Though they’re certainly not blackened or directly ‘occult’ by any stretch of the imagination Northern Ireland’s accursed doom/sludge act Elder Druid have slowly pointed their classic stoner/doom rhythms and post-‘Dopethrone’ snarls toward the bleaker end of the spectrum since forming in 2015. Fuzz-singed basslines and wholly overdriven stoney guitar thunder wouldn’t really strike their sound ’til their first EP (‘Magicka‘, 2016) and there was still a healthy round of Kyuss-isms informing their songwriting well up to and through their well-received debut full-length (‘Carmina Satanae‘, 2017). At that point the creative process must’ve presented several possible paths for their moderately harsh ‘classic’ sludge voicing and soupy, fuzzy stoner swing, the fact that they’ve chosen to go darker without resorting to post-metal or sludgecore is commendable. ‘Golgotha’ presents itself as a miserable spirit, still waxing poetic in description of dark fantasy worlds but exuding menace and frustration through that character in an effective and occasionally over-the-top manner appropriate for their niche. It isn’t a particularly memorable record for its songwriting alone but they’ve made up for it with sullen charismatic presence, egging Elder Druid‘s morbid doom metal rhythms on through its sleepier moments.
There aren’t a shitload of records that have me second-guessing a positive gut reaction around the third or so listen though ‘Golgotha’ had me hitting the pause button there and saying to myself “Eh, all dread and no soul.” Which is usually where I draw the line with a doom record that isn’t particularly original or might’ve managed to flatten their passion through stoner music tropes. Elder Druid made their case next to some impressive upcoming records, and as a personal impulse purchase (which I rarely cover), for the sake of its cold and pitiful attitude, that soullessness was exactly ‘right’ when I’d sat with it. Hell, I must’ve spent a decade listening to bands like Grief, Burning Witch and sure, even that peak late 90’s/early 2000’s chunk of Electric Wizard and High on Fire. This record fits right into that worldview but bumps an unsure foot into the soggy, hopeless reality of today. It’d be a personal choice to pull myself outside the box when approaching the album and if I intended neutrality then, yeah, ‘Golgotha’ is most inspired within the small details and a bit plain in the bigger picture. None of that stopped me from coming back to it 15-20 more times in the space of a month, it is an easy and affecting spin.
It might’ve been the Goatsnake swing of opener “Sleeping Giant”, the rising tide in the middle of “Dreadnought”, or the slightly more modern sludge-groovin’ of “Vincere Vel Mori” but I found plenty of charm within the otherwise caustic and sullen-toned tracklist. They’re still a doom metal band with shouted and snarled vocals but, it isn’t entirely bland or nearly as hardcorish as the previous album. The next point of ‘fight or flight’ for the band looks to be the decision to introduce more intricacy (a la Unearthly Trance) or a more emotionally driven, memorable experience and I figure the vocals will serve as either the limiter or the breakthrough. Beyond that bout of future-casting, I had a great time with this record, ‘Golgotha’ proves itself alluringly miserable and just resonant enough to recommend to old sludge heads as well as the slightly more extremist stoner/doom metal crowd.
Moderate recommendation. 3.5/5.0
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