A hundred years in coffin with all lithification complete these dusted and hardened remains haven’t known their warm coat of flesh beyond the tenth day of death. Burial and mounting diagenesis masks a psychic dream shielded by the mud and encased in oak, a disarticulated mineral geist with its jaw loosed toward sternum — Collapsed and screaming towards a starless black eternity. A dwindling, no longer sloshing, paste of flesh leaves descending and weakened watermark upon the bones, etching dissent from creatures of rot left behind as they succumb to the limited carrion of the endless night. A tomb is a cruel place. Not for its atmosphere of death and mourning or the constant reminder of crumbling mortality provided but, for its entrapment of ancestral spiritus that’d keep our beloved from re-entering the Earth’s crust and cradling fire. It takes substantial tectonic movements to shift and crack the soil enough to shake free the dreams of the dead from their cursed boxes — If night terrors, violence in the streets, and howling swarms of diamonian possessed ever wreak a flash of havoc upon the greater Sacramento and Oakland, California area blame the impossibly heavy corpse-stirring extreme doom metal of Occlith for all manner of curses freed from nearby crypts. The quintet spread their lumbering fog of dust and rotten sounds for miles on their debut, ‘Gates, Doorways, and Endings’, spanning five enormous and haunting doom metal tracks that’d each serve as ritualistic microcosmic tales of passage beyond the grave.
Grinding along at a slow-to-slower pace whilst sparing no detail in express of their ritualistic plods a la Runemagick, Nightfell, and Un the fellowes who’d form Occlith back in 2017 had their hands in key releases from the Sacramento and Oakland, California area sludge/doom metal spheres surrounding Swamp Witch, Chrch, and Bog Oak. If you’re unfamiliar with their associated acts then consider drummer, engineer, mix/masterer Patrick Hills (ex-King Woman) who reprises the high quality thunder of recent work with Defecrator and Chrome Ghost here on Occlith‘s debut. If you are already familiar with their first tape (‘Obscure Heresies‘, 2018) you’ll have the bounding sludge/doom spirit to look forward to here but the timbre of the vocal work has changed considerably since original vocalist Zack McCune (Yarrow) has been replaced with Chrch‘s current guitarist Karl Cordtz who has a slightly more honed edge to his death/doom diction and a monastic lean within clean-sung psychedelic doom metal pieces. That’d be the major point of interest when scouring the most surface level attributes of Occlith from the frozen pool of gleaming darkness they’d spawn from; The passage between harsh vocals towards cleans is handled beautifully and the shift in vocals adeptly shifts the mood from song to song, moment to moment helping to keep the steadfast meditative focus of each piece in tact while featuring some impressive varietal ability. A broader range of vocal expression sustains the album quite well, and no doubt a fan of harder-edged psychedelic doom metal bands like Ocean Chief should enjoy this record as much as a Hooded Menace-head most certainly would.
Though ‘Gates, Doorways, and Endings’ features some sonic semblance to past-and-present projects on a basal stylistic and experiential level the broadened sum of their capabilities in concert makes for an excitingly full-ranged extreme doom metal experience. To be entranced by the the first two 10+ minute death/doom and sludge metal epics only to find the album’s vocals begin to progress, via Cordtz’ very capable range, from ominous despair towards psychedelic, downtrodden grace as it plays is a slow but steadily impressive realization. The title track is a bit of an island in the midst, where it is the first piece to solely and prominently feature clean vocals but it isn’t until standout “Suspended Crossing” where both moods feature in equal motion across a single piece. Beyond the growl forth and moaning-in-the-distance emanations the compositions are each similarly paced and generally plodding. A lumbering sludge-toned death/doom metal lurch that features some heavy atmospheric sludge metal adornment, think of ‘Times of Grace’ and early Pallbearer then pace it all along the lines of Heavydeath (or later Anhedonist) and you’re in the right mindset before taking a dark, dark turn. Gorgeous lead guitars and soul-crumbling doom riffs are the suggested ‘heart’ of the operation but the whole is not complete without the entranced and staggered mid-pace centrifugal beats that anchor it all. Burning slow for nearly a full hour is no easy feat but if you liked the slow rumble of Fórn‘s latest album, Chrome Ghost, or ‘Into Desolate Realms‘ as much as I did in recent years you will happily die enshrouded by this fine albums steady movements.
Picking out the brightest moments from five songs, each straying beyond the ten minute mark, isn’t impossible but does become somewhat reductive of the artform intended; Long-form extreme doom metal is such a commitment to pace and presence that pockets of sweetness aren’t yet relevant until you’ve had some considerable vested mileage with the full listen. There are yet a few touches that’d help make Occlith‘s debut feel pined over, preened and intentionally detailed, which are worth mentioning; Around 7:55 minutes into the fantastic opener (“Death No More a Casket”) a drowning chorale sends the song spiraling downward with an affecting collective fainting spell. “I Was Seeing the War” has several interesting phases within its 13+ minute span from choral vocals to restful post-metal slithering but it is the constant return to funereal beats that persist throughout the full listen that serves to hammer deep the greater personality of the project before it ends. The full listen grants a slow-release dose of morbid death magick, devastating modern doom/sludge metal that intends a crater dug by physical force and emotional weight alike. The title track probably nails this best in some regard but it is impossible to accept just one piece of this album and avoid being smitten by the other four, they are intertwined into the greater haunt that ‘Gates, Doorways, and Endings’ provides. With that said the nature of the album will grace the listener with mood and turbulent seas of riff and ethereal devastation, there’ll be little in the way of catchy hooks beyond a handful of appreciably fine moments. Occlith‘s debut is exactly the sort of long-droning ‘modern’ extreme doom metal record that the greater fandom of such rabidly seeks, as I am a seeker of such things I can happily give a high recommendation of it.
High recommendation. 4.0/5.0
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