“But one night a young face appears on the quay in the darkness; a new hand who knows nothing. He stares up at the mighty world of iron that rises up before him, and wonders within himself: What is there inside the ship, what does she conceal?” Nordahl Grieg, Skibet gaar videre
Å, ingen sorg er ond som den at alt går over — Shadows formed from stone, a dark and moss-eaten grave glowing in the night emanates these eight alluring tales of death, all irrepressible curses, and relays these poisons of love and loss by the ten hands and five heads of Haugesund, Norway-doomed heavy rock quintet Dunbarrow on this, their third and most accomplished full-length album. ‘III‘ speaks from the grave and to it, mournfully swinging shanties ached into form from swollen souls in the auld traditions of classic occult heavy rock, fashioning an expression rich brand of proto-heavy/doom metallic mastery that is inviting yet drenched in solemnity. This path is their own despite many similar acts resting by the wayside, a certain self-made songcraft that cannot be fairly mistaken for even their most obviate influences or, most natural comparisons. Here we may consider Dunbarrow flowered and wilted in sight of our world, a singular ever-glowing entity awakened to feed our doom rock obsession and in delivery of the precisely right mood to drive us leagues below in contemplation.
Treasured for their enthusiasm for the end and applauded for their raw but rousing late 60’s and early 70’s heavy psychedelic rock enhanced songcraft right from their earliest demos (singles, more or less) in 2012 some saw Black Sabbath and others the proto-Pentagram experience in the black mirror of ‘The Crow Ain’t Far Behind‘ (2013) and ‘When It’s All Over‘ (2014) and it wasn’t long until the debate between Dunbarrow being “metal” or “proto-metal” and if this just means heavy rock with a heavy mood, then call it like it is, eh? Whether we compare their sound to Dust and Night Sun or (early) Witchcraft and Orchid we’re in the same ballpark of the thinking man’s timeless expression of existential dread, bounding bloody riffs, and the best tradition of psychedelic rock borne from folk movement and bluesy finesse wrangled into ornate and percussive slow motion. If you have been staring intently into this mirror provided then you’ll note the resolution improves with each passing year wherein ‘Dunbarrow‘ (2016) tumbled hard and met with perhaps too many comparisons to the late 2000’s products of Norrsken‘s split, and soon honing in on their most vital traits for its follow up ‘Dunbarrow II‘ (2018) still giving us the passionately dark doom rock Dunbarrow had become known for but having shaped their own ‘self’ from within. At the time, my review noted that second album represented an awakening for the band, and much of it had arrived in notice of vocalist Espen Andersen becoming even more distinct of chanteur with each recording. I can’t emphasize enough how much of a difference this has made for the greater persona ebbing and pouring from the eek of ‘III’ as the vocals continue to bend gracefully in weave of this (again) folkish interaction with the rhythm, something we don’t see in “retro” or proto-heavy metal records much beyond the requisite “Planet Caravan” equivalency. In hindsight it would be fair to say that I thought they’d reached a point of comfortable distinction in 2018 but here in 2021 we must revise that statement as ‘III’ becomes the definitive, and perhaps most lustrously dark and arcane bout of Dunbarrow craft thus far.
Today this entity yet persists with pieces of old, auld and eldest in their blood but now some freshly conveyed vibrancy that cannot be considered -stuck- in the past. That is to say that ‘III’ (or ‘Dunbarrow III’, if you prefer) are enjoying a bit of their own ‘doom rock’ fire on the level of Demon Head‘s idiosyncratic forms beyond 2019 and simultaneously finding richer, warmer production values that blend ancient analogue texture into spacious, ballroom-sized resonance. Intimate and rippling with obsidian texture from the start, I could prattle on for a few hundred more words on how beautifully these production values are tailored to the visage and voice of Dunbarrow, once again working with Christer Cederberg for the recording and (this time) the mix certainly maintains close relation to ‘Dunbarrow II’ but I see Anderson‘s hand as producer reaching for something less dryly sepia toned in vision and it makes all the difference to my ear.
All of this sort of sound design bluster on my end is typically shorthand for “the guitars sound amazing” but in this case all elements have beautifully set relation to one another, always allowing room for touches that speak beyond accoutrement, such as the piano jam that pulls us out of the trundled-slow and arms-a-waving doom of opener “Death That Never Dies”. Since I’ve the perspective of an already impressed fan heading into this album this song was enough for me to go looking to buy a copy, well, beyond the impressive album art. What species it presents is a distant relative of heavy psychedelic rock’s easygoing storytellers and the modern tension of ‘retro’ heavy rock from the stoney, doomed and surely Scandinavian section of that headspace but what edges this soon elaborated upon practice is a sense of anthemic existential tension, dread that equals that of the best traditional doom metal from the late 80’s, or, the late 2000’s. First single “In My Heart” is the sea shanty to weather this dread and the second single “Worms of Winter” sort of re-emphasizes this sort of early Witchcraft-meets-Lord Vicar‘s progressive timbre which Dunbarrow now own as their own amalgamation of their own influences. We land upon “Turn in Your Grave” beyond these three rousing doom rock anthems reveling in this boldest and cleverly set version of this band’s best face forward yet and land upon its psychedelic folk rock introduction at just the right time, a deep hit of respite revealing depthy introspection and finesse as we ease onto the other side. Side A is absolute perfection in the sense that it presents several exhilarating pieces up front and throws just enough of a curveball for its final fourth that I cannot wait to hear what is next.
As the Sabbath-esque wriggling and guitar flung beck-and-calls on “When It’s All Over” energizes the approach of Side B with a hard strike against greed, you might not recognize it as one of the earliest demoed singles from the band. This hit me quite hard upon realizing just how much every element of Dunbarrow‘s sound has been refined to this especially high point of action. What was a quirky doom-rocker back in 2014 is now a Side B barn-burner vital to charging back in for the other half of ‘III’. At this point we’ve learned the language of this record’s heavier rockers so, there are fewer surprises beyond a bit more doom on “Lost Forever” here. I am particularly prone to darker, angular deep cuts so this was exactly the abysm I was seeking in approach of closer “Turns to Dust” where we’re treated to a perhaps unintentional summation of the entire oeuvre of the listening experience from its folkish ride into the storm to the deeper doom-rocking lunges of its core rhythmic tarantella. This rolls beautifully back into the opener and makes for a record I’d found a joy to leave on repeat for its moody ride and strong variety of pieces. I’ll admit to being ‘ready pleased and accepting of ‘Dunbarrow II’ as the righteous achievement of this band, even if it was a gem of known quantity. In view of ‘III’ there is the sense that the previous album now appears as a blueprint for the most engaging, engrossing and connective nature of this follow up. It reaches to me for another listen whether I catch a glance of its artwork or begin to hear the verse melody of “Turn in Your Grave” in the corner of my mind and of course this is a sign that I’ve been stabbed deeply by the experience. It is Dunbarrow‘s best yet and I’ve nothing but faith in the future of a band that’d so persistently improve. A high recommendation.
|LABEL(S):||Blues For the Red Sun|
|RELEASE DATE:||May 28th, 2021|
|BUY & LISTEN:||Bandcamp [All Formats]|
Heavy Psychedelic Rock
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