Monday, 7 January 2013

Alunah - White Hoarhound (album review)

2012 was a huge year for Birmingham, England based doombringers, Alunah.  Their second album has been on many critics year end lists and after gaining the attention of Napalm records, 2013 looks to be even bigger for the band with a new album possibly in the works and 'White Hoarhound' seeing a vinyl release this January 25 at the hands of that selfsame label.

'White Hoarhound' is the follow-up to their debut 'Call of Avernus' released in late 2010.  The sophomore effort is always an important milestone / barometer for any artist.  In a lot of ways 'White Hoarhound' a slower, more tightly doom-focused record and in that way a more concentrated version of their sound.  They point that doom barrel right in the listener's face and never waver from their target.

"Demeter's Grief" and the title track "White Hoarhound" make an excellent one-two punch to start off the album.   The ripping guitars crush and wail as needed and vocalist Soph Day establishes her stake as one of the best, most uniquely gifted vocalists in the entire genre.  Her timbre is higher pitched than most of her contemporaries and gives the band an identifiable voice up front, a big plus in a crowded field.  Her soulful and confident singing shines through especially on the title track, whereupon she delivers a movingly mournful vocal that forces the listener to empathize.  Here's an excerpt from Soph Day's interview with The Sludgelord about the song:
Sludgelord: Can you tell us a bit more about White Hoarhound. What it's about as it's got a lot of creepy vibes going on. 
Soph Day: I think there's a lot of melancholy on this album, probably a lot of it subconscious. This is the first time I've explained the idea behind the name and title track, the name was originally conceived in Llandudno in North Wales. Dave (our lead guitarist and my husband) and I were there on holiday and my Dad had recently been diagnosed with lung cancer.

We went up the Great Orme which is a huge, beautiful headland which I've been going to since I was in the womb! We were reading some info about the plants which were natural to the area. White Hoarhound (normally spelt White Horehound) was one of them and was used by the monks to treat coughs and general lung conditions. In my head there and then I wrote the song.

It seemed so apt to my current situation fuelled by my interest in mother nature, and was just a great name. After chatting to the guys we decided that was the name of the album. That's the only personal song on the album, and perhaps the most emotional. The rest of the songs are about moments in English pagan history and just generally about witchcraft, sacrifice, myth and magic. I love reading about those subjects, I can escape into a different world and it helps explain things to me - I suppose in a way other religions do to other people.  (For the full interview see here)
"Belial's Fjord" pounds into being with a tribal drum pattern then stops and spins around in the direction of slow doom.  One thing I love about doom in general, that this track is a perfect example of, is that there really is no such thing as a 'slow' song, that is a ballad or low energy song, there are just fast songs on a fistful of downers.  Well, it's an arguable point and while that may not be strictly true, it's entirely true here.  The energy of this song shines forth from behind the veil of its slower tempo.  This is accomplished mostly by the crash heavy performance of drummer Jake Mason and the steady thumping fret work of bassist Gaz Imber.  The slower tempo also makes it the second longest cut on the album at a pinch over eight minutes.

"The Offering" is loaded with riffs, downtuned, funky and heavy and holds perhaps slightly more in common with 'Call of Avernus' than anything else on offer here.  As Soph herself said in the above extract, 'White Hoarhound' is a more melancholic affair, whereas 'Call of Avernus' was perhaps more jumpy, more uptempo and enthusiastic.  "The Offering" and to a lesser extent "Demeter's Grief" help bridge the gap between the two albums.

The title "Chester Midsummer Watch Parade" sounds like it could be a relic of the days of psychedelic toytown pop but is actually a devastatingly heavy blast of doom metal with pagan inspired lyrics, celebrating the summer solstice.  Of course, if one is so inclined one could interpret the lyrics as the creepiest, most demented thing on eight legs:  "They visit me in purple sunlight / The strangest glow falls on the earth / They speak to me within the hedgerow". (shudder)

"Oak Ritual" parts I and II feature the talents of Tony Reed (Mos Generator, Stone Axe, producer).  This thirteen minute mini-epic is split into two tracks: an acoustic 'intro' and the 10:44 song proper "Oak Ritual 2".

'White Hoarhound' is characterized by thick guitars, a punishing rhythm section and tauntingly mindburning vocal melodies that stick with the listener like some beautiful infectious rash.  The songs are dark and slow without being downers, they're powerful and are infused with a sense of life-affirming and often reckless curiosity or wonder.  I find it to be a very inspiring album and puts me in just that particular frame of mind that I need to be in to work on certain other (horror fiction) projects.  'White Hoarhound' came on the scene with a groundswell of well-deserved praise and is destined to be considered a classic by future generations.

Highlights include: "Demeter's Grief" and "White Hoarhound"

Rating: 4/5

Total Run Time: 47:37

From: Birmingham, England

Genre: Doom Metal, Psychedelic

Reminds me of: Alice in Chains, Black Moth, Witchsorrow

Release Date: September 3, 2012 / on vinyl January 25, 2013

Suggested listening activity for fellow non-stoners: Morning dew clings longingly to a cold body in the bluebell wood

Better Reviews
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Dr. Doom's Lair

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