Way out on Maryland’s tip in Ocean City a great desperate calm settles as the tourist season dissipates and the cold slap of boredom hits those townies incessantly graced by the beauty of Atlantic beaches. There in pockets of reasonably priced watering holes dwell the inebriated that wouldn’t sit and rot until commerce returns. Now I could be way off, I only know how life is up near Chestertown and the Kent Island area but any winter visits I’ve made to the Atlantic coast found dead towns, seasonal restaurants, and a few local-stuffed over-pouring bars. I can only imagine that downtime inspiring artist and musician Dana Helmuth to take his first stab at stoner/doom metal with Blood Raven, a four piece thunder-hooved kick of post-Sleep doom lead by Helmuth‘s psychedelic vocal treatment and ritualistic guitar work. With the dissolution of Blood Raven after their debut ‘Jotunn’ (2017), Helmuth would pour his ideas into a sleeker, meaner trio under the name Yatra, a Hindi word typically used to describe a pilgrimage to sacred landmarks.
Essentially a direct continuation of a previous incarnation with a couple of Blood Raven songs included (see: “Hour of the Dragon”, “Four Directions”) Yatra‘s debut full-length ‘Death Ritual’ is stylistically equal to its predecessor while employing a more professional sound with a rough two-fold increase in production values. No less muddy than more obvious influences, ‘Death Ritual’ could be described alongside the growling muck of High on Fire‘s ‘The Art of Self Defense’ as well as the glowering sludge hell of Warhorse‘s classic ‘As Heaven Turns to Ash’; In terms of differentiation there is an additional biting rasp of sludge a la Lord Dying alongside the swamp of Acid King riffs running through Helmuth‘s mind but, Yatra cleanly realizes their doom influenced riffs compared to similarly fuzzed stoner/doom heads like Confusion Master. The lineage is clear and if you’re keen to dive into more of it then you’re on stable ground with a band like this. In trying to divine some greater accomplishment or new resonant ‘it’ factor from Yatra you might come up empty but for the stoner spectrum of doom ‘Death Ritual’ is decidedly gnashing and thrives within its more venomous moments (see: “Black Moon”).
For the oldest of doom metal heads who made a point to skip over the Electric Wizard and Sleep influenced heft of post-millennium sludgy stoner doom eruption ‘Death Ritual’ will not convince a change of heart. For those who pay no mind to the past and know only the present state of doom it might even sound like a fairly rote genre entry without the conviction of an extreme variant like Samothrace or the progressive mounding of Yob. For my own taste Yatra do spin a satisfying set of riffs with some reasonably compelling darkness but the entire listening experience consists of shapes and motions that do not sum into any great standout yet. Granted my perspective views ‘Death Ritual’ as distant generational spawn of a band like Warhorse, who have been difficult to subvert for decades. With the standards of old and new comparatively high, I needed something extra to really buy into Yatra‘s greater musical statement. If you’re just high off your ass and want a huge, buzzing evil-assed doom record then by all means turn it up and space out. Moderate recommendation. For preview I’d suggest my two favorite tracks “Black Moon” and “Four Directions”, the crossover between sludge and modern doom metal should impress.
Thirteenth day after death. 3.0/5.0
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