Friday, 17 May 2013

High Priest of Saturn - ST (album review)

Cover image by Espen Solheim.
This was one of my most highly anticipated and eagerly awaited albums of this year.  "The Protean Towers" has been melting the paranoid speakers for almost a year now as it came, along with "Crawling King Snake" (which isn't a John Lee Hooker cover by the way) from the band's two song '2011 Demo'.  I found it either on youtube or a bandcamp tag search, but either way it was the cover art that drew me to it.  The art combined with the band name, the overall quality of the songs, the beautiful vocals of Merethe Heggset and the length of the compositions (both hang out around the 10 minute mark), created an aura, a mystique about the band that had me drooling for more.  When I found out they were signed to Svart Records and would release their full-length, self-titled debut through that label, I knew they would deliver.

First thing's first, some stats for you.  The album contains but four tracks of nearly equal length around the 10,9,9 and 12 minute marks.  Only two of these tracks are 'new', i.e. not found on the demo, they are "Kraken Mare" and "On Mayda Insula" and make up the lion's share of the record.  The two cuts we heard on the demo?  They have been re-recorded for this release, of course.  So let us begin.

"The Protean Towers" is now fully fleshed out and realized due to a superior recording that brings the depth and fullness of the band's sound to the fore.  The song is predicated by a classic tritone doom riff, the kind that never gets old no matter how many repetitions the band moves through.  That's the way in which we get to such long compositions on this album, slow tempos and fearless repetition, as opposed to lengthening tracks via flights of progressive fancy.  Another huge hallmark of the demo version of the song was the organ, which was the real hook of the song.  The organ lends this thing a late sixties vibe which creates a Manson family kind of atmosphere.  Something in the swirling tones of the organ makes me think of penetrating stares from some wild eyed woman.  Merethe sings in an understated baritone, which only serves to reinforce this image in my mind.  The organ isn't as crisp or out-front in the mix on this newly recorded version as it was on the demo and for that reason it's darker in tone, not only the organ but the song altogether.  Even after all this time, it's still a great song.

"Kraken Mare" is next and it's our first taste of something truly new from this band since their demo nearly two years ago.  Occult feelings once again resound with the slow revving riffs, organ and tom tom explorations and haunting vocals.  Again they are a major focal point, Merethe's emotionally distant delivery ingraining itself on a deep seated area of the brain.  Though we're only half way through the album, let me just tell you that the entire four song, 41 minute album is a pressure cooker of slow riffs, with performances that are as detached as ghosts are from corpses, relentlessly churning riffs which are forced to relive tragedies in a seemingly endless cycle.  Of course, there can be a kind of awe in tragedy and thankfully, the High Priest blesses their audience with such a hook.

We've heard "Crawling King Snake" before too, but again, the sound here is all together thicker, fuller, deeper with more prominent organ.  There was a subtlety to the original version, but what's lost in that regard is made up for in the altogether superior recording which emphasizes the dynamics and interplay of the instruments.  The organ retains the flavor of subtlety too with its slow build up to a killer swell of dissonance during the refrain.  No matter what way you slice it, it's a superior version of an already five star song.

So, just in case you haven't got it til now, this band has carved out an identity for itself (see above).  They're not about to rock the boat on their big finale by changing tempos or tones.  If anything, this (second of two) newly unveiled track only turns everything the band has been doing up to this point up to 11.  The riffs are slower, the organ ever more subtle, the quality of warmth in the vocals shrinking and disappearing in a vanishing point of pitilessness.

High Priest of Saturn can walk you to the funeral home and dirge you into the ground all day long.  The only question is, is this what you want?  Because if you're looking for anything other than slow to midtempo occult doom rock you won't find it on this album.  This album is strictly for the people who use skulls for candle holders and skeletons for coat racks.  That doesn't mean however, that High Priest of Saturn can't do their part to win a few new converts to the genre, I reckon the video below will rope a few in all by itself.

Highlights include: "The Protean Towers" and "Kraken Mare"

Rating: 4/5



Tracklist:
1). The Protean Tower (10:32)
2). Kraken Mare (9:08)
3). Crawling King Snake (9:03)
4). On Mayda Insula (12:49)
Total Run Time: 41:31

Merethe Heggset: Bass Guitar / Vocals
Martin Sivertsen: Guitar
Andreas Hagen: Guitar and Drums

Keyboards played by Ole Kristian Majmedal

From: Trondheim, Norway

Genre: Doom, Psychedelic

Reminds me of: Albino Python, Witchsorrow

Release Date: March 22, 2013

Suggested listening activity for fellow non-stoners: Spend a candle lit night with Baph-Omet, you know just a nice quiet night, nesting ...

Better Review:
Temple of Perdition
Wicked Channel
Sputnik Music

High Priest of Saturn facebook

GET IT HERE / or LP

OR HERE (digital)

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