Over the past decade or so the geographic expanse comprising the northeastern US and the metropoles of Ontario and Quebec have seen the rise to prominence of a number of epic and occult heavy/doom metal acts. To name some of my favorites, Crypt Sermon, Cauchemar, Magic Circle, Blood Ceremony, and Smoulder have set the bar high. Five years after their genesis in Boston, Massachusetts, not far from ground zero of the Salem witch trials, Concilium make a robust entry into this regional scene with this debut EP titled No Sanctuary. Having witnessed their live performance, I can happily declare that they have successfully translated their massive sound to recorded formats. The production that blends heaviness and atmosphere, without shortchanging any instrument, follows reverently the doctrines of epic doom metal orthodoxy.
The Latin word concilium—if you know me you saw this coming—denotes a ‘calling together’: an assembly, a council, a coven. The name fits the occult atmosphere conjured by the music and lyrics, but also testifies to how well every musician on this record comes together to comprise a whole greater than the sum of its parts. These are vocalist Paris Thibault, guitarists Greg Massi and Noah Stormbringer, and drummer Joseph Goldwater. From their cauldron of down-tempo, epic doom emanates dark emotions and otherworldly ambience. Haunting, passionate, alto vocal lines combine with crushing riffs and percussion to ensorcel the listener and lead them on a journey through the halls and corridors of compositions roughly 9-10 minutes in length. The lyrics to the opening track invite you to liken the listening experience to wandering through the castle beautifully rendered on the cover by artist Adam Burke (whose work also graces the cover of Nucleus’ new album Entity among many others). Let us begin our guided tour through this ancient fortress.
“What was once sanctuary leads to a new doom…through the hollow halls we run.”
You enter the castle with an energy fueled by the will to find shelter, but your pace is moderated by the realization that safety from the perils of the forested vale is bought by what new horrors inhabit this turreted edifice. This epiphany dawns with the song’s antiphonal riff and choral refrain, which are instantly memorable and recall the best moments of Candlemass’s Ancient Dreams record. The exploration of the various chambers corresponds to the variegated nature of this song, with its shifts in tempos and styles, including brooding acoustic sections and forays into the atmospheres of black metal.
A foreboding, ambient interlude reminiscent of the interstices of a Darkspace record gives way to the captivating and melancholic bass line that commences the second track “Halocline.” The pace slows for the remainder of the EP as the journey turns inward. The track slowly builds to a climax as each instrument makes its timely entrance, including vocal lines that revive the passion of Black Sabbath’s “Megalomania.” The song’s first half induces an introspective trance, plumbing the depths of existential gloom, while the second half works a catharsis of these emotions, as guitar solos herald a triumphal march through the track’s remaining minutes.
The third track, the brief and acoustic “Ritual Attrition,” demonstrates that Concilium do not need electricity to sustain our enchantment. No filler here. Finally, the recessional epyllion “Red Sun, Red Moon” begins with conventional doom riffs that bookend alluring invitations to “come with me into the void.” Suddenly there is silence, and you enter a new dimension of horror as it dawns on you what your deal with the devil entails. A swirling vortex of riffs and double-bass drumming slowly drags you into the abyss.
Concilium make every second count on this 31-minute EP, and the songs comprise a unity as coherent as the collaboration of these talented musicians, who live up to their Latinate moniker. I look forward to how the band evolves their formula to fit a full-length epic.
Album rating: 90/100
Favorite track: “Halocline”