In long-ago burnt and razed cathedrals, in parking lots for ancient and caved-in graves they’d left us a hopeless corpse separated from the dementia of a stoned soul — lost in whatever labyrinthine witch bottle we’d been caught in a few years back, that auld zombification of flesh now leaves little more than a wandering mind’s toppling mental state to haunt the listener. Here in 2021 Swedish psychedelic doom metal quartet Alastor set us skull-first on a righteously greased downward spiral, having sloughed off the corporeal weight of the living and now whirling ‘Onwards and Downwards‘ via perpetuated madness. Stone-faced yet writhing in motion they appear to bask in our collective world downfall as if it were sunlight via their droning, sludging and hey, catchy as Hell stoner rock infused fuzz-bursting doom metal tunes. A new drummer, a bleak anno MMXX and a load of clever songcraft in hand ensures these fellowes lift the veil entirely upon what supernatural forces compress the skull, cracking it wide open.
Back in 2018 ‘Slave to the Grave‘ had been a bit of a take-off, a rise beyond the tarmac of life towards death when I’d reviewed it yet there was still plenty to improve upon. Chiefly the energetic imbalance between sides/halves and maintaining the consistency of their core Electric Wizard meets Kyuss appeal which, to be fair, is reductive of their own personalities but sums it up near enough for the masses. The big honking guitars are here for days, explosive and commanding within the easy-rolling thunder we’ve come to expect from post-millennium stoner/doom metal, and we could for sure consider Alastor a “riff” band for the sake of classic doom metal standards despite the aggrandized, Monolord-sized sound design in hand; Despite this, they’ve always been more about making the song the point of connection rather than letting the spectacle of sound alone provide the ride. This has never been more true as they open this second album with “The Killer in My Skull”, a bit of a slasher epic and hymnal manifesto at once narrating a terrifying personal justification inside the mind of a determined killer. The Hammond-esque organ beneath and the deadpan delivery of the vocals are a brilliant narrative combination that expertly finds its hook beyond profound verses, phrases most could relate to beyond the murderous intent involved. This isn’t too far from how they’d kicked off ‘Slave to the Grave’ a couple years back and the trick with ‘Onwards and Downwards’ is that they’ve managed to keep the momentum up for a bit longer and spread the high points more evenly than and prior release.
If there is a batsignal shone towards the greater stoner/doom metal headspace on this record it is inarguably “Dead Things in Jars” with its rumbling, flattening fatness of tone and ‘Dopethrone’-sized break around the ~9:00 minute mark. Not only is it a beast of a song but it flashes Alastor‘s roots right next to what fever dream the bring of their own, which is far more refined than some of the more basal influences for the stoner rock/psych doom hybrid reality as a whole. With no disrespect aimed at the also fine work of previous drummer Stefan Bergström (Bong of Chthulu) new drummer Jim Nordström ends up being a vital feature here doing more and with greater precision than we’d found on ‘Slave to the Grave’, you’ll no doubt have gotten that hint loud and clear when “Death Cult” rides out, its Queens of the Stone Age (or, Hellacopters?) piano-tapping jerkiness flinging the energy of the record to an entirely new place. They’re no longer entirely asleep at the wheel, no longer (just) a wall of miserable psychedelic doom, and this ends up making ‘Onwards and Downwards’ the most broadly viable and valuable proposition from Alastor to date. The conversation now turns from “Cool, one of those.” towards “When are they touring next?” within the space of these ~47 minutes.
The title track is the next greatest high here, the longest piece at nearly ten minutes and surely the most heavily 70’s Sabbath-esque in its guitar arrangements. “Onwards and Downwards” is not the final word and perhaps arguably just as well written as the two non-interlude pieces that surround it yet a few bluesy grinds and strong guitar hooks eventually carry this song towards the pleasure center of the dopamine-sapped brain. This’d also been one of just a few songs where I’d felt the growl of the largely clean bass tone was discernable and well-placed in the greater stomp of the song. Here we get a glimpse of a sort of hopeful or sentimental tone from Alastor as things wind down, we might’ve reached the point of insanity that is no longer spiteful and it feels entirely “comfort zone” for the band, as in, this is exactly what they do best though they’re capable of a bit more too. The major highlights of the full listen are infinitely repeatable though there are a few interruptions that I’d become annoyed with, specifically “Kassettband” for how loud it is, maybe this is an inside joke or a memento from the demo process but it’d stood out in a bad way for how loud its tape grinding was set on the full listen. A cool ten times, skipped forever after kinda deal. I never felt a bit of dread when jumping back into this album, I’d probably even dove into ‘Onwards and Downwards’ way too many times in the process of reviewing it because it just felt great as a full listen and yet I don’t feel like I’m close to wearing it out. A high recommendation.
|TITLE:||Onwards and Downwards|
|RELEASE DATE:||May 28th, 2021|
|BUY & LISTEN:||Bandcamp [All Formats]|
|GENRE(S):||Psychedelic Doom Metal,|
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