Born as a daughter to early Sicilian nobility as a Tomasi and shipped off to the convent of Palma di Montechiaro around age fifteen for her eccentric and unbecoming behavior, Sister Maria Crocifissa della Concezione would become a nun before she’d become a prisoner in a cell for her insanity. Sister Maria became well known for her fainting spells and her belief that Satan was pulling her strings as she screamed at the altar; No doubt she was either mentally ill or defiant and locking her up in a cell was the only reasonable treatment back in the mid-to-late 1600’s. In a completely dubious series of events her sisters would find her ‘smeared with ink’ and clutching a note written in an indecipherable mixture of cuneforms, runic symbols, and words from various languages that proved indecipherable for centuries. What unfolds in recent specious history, as if written as the preamble for a very shoddy Dan Brown novel, back in 2017 the Ludum Science Center in Sicily (a tourist destination) suggested they pulled code-breaking software off the ‘dark web’ to translate that very letter. Preposterous as this entirely non-scientific publicity stunt is, their (yet unreleased “in full”) translation of the letter rings as true and righteous blasphemy with a bit of nonsense attached: “The holy trinity is an invention of men… God cannot free mortals… The system of organized religion works for no one… Perhaps now, Styx is certain… Oh me.” Ohimè indeed, as those ornately written forms on the original letter came from a woman who’d studied language and the history of religions for half her life before going mad. A sad dissolution of her talents but, we cannot blame Satan for who he chooses to express his truth, we can only appreciate the ancient and lasting resistance against the crime that is Christianity that we must carry on steadfast today. All sigil and symptoms of Satan are righteous and true as bringers of balance and rationality to the illness of Christ’s followers, and nowhere is the plague more effective than within powerful heavy metal music and its countless, endlessly satisfying variations. Polish stoner/doom metal band Dopelord have provided appreciably potent marijuana-fueled sermons of darkness within their first decade of communion yet they’ve never been exactly as direct or infectiously musical as they are here on their fourth full-length, ‘Sign of the Devil’.
Hailing from Lublin, Poland and formed with some higher purpose in 2010 it would be abundantly clear where Dopelord were aiming upon release of their first album (‘Magick Rites‘, 2012) as their love for the early artistic peaks of Electric Wizard (via ‘Come my Fanatics’) and the generational developments beyond were abundantly clear. For their first two records there wasn’t any particularly grand experiment happening, the songs were about drugs and played with a glass-eyed looseness common among the stoner/doom metal headspace. ‘Black Arts, Riff Worship & Weed Cult‘ (2014) always felt a bit more ‘Jerusalem‘ than ‘Dopethrone’ to me in terms of flaccid songwriting, apart from the opener, and I’d found no great reason to pick any of their stuff up at that point. Dopelord‘s songwriting had really picked up, along with the vocal performances, on their much more spirited third album (‘Children of the Haze‘, 2017) that’d reached much further than their core stoner/doom sphere into some occult psychedelic rock and ‘classic’ doom inspiration. It’d probably alienated folks who’re stoned to death and want the same thing over and over again but from my perspective their freshened breath and more expressive drummer (now in Weedpecker) elevated Dopelord‘s station to the level of say, Monolord or Dopethrone. ‘Sign of the Devil’ maintains the momentum of it’s predecessor, refining the vocal arrangements while focusing even more intently upon writing memorable stoner/doom metal songs.
Tune low, play slow. — A mantra that sounds beautifully simple on paper yet one that damns a lot of stoner/doom bands into obscurity (equaled only by that of HM-2 pedal worship within Swedish-styled death metal) yet the mountain-sized sludgy buzz of it all speaks easily the language of an artform to a great deal of people without barrier and cannot be discounted so plainly when spreading the good word of occult defiance. When kicking off ‘Signs of the Devil’ Dopelord bassist/vocalist Piotr Zin and guitarist/vocalist Paweł Mioduchowski trade their different vocal distinctions to suit different parts of each song. The haunting occult Kadavar-meets-Monolord pound of “The Witching Hour Bell” could’ve been ripped straight from Electric Wizard‘s playbook circa 2000 and makes a fantastic first impression with a repetitive-for-effect lyrical focus that extends into the equally impactful roar of “Hail Satan”. I’m a damn sucker for a stoner/doom band that can whip out a harsh vocal, king-sized riffs, and a real bluesy groove and get it all right but it is a rare feat to actually make it work within a damned catchy song like “Hail Satan”. They’ve found a true sweet spot there that was not entirely evident on previous Dopelord records and this suggests a concerted effort to do bigger things, reach for better selves, and take bigger lung-popping rips.
The reap of their scythe’s honed harvest is a fully entertaining spin where each song on ‘Sign of the Devil’ has its hook or catchy moment, something worth returning to that isn’t just a buzz of psych or a chunky riff we’ve heard a hundred times over. “Heathen” builds towards a bridge of bass riff and bluesy finale where haunting vocal hooks make for a huge finale, the nearly 10 minute “Doom Bastards” kicks into a Pentagram-esque motorcycle rocked groove after an extended doom metal lament to start, and “World Beneath Us” acts as a quasi send-off into the stars before the garage punkish plow of “Headless Decapitator” swings back in for one last hit of energy before the album inevitably spins again. Dopelord appear more lucid and capable as they strut from song to song not only for their refined songwriting approach but also by virtue of this being their second album working with Haldor Grunberg of Satanic Audio who has a history of emphasizing the stronger traits of artists working with the strengths of stoner bands like Belzebong and Major Kong as well as king-sized extreme metal records from Azarath and Blaze of Perdition. The render of Dopelord here emphasizes their intended stoner/doom style while allowing them to develop their intended musical personality without losing the plot; Huge fuzz-bursting guitar tones, wild sprays of synth, syrupy vocal linse, and occult doom kicks all breathe within a professional recording that is thankfully more common these days compared to when I’d begun collecting busted and broken-mixed stoner/doom records in the early 2000’s.
These guys have more records in ’em and I won’t suggest that this is yet the best or most original thing they’ll ever do but, it is a sustained high peak in their discography and a remarkable clean n’ clear statement for a fourth record. It doesn’t drag on, the riffs don’t become redundant, and they switch it up enough from song to song that ‘Sign of the Devil’ entertains for its full duration and as such I found myself easily slipping back into Dopelord‘s groove as often as I could manage. A high recommendation.
High recommendation. 4.0/5.0
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