Welcome to dying. Although this is a sneaky Blind Guardian reference, it also neatly summarises the band I am about to review named Dö which seems to be the Swedish for “die”. See? There was a correlation.
At first impressions, this bands name is quite apt as Astral Death Cult is a particularly meaty form of stoner/doom metal, with fuzzy yet warm tones to match. This Finnish three-piece have created a massive sound on their second full-length release. The album is unrelenting; it has a menacing, plodding quality that conjures images of some monstrous astral beings rending apart time, space, and anything else in their wake.
Although the album has an overarching doom feel, the songwriting is rather unique. The album features a fair amount of death and black metal sounding riffs and this influence can be more specifically heard in the vocals. The initial vocals heard on the album are in the form of spoken word which I am not awfully fond of; however, after that, they become raspy and demonic; the source of the sound seeming to emit from a shadowy cove crafted out of reverb and delay. The riffs are both groovy and dissonant and manage to find a nice balance between stoner rhythms and death metal style harmony. In regard to their musical form, the band does not stray too far from traditional strophic structures but this is not a detriment to the sound at all.
The biggest factor that contributes to my enjoyment of Death Astral Cult is the recorded tones of the instruments. A great example is “Drifting (In Methane Ocean)”. The warmth and depth of the drum sound immediately catches my attention and lulls me into a hypnotic state. When the bass enters, the enveloping tone, warm but crunchy, only contributes to this feeling of catatonia. As the effect-drenched guitars begin to screech above the musical bedrock, the shouted vocals enter as some unholy priest leading a congregation in chant. The ritual is complete, the riff worship begins. The song ends with massive walls of distortion, serving as musical punctuation and brings the service to an end.
The following track “Cosmic Communion” presents us something quite different. It features traditional metal picking, down-tuned to hell, all played at a fast tempo with suitably blackened vocals. Tracks like this are ones that show Dö’s versatility. Although this track does still have some banging stoner riffs and solos, the early parts have a thrash metal feel and it also features some elements of black and death metal in the writing. “Planet Eater” takes it one step further and goes full blast beat on us as the track reaches its climax and conclusion. Something in this last part of “Planet Eater” reminds me of the murky death metal that you hear from bands such as Horrendous, Ashpyx, or The Chasm, which are all great associations for me. It is safe to say this album is not a one-trick pony. I find the writing on this album compelling and on repeated listens the album only continues to grow on me.
The single repeated piano note that is heard at both the start and the end of the album is a weird touch, especially considering that you hear very little keyboard on the album (I thought I may have heard a texture here or there but it was very hard to make out, there might have been none at all). The sound at the start of the album is delicate and subtle but as it returns at the end it has become distorted and broken and was much too loud in comparison to the level I had become accustomed to hearing the album at. It is a small gripe but the sound could have come down a little at the end. I did enjoy the ending of the album overall, specifically the manner in which the instrument tones fizzle and sputter out, slowly being replaced by this simple piano motif. I like the idea, my only reservation is the literal volume of those final notes. They are quite jarring (though maybe that was the intention).
Besides my minor gripes, I thoroughly enjoyed this album. It is both heavy and hypnotic, groovy but evil. It strikes a great balance between being dark, heavy and fresh but also without losing the rhythm and blues influence of old school metal. This album is a grower so give it a few squirts before making up your mind. Catch it when it releases on the 20th September 2019.
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Death Astral Cult will be out in a couple of weeks via Lay Bare Recordings (vinyl) and Mercyful Tapes (cassette). Keep up with the band on their website and like/follow them on Facebook and Instagram to stay up-to-date on new developments from the Finnish trio.
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