I’m pathetically late in reviewing this split. My shame is magnified by the fact that I first heard the album months ago and knew from the first listen that it was one of the best I’d heard all year. It still is.
Each of these bands — Mexico’s Majestic Downfall and Australia’s The Slow Death — contribute three long songs, collectively totaling more than 67 minutes of doom.
The first of Majestic Downfall’s songs, “The Dark Lullaby”, is full of contrasts and is impressively dynamic, both in its pacing and in its changing moods. It joins together massive guitar tone and huge, brutish bass hammers with light, ringing acoustic guitar harmonies. It incorporates melodies that are both entrancing and drenched in sorrow. It pairs gargantuan roars that come up from some bottomless abyss with harrowing howls that convey sensations of intense anguish. Slow, skull-splitting riffs and gut-punching drums cohabit the song with ripping tremolo- and blastbeat-driven storm fronts. And in the song’s second half, you’re treated to a squalling guitar solo that will seize your attention, followed by a heavy guitar motif that wouldn’t be out of place in a Scandinavian-styled melodic death metal anthem.
The music includes beautiful, reflective moments as well as crushing ones — and those lighter passages make the weight of the heavier assaults that follow even more pulverizing. Although the overarching style of the music is dooooooom, elements of death metal and black metal are integrated naturally and effectively. And really, that’s what’s most striking about the song — the way in which Majestic Downfall integrates all of the varied elements so organically to make a richly textured and seamless unity. In a word, it’s fantastic.
“The Dark Lullaby” is a very hard act to follow, but “Renata” and “Obsidian” hold their own. The former is in the vein of “The Dark Lullaby”, a song that makes the most of its 12 minutes, joining together big jagged riffs with beautifully poignant, layered guitar melodies, trilling electric leads, and mood-changing acoustic interludes. The vocals are again incredibly impassioned in their anguish, and the guitar solos are so good you’ll wait for them anxiously when revisiting this track.
While “The Dark Lullaby” is the best song Majestic Downfall has yet recorded, “Obsidian” is the song I’ve played the most from this trio of tracks. Without completely casting off the doom metal shroud, it’s full of electrifying moments, moving between huge stomping riffs and full-tilt gallops when the music moves like a melodeath cavalry charge. The song also includes an enormous, fast-paced, hammering riff near the end that’s guaranteed to get heads banging — and the melodic death metal style doesn’t end there: Jacobo Córdova sounds a lot like Johan Hegg on this song. Given the heart-breaking heaviness and power of the first two songs, “Obsidian” makes for a perfect complement.
Had Majestic Downfall’s contributions to this split been released on their own, they would make for a compelling 35-minute album in isolation, and it would be one of the year’s best all by itself. But wait… there’s more!
THE SLOW DEATH
The Slow Death’s three songs begin with “Criticality Incident I”, which starts slowly, drifting like heavy clouds lit from above by the sun, casting deep shadows but edged by a radiant glow. Shimmering, chiming guitar melodies swirl around the power of stark drumbeats and booming bass notes, and effervescent soloing adds more light to the darkness. The singing varies between beautiful clean vocals that are both somber and soaring (Mandy Andresen) and ultra-deep guttural growls (Gregg Williamson) that magnify the heaviness of the song’s weightiest passages.
As the song progresses during an extended guitar solo, it accelerates into a jackhammering drive that will get your head bobbing and your body moving. There’s a powerful undertow of loss in the music, driven home yet again in the song’s finale, but it’s a beautiful kind of sorrow.
When “Criticality Incident II” begins, the contrast with the end of the preceding song is jolting. The bass and drums come down like thunder, and the almost immediately infectious riff punches right through your skull before the music accelerates into a mid-paced canter and then a hurtling tumble. But that doesn’t last. As Mandy Andresen’s voice arcs heavenward, the music becomes a kind of funereal processional and then a jagged, lurching stagger. The song continues to move between moments of slow, crushing doom and the rumble of an avalanche, all the while suffused with beautiful misery.
The Slow Death’s finale is “People Like Me, People Like You”, the shortest song on the split at “only” nine minutes. It’s an epic of desolation, with only Andresen’s piercing voice to keep it from being swallowed whole by a slowly spreading sinkhole of despair. There is, of course, an entrancing melody (carried in part by a piano as well as the moaning tone of a guitar) that flows through the song like a river of black ice across a vast and barren tundra. There’s no sense of hope in the song, but it’s hard to resist nonetheless.
The Slow Death really need to become better known, because they are proving themselves to be a potent force in the doom scene, and these songs show them at the height of their powers to date. (And if you want to get a taste of what The Slow Death have been up to since recording their songs for this split, check out a brand new single reviewed here earlier today.)
This split was released on 15 September 2014. One song from each band is streaming on Bandcamp, where the album can also be downloaded, and you can listen to them below. The CD can be ordered from Chaos Records here.