RETRO TUESDAYS: Castle – Castle (1994)

If you’re not a spelunker aiming for the deepest caves of death/doom you might not be familiar with any of the incredible underground death/doom metal bands from the Netherlands. With some luck you might’ve heard of Beyond Belief due to their ties with The Monolith Deathcult and Dead Head but even those are obscure references for some. My search for bands on par with innovative death/doom project Winter lead me first towards the spires of Finnish gloom idols Unholy but quickly discovered the superior rhythms of Sempiternal Deathreign. ‘The Spooky Gloom’ perfectly encapsulated old school death metal that wandered off into doom metal riffing and this is the appropriate gateway towards the quirk and righteous glowering of Netherlands death/doom metal. From that impetus three standout bands spawned nearby in the form of Mourning, Spina Bifida, and Castle.

Castle was by far the most melodic, the most adventurous and all with a grand awareness of the esoteric expansion of extreme doom metal happening around them. Their first demo ‘Chasing Unicorns’ in 1991 was straight forward compared to what would follow in terms of heavy death metal instrumentation a la early Amorphis but yet unafraid to break into rapturous melody or thrash metal riffing briefly. This demo is an essential listen for folks who idolize early death/doom along the lines of Ceremonium and Disembowelment where even the slowest moment is engaging thanks to detailed guitar work and a satisfying drum performance. From that point the guys in Castle clearly discovered Thergothon‘s demos and grabbed the closest Casio keyboard they could find and it was on.

Don’t worry too much, though, because they didn’t abuse the keyboards on their 1992 ‘In Purple Visions’ EP and instead used them sparingly much like Emperor did on their earliest releases. It wasn’t funeral doom metal either and instead used rock solos, slow doom riffs, and tried to incorporate something closer to Paradise Lost (just listen to “The Lake”). At this point most folks compare Castle to early The Gathering or Tiamat‘s ‘Clouds’ and I think it is both entirely fitting and misleading. Castle weren’t so much gothic as they were their own sort of weird, much like Phlebotomized where they worked with prog-rock sounds and unexpected movements as they experimented. With each release branching out wildly in it’s own way, by the time Castle‘s self-titled debut full-length came all points of reference had been made their own.

So, if you ever wanted an atmospheric death/doom album with the impact of the ‘Peaceville three’ but didn’t want the goth stuff this could be the sort of obscure gem that’ll send your mind into orbit. I know it’ll seem like a bland, obscure genre entry at first but their taste in rock music and ambitious melodic interests ripple into old school-assed rhythmic and cavernous death metal in an amazing way. They were doing in 1994 what bands have been fumbling with for the last 10 as they incorporate hazy atmospherics, extreme metal and modern rock guitar influences. The most undeniable experience here is the 8+ minute culmination of “Travelling”, a track that certainly deserves some amount of hype.

For my taste this is a perfect example of where the raw fringes of underground releases trump popular culture and trends. Even if you want to argue that this was a band that had a multitude of influences and never quite achieved their ambitions… the music absolutely speaks for itself with a unique, otherworldly death metal performance. It speaks a language of alienation in life, defiance of a supposed creator and the passage of suffering towards death. Castle‘s prose treats life itself as an icy climb through a winter mountain. I can’t always tell if he’s referencing Elric or Kafka but the struggle with ‘God’ comes up frequently. That trail from life to death is echoed in increasingly ‘epic’ doom compositions as the album progresses, so if the first two tracks are a bit rock-ish for your taste know it’ll take about seven minutes before the darker death metal digs in. Highly recommended for death/doom fanatics, and folks who love early experiments with extreme doom metal that are on the fringes of death/doom, funeral doom, and the more melodic death/doom popular in the early 90’s.

Artist Castle
Type Album
Released 1994
Listen on YouTube!  Castle on Metal-Archives
Death Doom Metal

Watching the screaming seas. 4.5/5.0

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