With a series of disinterested shrugs and false starts over the last several years it became clear that the thirsty and doom-obsessed Hour of 13 fandom should be patient with any hopes of a revival of Chad Davis traditional doom metal talents. A great number of interesting projects have sprung up from his wells since 2012, such as blackened death metal project Set, but the broader scope of Davis‘ musical ventures offers great variety outside of metal as well. If you’re more of a doom idiot like me, you’d been focused the frustrating end of Hour of 13 (unto The Ritualist, concurrent with Night Magic which folded to become Hour of 13 which would then change to Hour of Thirteen) while his output slowly began to consist almost entirely of solo projects with the exception of The Sabbathian, an more recent occult doom collaboration. The Sabbathian formed as a trio between Davis, Joey Downs (Altar Blood) and Norwegian vocalist Annette Gulbrandsen who is best known for a one-off album in black/folk band Nàttsòl followed by prominent vocal work on Leaves’ Eyes‘ ‘Meredead’. Though the band have now largely come into their own The Sabbathian was likely a vehicle for some of Davis‘ in-process ideas beyond ‘333’ as the goal of epic doom metal was not far from achieved with the release of The Sabbathian‘s ‘Ritual Rites’ (2014) EP, though Gulbrandsen‘s vocals weren’t given much room to shine while the two guitarists appeared to be wrestling for a voice in the mix.
Now a duo working at their own pace, the worlds between Davis and Gulbrandsen manifest a freshly alien form of epic doom metal on ‘Latum Alterum’. Though this ethereally dreadful sound relies heavily on haunting choral arrangements for its central voice, the plodding dirges that Davis creates offer a uniquely dark heart on this stunningly divergent record. Because of this unexpected stylistic evolution it becomes difficult to see the trajectory from the relatively ‘on-trend’ female-fronted occult doom metal act that The Sabbathian was in 2014 to what they are today. The only remotely similarly conceived works that come to mind come from a few Paul Chain improvisational releases (Violet Theatre releases esp.) where he employed operatic vocalists, or perhaps the more melodic side of Occultation. Because of the serious doom metal aspect of ‘Latum Alterum’ it does feel like a very dark take on High Priest of Saturn, or even Svart labelmates Seremonia, though the goal of Candlemass-esque epic doom metal really does rely on bigger riffs that we ultimately do not get throughout the bulk of this debut full-length. By the time the awakening of “Embrace the Dark” begins to rile the epic doom metal guitar sensibilities outside of basic rhythmic ideas, the record is essentially over.
The lack of prominent rhythm guitar interest (riffs) as a driving force in The Sabbathian‘s music will be the moderately sore point of adjustment for folks already familiar with the project. I don’t mean to suggest that there is no satisfaction to be had in the arrangement itself but that neither the Pentagram, Saint Vitus nor Trouble schools of doom riff apply here. If anything this debut is all the more interesting for its showcase of Gulbrandsen‘s range and distinctly Scandinavian sense of harmony. “Liti Kjersti” particularly haunts and torments as a Nordic folk dirge, a gripping summoner’s song even more effective at high volume; The piece is such a standout in my mind because it strangely invokes the feeling of classic Viking era Bathory as much as it does an occult rock version of symphonic gothic doom metal. “Head Of A Traitor” follows as an ecstatically dire siren’s song, Gulbrandsen is joined by Liv Kristine (ex-Leaves’ Eyes, ex-Theatre of Tragedy) for nearly ten minutes of impressive harmony, their voices blend together so well that I’d almost wanted that additional contribution to every track just to see how far they could go with this type of vocal. Outside of the aforementioned “Embrace the Dark” the tracklist largely creates the same mood throughout; A full listen wears out the tonal quality of the record beyond one full listen but the core three tracks mentioned work well in succession otherwise.
As a performative work with a good handful of clever harmonies, unique mood and occasionally compelling structures ‘Latum Alterum’ is a style over substance listen in my book. The spectacle of The Sabbathian creates enough interest to make the full listen highly repeatable but not particularly lasting for my own tastes. The haunting, choral sound of the piece is unique and hypnotic in its dirge but the need for tonal variation hinders my full recommendation. Moderate recommendation for fans of epic doom metal. For preview I’d suggest “Liti Kjersti” for a stunning first impression and “Embrace the Dark” for its guitar work.
Candles that would omit the light. 3.5/5.0
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