DOOMSTRESS – Sleep Among The Dead

After releasing a pair of 7”s in 2016 and ’17 respectively and then honing their talents with a seemingly endless string of live dates, it seemed only natural that Texan doom/stoner metal band Doomstress would eventually get around to recording a long-awaited full length album. It’s every stoner band’s dream to create something that pays homage to either a Rodger Bain production of the early 70s or recycle that warm and fuzzy goodness as per the early Fu Manchu records and this debut from Doomstress does a fine job of capturing both aspects. Despite the studio often dulling the power in a performance, this album shows off a very natural sound, throughout, which of course is just perfect for the style in hand.

The opener ‘Bitter Plea’ blends a couple of heavy styles, resulting in a fat and swaggering sound that’s three parts stoner metal and one part Texan groove, sounding like an old Black Sabbath classic replayed by Corrosion of Conformity, with a couple of nods to HellYeah thrown in for good measure. There are moments where the chugging sounds feel as if they’ll never break from their initial intent, but this isn’t actually the case: along the way, strong melodies are introduced via some tight twin lead guitar work from Brandon Johnson and Matt Taylor, while frontwoman Alexis adds a slightly haunting vocal and some solid bass sounds. It’s certainly a number that relies more on its musical arrangement than any kind of chorus hook, but in terms of creating a first impression for most listeners, it cannot be faulted. Sliding into ‘Burning Lotus’ the fascination with various 80s influenced lead guitar parts is far more in evidence, which contrasted with a very 70s production sound and dirty riff manages to cover a lot of ground, metal wise. With a constant heaviness that’s as much about melody and more than a few blues-fuelled tones that connect with the concurrent album by The Riven, it really reinforces a feeling that old-school sounds will never die. Although it gives drummer Tomasz Scull a much more aggressive workout than before, the number is pretty much owned by Alexis, who manages to adopt a vocal sound that’s about as perfect an approximation of Geddy Lee circa 1981 as you’ll ever hear.

‘Dreaming Spider’, meanwhile, aims to entertain the more demanding listener by taking the heavy 70s riffs and applying them to a very off kilter rhythm. In doing so, Doomstress take stoner sounds into a relatively uncharted territory – an almost blues/stoner/prog metal hybrid that really tests the band’s talents. Song wise, this means it’s never as instant in appeal, but between a hushed, semi-acoustic intro and a perfect howling blues lead break and the fact it doesn’t outstay its welcome, it’s still enjoyable. Returning to a measured 70s groove with a smattering of stoner fuzz, ‘Your God Is Blind’ adds a dark, spiritual context to a great riff – much in the way Sabbath had on tracks like ‘After Forever’ and ‘Is God Dead?’ – and the whole package results in one of the album’s real stand-pout tunes. For those who crave melody, the muted twin leads will surely appeal; given the stronger narrative within the lyric, Alexis takes full advantage to add a pleasing cry to the quieter parts of her performance, while fans of all things doomy will surely get a kick out of the slow and moody second half where Ben applies more great bluesy playing to an arrangement that sounds pretty much timeless. In terms of featuring all of the band’s best traits in one hit, ‘Bones & Rust’ is another killer of a track, full of twin leads on a ‘Children of The Grave’/’Supernaut’ inspired banger that gives the guitarists free rein to show off their skills throughout. Melody wise, you’ll have heard it all before – and from Doomstress themselves, earlier on this very platter – but with the addition of a half-memorable chorus and another of Alexis’s strongest vocal performances, it’s almost perfect for the style. If you’ve only got time to check out one track, make it this one…or miss out at your peril.

Approaching the end of the album, the band unleashes an absolute downer of a track…in a good way, of course. Trading in some of their more groove-laden tricks for a slow and obviously Sabbath derived riff, the bulk of the number channels tracks like ‘Black Sabbath’ and ‘Electric Funeral’, which in the main, lends a timeless quality. When tackling something that could feel laborious, Doomstress sound as if they’re on autopilot in some ways, but between a great vocal and solid riff, there’s more than enough goodness to carry the first half of the track. However, after switching gears for the end section, this track elevates as Doomstress hit upon another ‘Children of The Grave’-esque sense of swagger that really brings out the best in the guitar sounds. Finally, the title cut ends an already fantastic album with something even spookier. Following a lengthy intro that’s full of distorted and fuzzy bass, Doomstress embark on a tune that’s much closer to fellow doomers Witch Mountain than Sabbath or any other retro bands. The slow, chugging mood that slowly lurches from the speakers is lifted by some fab 80s guitar work; the more oppressive parts of the riff are weighted further by a couple of husky voices that underscore another fine wail from Alexis. For the next three minutes or so, Doomstress are locked tight into something that approaches top quality blues-doom. At the point where the track could’ve reached a natural end, it elevates into another groove-edged riff that just about brings things full circle. In terms of a satisfying listen, this leaves nothing hanging…

In a world where there seem to be a hundred stoner/doom/Sabbath obsessed albums released every week, it’s a real pleasure when one comes along that’s genuinely a cut above the rest. There might only be seven tracks – hey, it was good enough for the Black Sabbath debut and the lean approach works just as well here – but between a whole world of classic, almost timeless riffs and a particularly appealing Geddy Lee-ish vocal stance, it makes for a record that deserves to be heard by all fans of the genre. Highly recommended.

May 2019