[17 October 2012]
The extent to which the average listener may be able to enjoy Samothrace’s music, and indeed much of the doom metal genre, may depend upon their patience and attention span. But let’s not kid ourselves, this is also deeply abrasive, unsettling, crushingly heavy music that requires more from the listener than a simple willingness to let the music play itself out. Reverence to Stone, Samothrace’s recent release and their first since their excellent 2008 debut Life’s Trade, begins with the sound of a single mournful guitar being plucked in a way that conveys both loneliness and a distinct sense of vulnerability. As the introductory riff progresses, harsh feedback swirls and undulates in the background like some carnivorous animal circling the periphery of a wounded prey. Just before the 1:00 mark, the bass and drums come crashing into the track, and the fragile interplay between the riff and the droning feedback collapses into punishing, violent intensity. The listener’s reaction to Reverence to Stone’s introductory passage will probably indicate their attitude towards the rest of the album. Samothrace’s music is predicated on the interplay between passages of clear, poignant beauty that build into climaxes of cacophonous, buzzing power. Many a metalhead may turn their nose up at the often heartbreakingly gorgeous interludes and bridges, while many non-metal inclined listeners may immediately reach for the skip button once the percussion detonates the track, but listeners who can appreciate the subtle relationship between Samothrace’s beauty and heaviness will have much to enjoy on Reverence to Stone.
As the genre moniker suggests, doom metal is often associated with emotional states involving sadness, despair, and hopelessness. The lyrical content of early doom progenitors like Black Sabbath, Pentagram, and Saint Vitus are an important reason for this supposed thematic emphasis on depression. However, doom metal has expanded and proliferated into so many different subgenres that, while the influence of these musical pioneers is usually still evident in contemporary doom, the idea of lyrical or thematic consistency is difficult to substantiate. Samothrace’s lyrics are, more-or-less without exception, indecipherable. Brian Spink’s vocals come soaring out of Samothrace’s rumbling, crackling musical underbrush in a way that conveys a fairly diverse range of emotions, but few comprehensible words. On Reverence to Stone Samothrace convey anguish, exaltation, fury, and ecstasy among other emotional states, but their music should not be reduced to typical, go-to adjectives like “depressive” or “miserable” that are usually trotted out when describing doom metal.
“When We Emerged” and “A Horse of Our Own” constitute Reverence to Stone’s two challenging, sometimes exhausting tracks, and while the first clocks in at 14:21 and the second thunders well past the twenty minute mark, both tracks retain coherent atmosphere and focus throughout, and collectively clock in at less than thirty-five minutes. Samothrace’s style of sludge infused funeral doom does not have the speed, catchiness, or memorable choruses that many may hope to find in their metal, but what they lack in traditional hooks and mosh-happy breakdowns, they more than make up for in emotional weight, ambience, and texture. Bluesy, soulful lead guitar frequently emerges out of the gloom to crackle and howl above the din, providing just the right amount of contrast without distracting from the overall affect. As impressive as Reverence to Stone is, one cannot help but wonder what might happen if Samothrace added a few more tablespoons of melody to their doomy sauce, moving them further into the funeral doom territory of folks like Ahab, Skepticism, and Thergothon. Reverence to Stone is dense, demanding, and by no means light-hearted, but if listeners are willing to immerse themselves in its special charms, Samothrace can be one of the most compelling and rewarding American bands working in extreme metal today.