In the sacred hall of legendary metal bands, Finnish doomster Reverend Bizarre is worshipped fervently. Back in the early ‘00s, the band took all that was unwieldy about doom metal and via some delightfully diabolic means stretched songs out to marathon lengths, making them all so crushingly heavy that they bordered on suffocating. When the band disbanded in ‘07 it left a huge gap in the doom scene. Many bands have endeavored to replicate Reverend’s life-extinguishing tenor, yet all have been found wanting. But from the sound of Misery Wizard, the debut from Rhode Island, New York trio Pilgrim, the band has dragged itself from the mire to take a crack at the position.
However strange it might seem when you think of heavy metal’s reputation for raucous energy, when Black Sabbath, Pentagram and Saint Vitus wrote the rulebook on doom, playing slow was rule number one. And that’s how it’s stayed, for traditional doom metal anyway. Some doom bands play to those limitations very well, with Candlemass being an obvious example. Some bands, like Cathedral, Sleep or Electric Wizard, scribble over a few doom directives, yet still end up leaving a distinctive signature on the scene. The impact bands make on the doom scene really comes down to how they configure doom’s downtempo foundation. Some bands adhere to just a few of doom’s key maxims—adding plenty of reverb, maxing out the distortion and playing unbelievably slow—but forget one important ingredient. Namely, to add a few barbed riffs, something for the listener to hang onto as the walls of desolation close in.
Pilgrim falls into this category. If you want a swaggering doom album with some memorable riffs and harmonious solos, then Misery Wizard is not for you. It pains me to say it, because I love the wretched tones that Pilgrim’s guitarist and vocalist ‘The Wizard’ hauls from his six-string. ‘Krolg, Slayer of Men’ pounds the drums with much authority, and ‘Count Elric the Soothsayer’ lays out some wonderfully percussive bass. Actually, just re-read those monikers—whether you think they’re killer or ridiculous should give you a fair indication of whether you’ll be digging this album.
Pilgrim lacks the finesse of fellow doom band Pallbearer, which recently released a startling debut. Nor, for all its droning menace, is the band avant-garde enough to fall into the realm of Sunn O))), and it’s definitely not shrouded in poignancy, like 40 Watt Sun. Misery Wizard is doom on horse tranquilizers. It’s monolithic riffs delivered at prehistoric snail’s pace, with vocals buried in a distantly echoing catacomb.
It takes some forbearance to make it through the 55 minutes of Misery Wizard. Pilgrim’s commitment to plumbing the depths of lead-footed doom makes for an exhausting listen, but there’s no escaping the fact that the album exudes a down-to-earth charm. The album isn’t a lot of things, but it’s redeemed by the fact that Pilgrim has bong-loads of charisma.
“Astaroth”, with its sluggish, repetitive meter, mines those riffs and pounds that rhythm for all it’s worth. The vocals, arriving late in the tune, add some lazy texture, and played loud enough it’s thunderously imposing. Even “Quest” and “Adventurer”, the album’s supposedly ‘speedier’ tracks, are more brooding than swift, although the latter-half of “Quest” has some brawny riffing and solos to liven things up ever so temporarily.
“Misery Wizard”, “Forsaken Man” and “Masters of the Sky” each pass the 10-minute mark with few shifts in dynamism or intonation. But their godforsaken sparseness conjures up a hazy basement vibe—all tattered horror comics or Frank Frazetta images of a Cimmerian quest—and what could be more appropriate for a doom album than that?
Misery Wizard might be drawn out, with a tortuous, chain-dragging pace, but for many doom aficionados those are hugely attractive features. The gigantic space between riffs makes for some well-earned breathing room, adding much to the album’s hypnotic draw. Ultimately, you’re either going to admire Pilgrim’s devotion to ceaselessly tilling the Elysian Fields or find Misery Wizard an exercise in anesthetizing self-indulgence.
Whatever the case, having birthed an album with no more than a couple of minutes of anything remotely histrionic, Pilgrim deserves much respect for sticking to its guns and delivering a unyielding lesson in the power of tonality and mass. Is it filling Reverend Bizarre’s position as a harbinger of a drawn-out death? No, not on its debut. But don’t count Pilgrim out. The band has all the potential to dangle a craftier noose next time round.
// Notes from the Road
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