If you are planning on some heinous crime, something ruthless enough to be punishable by death here in the United States our acting Attorney General William Barr wants to have you injected with pentobarbital, in its compounded form, ’til death. Well, if you go through with it, that is. I’m almost certain they used it to euthanize my beloved dog last year, too. Whether or not you’re a cancer upon society or your dog has a bit of it late in life, why this drug? It is the cheapest possible death one could deal. The Danes who make this gentlest liquid death injectable surely insist this sort of use is unintended, a barbaric and ghastly misuse of their anticonvulsant. Good ol’ boys who’d corrupt, manipulate, and (cheaply) euthanize their country day-by-day carry a certain romantic glimmer in their boomer eyes for it, this drug that Marylin Monroe used to off herself. She’d slept with the enemy, eh allegedly. Well then, what does our ol’ Albert Witchfinder, el Ancient Fisherman, thee Sami Hynninen (Tähtiportti, Reverend Bizarre, ex-Spiritus Mortis) and his idiosyncratic vision of doom within Opium Warlords do to speak to this reaper’s drug within their fifth full-length ‘Nembutal’? The 70+ minute droning, dirge-riffing subversion in hand is certainly named for the generic branding of pentobarbital but it isn’t necessarily meant to put you to sleep, or death for that matter. Instead it seems to be an awakening, a peek outside the curtains to make sure the world is still ending, and a sizable psychedelic/experimental doom metal record to celebrate the dreamlike ebbing forth of the anthropocene.

Of course traditional doom metal was always too, uh… traditional for Hynninen but he still happens to be one of the most distinct and charismatic voices ever set to doomed tape. Give me all of the weird high-fantasy metal phrasing of Scott Reagers and the wizard robe’d flailing of Messiah Marcolin and you’ve basically got the right vehicle to hide the spit-heavy syllabic twitching of the rarely-chill Finnish language and the cleverly twisted mind attached. I say this with love and decades of my own cringe-worthy admiration for Finnish doom metal — Of course I’ll continue to trip over myself with a certain fevered readiness, clicking wildly anytime the threat of it hits my inbox. I’d always seen Opium Warlords as a quasi-successor to The Puritan, which’d formed nearby the planned cessation of Reverend Bizarre before Hynninen would join Spiritus Mortis ’til what, a bit beyond ‘The Year is One’ in 2016? Between several thousand other bands influenced by his past output the world over, I suppose the folks still pining for more Reverend Bizarre are more or less looking for Hynninen‘s voice nearby a gigantic slow doom riff — In that sense ‘Nembutal’ is about sixty percent exactly -that- in all of its potential glory. If that sounds like a mildly un-heavy session distribution, understand that we’re talking about an hour and 14 minutes of ultra-dreamy apocalyptic doom psychedelia; All of it dripping with the righteous stink of idiosyncrasy we record collecting ghouls tend slobber over, an unforced freakery that bears repeating.

No, I wouldn’t speak so highly of Opium Warlord‘s back catalog but, only because I’d not heard any of it apart from their third album (‘Taste My Sword of Understanding‘, 2014) until having recently spun through the rest. From a freshened or, rawest perspective much of the insight I could reasonably offer would be from meta-observations on patternation, modes of writing, or types of songs that’ve developed with each album. The bigger riff-based 10-15 minute pieces with psychedelic wash-outs, experimental vocal work, and deeper hits of (what I’d consider) an ‘organic’ form of drone/doom all speak to creating psychedelic doom from a far-flung extreme point of view. This was evident in nascent form on the first album (Live At Colonia Dignidad, 2009) and pushed to an anti-song extreme on their fourth (Droner, 2017), each strong ‘in the moment’ albums but nothing that’d really punched me in the face upon reflection. My initial reaction to ‘Nembutal’ was that I was witnessing another’s transfixion on some illusion that I could not see, it wasn’t until I sat with it in the dark that I’d begin to see the beauty of its unclear outline; A looser formed relationship between songs allows for Opium Warlords‘ heavier doom metal songs to act as mile-markers on the journey downward. Consider it a truly grotesque reveal within, though, as we are getting a half-lucid, ecstatic dumping of the nihilist’s endorphins as he witnesses the world end, clawing at his chair and grunting deep as the extinction of mankind is visualized as if it were erotica.

We don’t get just one scene, though. ‘Nembutal’ rings in my mind as a series of “little deaths” on a grand scale and most of these happen in between two gigantic pieces (“A Heavy Heart” & “Xanadu”) which act as two ~15-20 minute bookends on the album. “Destroyer of Filth” isn’t just a riff but it is kinda “just a riff”. “Solar Anus” is an incredibly evil bout of ASMR with some bass accompaniment and some brilliant use of vocal effects. You’ve gotten the idea already, the guts of this album are vast and mostly experimental or minimalistic pieces that do not amount to any sort of conventional rock or doom metal. What’d stuck to me and brought me along for the ride right away had been the 11 minute “Threshold of Your Womb” and initially only for the sake of the repeated mantra of “We fabricated heaven / to overcome our anxiety of death” alongside a fuzzed chord strummed over slow, shaking off a ton of sharp-buzzing distortion throughout. It makes for an quasi-updated glimpse of classic psychedelic rock’s Far East breakthroughs and guitar-circle moments in the early 70’s but from an incredibly extreme doom metal sonic standpoint. That is to say that when the guitars are hitting within each of these “experimental” and deconstructed vignettes they’ve some considerable weight and resonance via the gigantic guitar tone most often utilized. Are those two big-ass doom metal songs satisfying enough to “carry” the experience for the traditional doom metal fan? Yes, in this case if you had the patience for ‘III: So Long Suckers’ then you’ve set yourself up to love most anything Opium Warlords puts out. However oddly avoidant of pure doom metal some of the project’s records appear at times ‘Nembutal’ goes for it for nearly forty minutes of the running order and there’ll be guitars slinging on other songs if you decide to stick around for those, too.

I stuck around for “A Heavy Heart” to start, becoming a moth to its waking light ’til I was ready to move onto the other pieces, pushing beyond the ~20 minute song I’d found myself eventually including “Threshold of Your Womb”, this’d been the tourniquet snapping off the arm as I’d fallen off the couch. It took some time to appreciate the closer, “Xanadu”, which I can only hope refers to Citizen Kane and not the musical… Not because it sits on the back half of this too-long album but because it is a simpler arrangement and the final peaking exit of the record, tirelessly unspooling itself at a dirging, gradual pace. The best effect to glean from ‘Nembutal’ is had listening directly through the whole record yet it’ll for sure be taxing by design and again, if you’re just panhandling for doom the biggest hit is squarely seated up front on Side A. The full listen represents a solid capture-and-wrangling of what makes Opium Warlords a special and enduring project but I’ve no doubt the context of past releases and their own extremes is key here, not everything they’ve done is quite this tightly arranged at meaningful intersections. A complete “feeling” comes across which I’ve come to appreciate now that I’m much, much deeper down the rabbit hole. I have envisioned a great peace beyond the death and destruction of all mankind, and I am happier for it. A very high recommendation.

Very high recommendation. (89/100)

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
LABEL(S):Svart Records
RELEASE DATE:December 4th, 2020
BUY & LISTEN:Svart Store [EU] , Bandcamp
GENRE(S):Psychedelic Doom Metal,
Heavy Psychedelic Rock,
Experimental Doom Metal

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