One of the down-right shamiest of the down-right shames in the world is the extent to which old school Doom Metal is overlooked as a subgenre of Metal. The pure, raw emotion that this style conjures forth is some of the most sincere and moving that one can experience in the realm of Metal and despite the common stereotype of “mindless SABBATH cloning,” the bands are often times very talented and creative. Sure, old school Doom is more about tradition than progress, but bands like Pittsburgh Doom legends PENANCE show that it is entirely possible for a band to show their love of the old Doom masters and still create a record that sounds fresh, exciting and above all, heart-felt. Of course, I don’t mean heart-felt in the mushy, “I love you mom” type of way, but more in the sense that this stuff is coming straight from ol’ ticker, at times proud, at others thoroughly gut-wrenching and at all times honest. To get down to the point, PENANCE are sure to please old school Doom Metal enthusiasts with “Spiritualnatural,” and Metalheads not into typically the style would do well to check this out, as well.
Musically, there isn’t much in the way of fluff here – two guitars, bass and drums playing slow to mid-tempo Heavy Metal. Matt Tuite and Dave Roman (as well as Terry Weston, who played rhythm guitar in place of Dave Roman for roughly half of the album) provide riffs and solos that range from pure headbangery to eerie and evil-sounding. Equally awesome is the bass tone of Mary Bielich (NOVEMBER’S DOOM) – just listen to the opening of “Regret,” and tell me that you aren’t envious of the existence of the sound waves whence forth generated from the lady’s strings! Stealing the show, however, is Brian “Butch” Balich’s vocals and lyrics, written in a sort of straightforward and honest way that really adds to the impact and delivered in a roughly sung, Ozzy-influenced voice backed by a nice strong set of lungs. At times, there’s a Hardcore-ish tone to the voice, though not at all of the shrieked Metalcore variety – more in the old school, down-to-Earth vein. The elements of the band come together to make some inspiring Doom, with “The Innocent” stealing the show – what a song! It’s heavy, haunting, thought-provoking and lots of other adjectives that Metal reviewers often use in place of most direct descriptors such as “good.”
Of course, PENANCE does not feel tied down by their musical style, as shown by the two instrumentals, the bagpipe-based “The River Ara” and later on, “Iron Curtain Blues,” which features a mandolin. These tunes fit perfectly in the album and add a bit of folk culture which really enhances “Spiritualnatural” as an album. “All Is Vanity” is scary as Hell – a slow, palm-muted riff underneath a chilling spoken word prayer. Lots of bands go for this feeling and fail miserably, but PENANCE nailed it like a nail waiting to be nailed. Ending the album is “Starshine,” a traditional Doom rocker, ending with the instrumental piece “Dawn Of A New Day,” the most SABBATH-esque moment on the album, not only in sound but also in light of the fact that the band separately named the ending instrumental of the song, as BLACK SABBATH did with countless tracks (i.e. "Under The Sun"/"Ever Day Comes And Goes"). And just when you think that ends the album, about a minute later you are shown a bit of PENANCE’s sense of humour. You’ll see what I mean – hilarious!
I usually try to come up with some ending paragraph to offer closure for my reviews, but this time, nothing’s coming to me except for this – “Spiritualnatural” is a solid offering and an excellent Doom Metal record. With that, I guess there’s nothing left to say other than – DOOM ON! (Online October 11, 2005)