At SonicAbuse we love Alunah. Their EP ‘fall to earth’ was a taste of things to come and it offered up three tracks (four if you’re a vinyl fan) of dark, black Sabbath-esque stoner-doom that promised great things to come. Here Alunah return to realise their potential with an ace recording/mastering team at the helm and the opportunity to develop their song-writing nous over nine tracks of gloriously sludgy rock.
Happily for me, the job of reviewing ‘Call of Avernus’ is an easy one; opening with the wah-pedal abusing doom rock of ‘living fast in an ancient land’ which the band have also been using lately to open their shows, the progression from the EP is a clear one. The first and most obvious difference is the expansive production (thanks to the mighty combination of Greg Chandler recording and mixing and James Plotkin on mastering duties) which gives the band a huge amount of depth that was present, but to nowhere near the same level, on previous releases. Furthermore the band themselves have developed with Soph in particular sounding so much more confident behind the microphone. Always suited to the music at hand, here she adapts a drawl that recalls Ozzy and Zakk Wylde while still benefitting from the fact that she can carry a tune far better than both of them, something born out on the title track which sees her tackling a tune in an awkward minor key with ease. Happily the opening two track punch doesn’t evaporate into filler as ‘song of the sun’ (originally released as part of a split EP with Hong Kong’s Queen Elephantine) comes charging out of the speakers like a large, lumbering and thoroughly aggravated beast. Certainly one of the highlights of their live show, it translates equally well to the more sterile environment of the studio and there’s an energy buried at the heart of the sludgy riffs that propels the track forward in suitably brutal style.
Offering a break from the almost over-whelming fuzz is the stately ‘magick lantyrn’ which offers up some gloriously languid guitar over a dark bass although strangely the atmosphere actually recalls elements of Hole (mainly thanks to the vocal) coupled with an Alice in Chains-vibe rather than the more seventies feel that the rest of the album goes for. It’s also a stand-out track thanks to some excellent musicianship and the wonderful production. ‘Eternal sea’ returns to heavier pastures offering up a glimpse of a musical merry-go-round in hell, with the guitars growling through layers of distortion and Soph’s vocals only just penetrating the mire. ‘Dance of Dionysus’, however, is a faster effort, offering up a scintillating central riff and a massive drum sound. The only element that slightly lets things down here is the fact that Soph’s vocals are a touch too low in the mix, becoming almost non-existent in the verse, which is a great shame, leaving you only with tantalising snatches of her vocals raising their head above the parapet.
The Wah pedal comes in for a whole load more abuse on ‘circle of stone’, a track more psychedelic than doom and all the better for it. A lengthy work out, it explores all sorts of sonic territory over its seven minutes and it is one of the album’s highlights. At the other end of the scale is the none-darker ‘higher’, a doom laden sludge masterpiece that benefits from its lighter predecessor and sounds as heavy as hell when it kicks in. Final track ‘Heretic order of the golden dawn’ closes things on a Kyuss note, with a riff torn straight from the driest desert and the album draws to a close on a high with the sweet smell of smoke drifting through the sonic murk.
‘Call of Avernus’ is a great debut album from a band who have spent a long time developing their sound through EPs and intensive road work with some of the doom and stoner genre’s biggest names. The time has been well worth it – nothing here sounds amateur or rushed and, if you’d seen the band live, nor would you expect it to. Finally having a sound that matches their ambition has also paid huge dividends and this release should see the band gain a much wider audience – certainly they deserve to be hear widely after producing so masterful a set. At fifty minutes, the album certainly doesn’t outstay its welcome and the depth of the arrangements repays repeated listening. An excellent record that will appeal to fans of the dark side of rock, this is more-or-less essential.