It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed some doom metal but this one grabbed my attention almost instantly. The album is a mixture of sludge and stoner doom but of a unique variety. The music is psychedelic but also fantastically dark and yet groovy at the same time. It incorporates elements of industrial, death, progressive, and even traditional metal. The vocals, a slightly more death growly version of Dave “Dixie” Collins from Weedeater. This is Without Light’s All The Kings Must Burn and it is one ghastly, gnarly trip.
Without Light is a four-piece from Chicago, Illinois and they sure know how to write mouth-watering riffs that drip with cosmic horror. Conveniently the band describes themselves as “Heralds of The Great Cosmic Doom. Without Light have seen the final horror beyond time and preach their apocalyptic gospel through grinding guitar and pounding grooves.” Now that’s some DnD level nerd shit. I dig it. Though I wish this final horror beyond time would show up already and get it over with.
The album has a great dynamic, starting slow and building into a torrent of aural energy that eventually smashes you into the aether. We hear smatterings of synths across the album that add rich textural layering to the music. The music is not overly technical (like most doom), and neither does it have to be. This release is all about mood and texture combined with a powerful groove that keeps you moving your head. The image invoked is that of black acid trips in the desert at night and the forming of black holes set against a background of exploding stars. If anyone has ever read H.G Wells’ The Time Machine you might recall the scene where the Time Traveller tries to return to his own time but goes too far to the future and sees the end of the Earth. Now imagine this scene but at night while the horizons are lit with fires and the landscapes dominated by hideous astral beings that rip people apart with tentacles. They make unholy chittering noises as they fill up orifices on their chest with the remains. Now you are getting the picture.
The introduction track kicks off with a casual numerology lesson combined with some ambient effects and synth sounds. I mean I can’t say I was asking for it but I got it. Before long the riffs begin and they just keep coming.
“To The Bottom of The Abyss” instantly throws us into a dark maelstrom of texture, terror, and torpor. The music shares something in common with acts like Yob but with heavier vocals and a bit more weed. Musically the album does not stand out because of the performance but the mood. There is not much virtuosic flexing on this record, almost everything you hear is a collaborative effort to build a cohesive immersive experience. That is not saying that the musicians cannot play their instruments. The playing is tight and one can point to many parts in the album where the musicians show their teeth but the collective effort is not to shine but in fact bring darkness through cooperation. Or at least, show us the darkness to come. The track ends with a spread of phaser and feedback. Suitable.
The third track, “Larval Baptism”, starts to show us something a bit more unique. It begins with an industrial flavour, maybe even death metal-esque. Groovy to say the least. The song transforms shortly into something that sounds quite a lot like early High on Fire. This combination of industrial death metal and dark doom continues for the rest of the track. Before long the two styles seemingly meld together. It is a unique texture, something I have both heard before but also not heard before. I can’t quite put my finger on it but I like it. This might be one of my favourites off the album but I would be hard-pressed to commit to that statement.
“Wretched Ascent Part One” greets us with some 80s synthwave sounds. Saw waves, pads, and filter sweeps for days. A beautiful square wave melody is introduced as the texture grows more convoluted and ominous, A bassy lead emerges out of the swells and cinematic stabs build as the mood begins to thicken. I would call this track an interlude but that may present unintended connotations; let’s rather think about it as the intro to ‘Part Two’ of the same name. The synth eventually gives way to a looping set of power chords that before long end abruptly. I do wish this track flowed straight into the following one. ‘Part Two’ shares some thematic material with the previous track but with the break in between they do feel like distinct pieces rather than parts of a whole.
“Wretched Ascent Part Two” starts with a mood that reminds me of one of my favourite doom bands of all time – Warhorse. Not often I get to say that. The riffs that follow might be some of the best on the album. The kick pounds on every beat gouging the groove into your chest. The monstrous shouts echo as if a call out to the abyss. The song dips and swells in dynamic as it reaches its midpoint and shortly after we hear our first solo of the album, Iomi-esque, simple, melodic yet full of raw energy. The song once again goes into limbo; we hear percussion and strange static-like noises. I particularly enjoy these dynamic shifts in this song, it gives the heavier sections weight and forces the listener to self-reflect as the waves of distortion hit you like some unsuspecting surfer in a cosmic ocean.
“The Wurm Triumphant” changes the mood again, the song begins aggressively, if I didn’t know better I would say the band was trying to start a fight with me. This song is terribly morbid, although some of the groove remains, this track has none of the stoner charms of the previous ones; it is actually downright scary. The sound sends me into a spiral of confusion, fear, and apprehension. If anyone was unsure these are all good things. I like this. I’m weird.
As this album ends I am left a shivering bundle of stardust on the floor. As if I was the planet and the album Galactus, I am now reduced to a husk. This album dominated me. Check it out.
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There don’t seem to be any physical copies available right now but definitely go grab a digital copy of All Kings Must Burn on the Without Light Bandcamp page.