THE DEMO CORNER
When In Witch Order passed my desk about a year ago I was more than a little impressed with the level of doom emanating from the Bay area. Vocalist Elizabeth Blackwell impressed me so much that I began to think she might well be the frontrunner of female-fronted doom bands, but that would only serve to denigrate her contributions, to assign her gender as a factor. I’ll simply say that Castle, as a whole, is a force to be reckoned with in this modern doom era.
With some sickeningly heavy riffs, the band’s second effort Blacklands proves there is no sophomore jinx in play; the opening track “Ever Hunter” is about as pummeling as it gets without actually getting physical. Without lending itself or the genre to unnecessary pretense, Castle takes the medium and manages to produce some of the heavier doom metal this side of the Birmingham line. There are no additives or preservatives in these riffs, which seem to get more fluid and encompassing as the album goes on; I also love the bass presence here as it doesn’t overpower the guitars and isn’t hidden under the vocal line, a grave mistake made by too many a band of late. Blackwell’s vocals aren’t the only contribution to the band; her bass is spot-on thundering without being overbearing.
Castle manages to tow a very thin line between traditional and doom metal, and it’s a welcome tightrope walk, intentional or not. The lyrics are intelligent and informative essays about the darker sides of existence, forcing the listener to take in all of the dark and dismal visages bandied about in “Blacklands”. After the first album was so intensely weighty and musically satisfying I was more than eager to hear what Castle had conjured up and it’s another winner all over.
The average doom band, when seemingly not fully aware of the importance of the term, creates Sabbath-like riffs, rehashed and abused, and vies for a spot in a movement that has no use for them; they are a dime-a-dozen and wholly unmemorable. Castle has taken all of the elements of some ancient bands like the once-mentioned Coven right up to a more modern Hour of 13 and assembles solidity and subtle brilliance. I could easily assign a Sabbath tag here, but there is no credible point to this; Sabbath’s influence be damned, there is no real Black Sabbath sound in what Castle does. “Curses of the Priests” is one of my favorites and has a bit of gallop that recedes only long enough for Blackwell and fellow vocalist (I’m hopefully assuming) Mat Davis to trade sinister sneers over always engulfing tones. I once said that bands like Sabbath and Blue Cheer engaged a sound that was to become legendary over the next few decades (even if the former didn’t get nearly the accolades deserved) and then you get bands like Castle who, by careful design, take doom past the gloomy fog-like aura of the last 40-years and provide an almost uplifting view of some very harrowing subject matter. It’s a gift all too often squandered for the sake of imitation, but Castle needn’t worry; their style and sound as pure and unfiltered as it gets.
With driving guitar passages that just heavier than thou, particularly in “Alcatraz,” are benchmarks of a familiar and viable sound that this trio houses. Not even close to a bar band, the accessibility of said ‘tavern metal’ is a wonderful companion to the sound that Castle creates, all the while never diminishing their prowess. Blacklands is one of the better second efforts in the doom genre since the aforementioned Hour of 13’s follow-up or even Sinister Realm’s second effort. There is just so much going on in each of these tracks that I can’t figure out why the buzz isn’t bigger around such a great band. I blame the malls, but that’s another long rant….
Doom is a true heavy metal staple; all other genre and silly sub-genres that followed are all in servitude and debt to this heavy, unadulterated sound. Weeding out the ho-hums and the outright boring bands is quite easy if you listen to a band like Castle and simply identify what makes for good heavy metal music. After that, the rest is all too easy.
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1. Ever Hunter
2. Corpse Candles
3. Storm Below the Mountain
5. Curses of the Priests
6. Venus Pentagram
8. Dying Breed
Total playing time: 35:48
Release Date: April 28, 2012
Label: Ván Records
Castle - Blacklands
May 23, 2012