Though the black death was long past its pandemic status three hundred years later in the seventeenth century it’d still periodically spark up in particularly filth-ridden and suffering states of inequality across Europe. Caroline-era London would too quietly enter a yearlong quarantine in 1636 that’d see all manner of affluent folk running aghast at the closure of all social gatherings; Particularly affected by this was notable Irish playwright James Shirley who’d bring his high-born dramatic flair to Dublin’s as he scurried away from the bubonic plague. This’d mark one of the first widely recognized pieces of Irish theater circa 1640 or so, Saint Patrick for Ireland, a modified miracle play detailing the early life of the fool who’d bring vile Christianity to Ireland, idiotically positing Irish druids as if Romans and doing a fair job of reinforcing the saint as a patriotic symbol of a ‘conquered’ and gentrified Ireland. Of course this all ties nicely into present day for numerous reasons as the world is stricken by plague, the current day is Saint Patrick’s day, and I’ve the pleasure of recommending ‘II’ the debut full-length from Irish epic heavy/doom metal band Death the Leveller, named after the infamous and impactful poem by the same name, authored by Shirley. The paradox of it all speaks to me if only in the sense that today even those in power cannot hide, from death or prying eyes and in every case their misdeeds will last in the hearts and minds of those exploited and cruelly cast aside.
Though they’ve always been artists of the earthen, folkish variety the fellowes who’d make up Mael Mórdha had always structured themselves after the greats of epic doom metal, whether that’d mean the ‘Peaceville three’, early Solstice, or the incredible evolution of Primordial nearby. By the time they’d released their third album, (Manannán, 2010) their own vision of epic heavy metal by way of the self-applied ‘Gaelic doom metal’ label was well established, unique and notable but it was ‘Damned When Dead‘ (2013) that’d really cemented their presence as an irreplaceable soul within Irish metal spheres. Well, by 2015 something’d gone awry and the band unto hiatus until 2018 when they’d reform for a reunion show essentially calling it quits in favor of another band formed in the meantime. All but the vocalist would replace Mael Mórdha with the crestfallen grandeur of Death the Leveller around 2016, now employing vocalist Denis Dowling who’d featured in progressive thrash metal band Cursed Earth back in the early 90’s. Call it a spiritual successor or a natural progression beyond a well-worn suit of armor, Death the Leveller made their debut (‘I‘, 2017) free of restraint and with an entirely new voice to steer them onward. Consider it a self-titled full-length debut if you will, but ‘II’ finds the band even more dedicated to their new sound as they push out into four bigger, gloriously engrossing epics.
On some level it’d be reasonable to argue Death the Leveller have kept true to their course invoking an atmosphere similar to Apostle of Solitude, Mirror of Deception, or perhaps Wheel that is well within the bounds of epic doom metal a la Matravers-era Solstice but the most reasonable comparison comes from the most logical of places: Primordial and later Mael Mórdha and I say this largely because this sort of long-winded, defiant and poetic diction is fairly hard to find beyond the shores of Irish doom/heavy metal. That is to say these are proper epics you’re in it for a long and captivating ride and that means an exhausting march through each of the four tracks on ‘II’, which range from eight to twelve minutes in length. There is so much to say and such inspiration for their spirited performances because Death is on the mind within. Introverted, pained by death and mortality with a remarkably effective fixation upon survival, a common plight shared by those who’d spend their exiled moments examining the ‘self’ rather than the worth of others. As a fan who’d not been particularly impressed by a fair share of Dowling‘s singing on ‘I’, I can heartily say he’s put in the work to not only carry a tune better but deliver an impressive and passionate performance. Sing to me of death and all sorrow and I’ll listen, sing to me of death with this measure of passion and I’ll empty my pockets for you as if rightfully robbed.
Even the most brief piece on this album, “So They May Face the Rising”, demands patient attention and multiple listens to absorb and this is not only due to the structure of the song but the production values on ‘II’. Dowling‘s vocals are loud, and to be fair each instrument is bravely loud and equally heard in theory but when stepping away from my usual cans or lowering the volume on larger speakers his voice was -all- that I could hear and it took some constitution to sit and indoctrinate myself to his insistence. This naturally paid off because the lyrics are made a point of and though the guitar work is a major highlight for me, I’ll remember the impassioned howler in the mid-front of the mix most. If you’re a fan of ‘The Gathering Wilderness’ or any post-2002 Primordial records imagine Death the Leveller performs with that level of righteous bravado and then some, sometimes by way of sheer loudness and sometimes by way of clever and powerful ‘over the top’ expression. “The Golden Bough” is the centerpiece for every point of excess within the bands sound, creating a great plateau in the middle of the album at just over twelve minutes long.
If all of that sounds tiring and overblown, sure, I knew I would like this album after the first listen but I didn’t enjoy listening to it right off the bat. As stupid as that might sound it is even more ridiculous to rely purely on first impressions for musical taste, you’ll fail by your own devices when you run out of easy or samey garbage to piss through. I gave Death the Leveller the time of day, and night, and well considerable hours of time because I know epic doom metal is often either too ambitious for its own good or too much to take in outside of the right mood or level of familiarity. Plain thoughts, I know, but ‘II’ requires that you live in its slow-motion dimension for a few spins before you learn its language and see the great captivating arcs within its four lengthy pieces. Sustained intimacy without distance for 40 straight minutes is going to be uncomfortable no matter who you are, whether you’re chafing or becoming irritable by way of the free-flowing emotion dribbling from the muse’s mouth. Sorrowful, thoughtful, captivating, introspective, and effectively dour this debut from Death the Leveller is a great work to be sunken into and drowned by and, as it turns out, exactly the right piece of music to fall into as the fear of life’s crumbling spreads wide among the privileged. High recommendation, and pretty squarely aimed at epic heavy/doom metal fans.
High recommendation. 4.0/5.0
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