the flaws and limitations in his singing, you’d know Ozzy’s ugly, nasally, warlock-like bellows when you hear them, whereas with Cronise you could only identify it by recognizing it as that guy with the plain sounding voice who tries to sing fantasy oriented Doom Metal.
Other than maybe the warning label that comes in the form of opening track “Celestial Crown”, which sounds nothing like what the title implies and is so utterly boring and bare in it’s droning, change from the first chord to the second every 15 seconds beauty that you’d likely give up on this album before the 2 minute overture concludes, there’s little that can be described in a positive light. The only thing I can remember liking about this album was getting aroused by the half-clothed, hippie looking blonde that is supposed to be the goddess Freya on the album cover, for a little less than a minute of course, before remembering that it was a picture and not the real thing.
People seem to get bent out of shape over this music getting all this attention, but I don’t really see much point in dwelling on it now. So what if some of these songs made it onto Guitar Hero, some other video game and a few popular television shows? This isn’t the impending death of Heavy Metal, this is nothing more than a pseudo-Metal version of Moby. Yes, that annoying pop artist who mass marketed his sonic dribble via television commercials because nobody would actually listen to his music without something else distracting them and pushing it into the background. I can guarantee you that 10 years from now very few people will care about “Age Of Winters” enough to pull it off the CD shelf, wipe the dust away and have some sort of perverse celebration commemorating the 10th anniversary of Metal’s demise.
It’s annoying to have to deal with issues such as hipster culture, indie culture, the Seattle Grunge scene, and all this other crap that is more about socio-political issues than music itself. But albums like this invite the sort of criticism it’s been getting from so-called Metal elitists because it can’t be enjoyed for its musical attributes. It’s not merely derivative, it’s downright boring, so naturally when it gets what appears to be underserved praise the Heavy Metal conspiracy theorists are going to come out with computer keyboards blazing. I can’t join in the fray in that respect because I don’t feel threatened by this stuff. In 2 or 3 years these capricious hipster types will move on and project their inner sense of purposelessness onto some other art form, and you and I will still be here, loving Metal for the expression of musical freedom that it truly is. I’ll admit that it’s occasionally fun to light up the torches and seek out the heretics, as any other good Catholic Metal head would surely approve of, but this alleged threat to our church was over before it started.
Obviously opinions vary on the musical content on here, so I’ll simply say that if you are a fan of butchered Doom Metal, you might like this. Personally, I’m not sure how any staunch fan of BLACK SABBATH, TROUBLE, SAINT VITUS, ELECTRIC WIZARD, or any other reputable Doom or Stoner Metal band could find this enjoyable, but I am a new comer so I guess my tastes are a bit different. And for all of you bristling anti-hipsters out there, the best way to make this go away is to ignore it. I’ll admit that after the first listen, I was a little upset for having spent $12 on this, but you get over these things. Let the whorish mainstream enjoy their Doom Metal knockoff and instead, put all that energy into something useful like making money to pick up the new HEAVEN AND HELL album when it comes out.
(Online September 18, 2008)