Cauldron Born – Born of the Cauldron is perhaps the best 90s US power metal release there is. It’s a truly harmonious blend between Fates Warning and Helstar with incredible riffs, vocals, and a fine mix of the aggressive and progressive styles of USPM. So what happens when Howie Bentley, the mastermind behind this standout USPM release, decides to try his hand at what is essentially the polar opposite – old school traditional doom metal? Very few musicians are able to traverse multiple genres, but what we have here is quite honestly my favourite modern traditional doom album and a release that not only pays respect to the masters of doom and old school heavy metal but truly stands alongside them as an equal.
I thought it prudent that my first review would be for an album I was truly passionate about and there are very few albums that draw me in quite the way For Mircalla does. The album cover paints a clear picture of what you are in store for – a fascination with the occult, dark imagery, and all things classic horror. In fact much of the lyrical influence comes from Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Gothic Novelette “CARMILLA”, a story about a female vampire who preys on young women. No surprise with such a well to draw that upon that For Mircalla’s atmosphere is one of dark macabre. Bentley has a very active career as a Sword and Sorcery author and I think much of that character and world building has been used to mold this dread filled atmosphere – perhaps to represent the dread that Lady Carmilla’s victims would experience.
There is just something so enticingly pure about Bentley’s brand of trad doom. It’s primitive, raw and unbridled, and stand on its own laurels. It doesn’t bother with excessive technicality, fancy expensive production studios or needless aggression. Why do we need growls or three guitarists or a twenty piece orchestra in the background? This is a sound that harkens back to heavy metal at its earliest stages straight from the annals of bands like Black Sabbath, Witchfinder General, and Pagan Altar. Metal was meant to be impactful, dark and most importantly HEAVY and oh does For Mircalla nail this aspect.
The thick distorted guitar tones pave the way for titanic thundering Sabbathian riffs and just when you think Bentley’s guitarwork has shown you all it can, he introduces another riff that knocks you out. Just listen to the dread filled riff that comes in through the midpoint of the title track to get a sense of what I speak of.This is backed by powerful drumming that never fails to make its presence known and an unyielding bass that serves to add a dark undertone that runs its current throughout the album. Amongst the rock hard altars of riffs and powerful drums, Bentley has managed to weave in NWOBHM melody. This is where Witchfinder General’s NWOBHM influence cements itself in the sound, changing the tempo frequently with breathtaking solos. The instrumentation while simple in its theory, is masterfully executed and comes together flawlessly to form a very dense and layered sound that still has a lot of nuance. For an album that comes in at a whopping sixty six minutes, not a minute of it is boring or wasted.
When combined with Swanson’s haunting wailing vocal style, it really elevates For Mircalla as more than your typical collection of slow, lumbering distorted riffs that many modern doom albums seem to employ. Swanson is a mainstay of this genre having performed vocals for such bands as Hour of 13, Seamount, Vestal Claret, and also the excellent 2016 Sumerlands release. His vocals are at some of their best here delivering a haunting hopelessness. Interestingly, the last song in the album “Karnstein Castle” features Bentley on vocals. In comparison, Bentley utilises a much deeper, darker vocal style that I actually feel might suit the atmosphere more so than Swanson’s vocals. “Karnstein Castle” serves as perhaps the best song on this album – it may be the slowest and longest coming in at 13 minutes, but it’s also the most foreboding and engulfing.
It’s not everyday that you get to listen to an album that is so simple and yet so masterfully executed. Howie Bentley achieved all that he set out to do with For Mircalla, a true ode to a form of doom metal that many have abandoned and heavy/doom metal purists everywhere should sign up immediately. Now if only Bentley would give us another taste of Briton Rites, I for one have been starved for too long.
Favorite Track: Karnstein Castle
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