Slabdragger are clearly a band who, if nothing else, clearly understand the tropes of the doom genre. Check that name. Check that album title. Allow yourself to marvel at the fact that this five track album is an hour long and only one track is shorter than eleven minutes. Luckily, Rise of the Dawncrusher is more than just a collection of cool names and metal posturing and the music really does live up to the weight of expectations that their immense lengths suggest.
Yet despite all my crowing so far about track length it’s curiously as things get more drawn out that these actually get more cohesive. Opener ‘Mercenary Blues’ is almost 12 minutes long (actually only making it the second shortest song on the album) but cycles through so many riffs that the whole thing would be dizzying if it all weren’t so crushingly slow and heavy. ‘Evacuate!’ does the same thing, but in a relatively tiny run length of four and-a-half minutes, making it feel a bit like a brief incursion by a similar, yet crucially different band. Thankfully, the last three tracks are better composed: they feel far more like lengthy, measured compositions rather than a succession of disparate riffs. Indeed, these final tracks are some of the best, most interesting, heaviest metal songs I’ve heard in some time.
Perhaps the most successful aspect of the album, though, is that while all the usual reference points are there, it still feels very much like its own thing. The opening section of ‘Mercenary Blues’ could easily belong on Sleep’s Holy Mountain and the slow, punishing riff in ‘Dawncrusher Rising’ is a near-perfect homage to Dopethrone era Electric Wizard, but as much as Slabdragger pay the necessary homage to the titans of doom there’s plenty of their own style scattered through the album too. The aforesaid riff on ‘Dawncrusher Rising’ is immediately followed by an inhuman scream; one of a few moments on the album where the band flirt with even more extreme material from the worlds of black and death metal. On the other end of the scale the presence of clean vocals on ‘Mercenary Blues’ and ‘Implosion Rites’ brings out the more introspective, epic, even proggy nature of their music.
Little touches like this are everywhere - the unexpected wig-out section, bass solo and triumphant washout ending of ‘Implosion Rites’; the pounding, ominous, intro to ‘Shrine of Debauchery’ - but it really is the individual riffs that are the real stars here. No matter how many extras you add a stoner/doom album lives and dies by its riffs. And they are absolutely enormous here. Even if they are a little too plentiful at times it’s a better situation to be in than the reverse. Slabdragger have proved they have a near-inexhaustible supply of punishing guitar parts and the good sense for the most part of how to string them together. It’s very interesting to see at this point if they have it in them to make an album even better than Rise of the Dawncrusher. If they do they could make a doom album that people talk about in the same breath as Pallbearer’s Foundations of Burden in terms of recent achievement in the genre.
In a sense it’s difficult to get this sort of music very wrong. But, in another sense, it’s also very difficult to stand out from the other perfectly serviceable doom bands. That Slabdragger have managed to do that is evidence that they are doing something very right.
8Joseph Rowan's Score