Ever since the release of their debut LP in 2017, Tommy Stewart’s Dyerwulf have been committed to taking doom metal in a more experimental direction, but none of their work has ever felt quite as important as their 2021 release, ‘Doomsday Deferred’. The origins of the album date back as far as 2018, at which time the world looked very different, but as the material began to take shape, a global pandemic swept the world, allowing Stewart even more time to get creative during a time of isolation. The resulting album is heavy, but it’s also a cut above the obvious sludgy tones of the debut. In fact, with a minimalist set up of just bass, drums and occasional cello, combined with a willingness to experiment, the final release could be the crowning achievement of Stewart’s career to date.

The lead single ‘Shadow In The Well’ first appeared three years previously and time – not to mention a changing world – has done nothing to dimniish its combative lo-fi sound. Although it’s arguably the album’s most “trad doom” offering, there’s plenty in its combo of deep echoes and sludgy riffs that stands with the best of the genre. The way the main riff evokes wading through a swamp is archetypal Stewart, and the huge echoing sound placed on the drums showcases a recording with a great “as live” sound. Tommy isn’t the greatest of singers, but his voice retains a presence as he delivers various ominous lyrics that suit the arrangement perfectly. Moving into the middle of the track, there’s far more of a retro/proto-metal interest, as a gothic drone rises up, and in colliding with some superb lead bass, it captures Dyerwulf’s darker intents with ease. ‘Two Trog Yomp’ retains something of a very gothic feel through an oppressive mood, but atop the usual doomy riffs and fuzz bass, Stewart takes a tried and tested heaviness into new places when he pits it against a rhythm that’s almost a throwback to 70s glam rock. In some ways, this sounds like Ozzy era Sabbath circa ‘Sabotage’ offering a novelty track, but there’s no way the band ever meant this to sound throwaway or jokey in any way. Once you’ve adjusted to the style, some of the playing is immense. Of particular note is the instrumental section where Stewart subjects his bass to all kinds of fuzzy effects and pummels his strings for all they’re worth. It’s like hearing a 1970 Geezer Butler stepping into some jazz fusion shoes, and although it mightn’t sit well with the doom metal purists, it provides a great insight into a really tight arrangement.

Having warmed up, ‘Madness For Two’ offers the first truly essential cut when Stewart launches into a breakneck instrumental that combines the lo-fi fuzziness of his usual metallic output with some serious hard funk. Absolutely wringing the neck of his bass, the musician spends the whole of the track channelling both Les Claypool and Mike Watt, creating a weird hybrid noise that sounds like a collision between Sausage, early Minutemen and his own metal oriented bands – at which time there seem to be about a half-dozen – taking Dyerwulf down yet another musical alley, suggesting the kind of album where anything goes. And indeed, there’s another twist when ‘Rolling My Own’ taps into a bass heavy groover that mixes the swagger of Fu Manchu with the intensity of The Melvins, but bizarrely never really sounds like either. It could seem a little heavy handed with a choir of voices hammering the title home at every opportunity, but it’s a track with plenty of musical flair too, especially coming into its own with another bass solo that takes a different approach to before, with Stewart hitting a groove that’s part blues, part stoner and also unexpectedly funky. With the distortion pushed into overdrive once more, it also has enough heaviness to win over some of the more adventurous metal fans.

The second half of the album takes a brief quality dip with ‘Indiscriminate Trepidation’, a weird chanting piece that sounds almost like a cross between an imaginary fascist anthem and the Oompa Loompa’s song from ‘Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory’. It’s likely Stewart is asking a bit too much of his fans here, but beyond the tuneless and repetitive vocals, there are still glimmers of interest with a few more Claypool-ish bass fills and an unexpected spoken word passage, but it’s really not something you’d listen to for fun. Luckily, the straighter, sludge-oriented ‘Stars Flee In Pain’ sets the album back on track with some fairly traditional darkness, funereal drumming and a heavy as fuck fuzz bass. You won’t find any big surprises here; this is merely an opportunity to gawp in amazement once again at how much sheer volume Tommy gets out of his instrument. However, by the time he multi-tracks his bass to fill a lengthy instrumental section with a bottom end buzz and some lead sounds that hum with a great intent, Dyerwulf’s twisted take on doom certainly reaches its peak. If it were not clear previously, it’s amazing how broad a range of sounds can be orchestrated from just bass and drums.

‘Why The Rotting Sun Speaks In Tongues’ provides a frightening interlude with sludgy bass noises cranked slowly under other sounds that evoke electronic treatments and grinding elements – almost like a musical score for a European horror movie from the 80s – before ‘By The Blood of Mars’ brings this intense musical journey to a close with a barrage of tribal drums and bass feedback sounds, eventually branching out into some really traditional doom metal. Stewart’s bass playing is heavy, taking the shape of something that sounds like an old Melvins track played back at half speed, but the arrival of high pitched soaring notes brings just enough arty melody to avoid boredom or sludge overkill kicking in. Along with ‘Shadow In The Well’, this is certainly more of a throwback to earlier Dyerwulf noisemaking. The album certainly offers more appealing material, but without this final excursion into pure heaviness, it would feel as if something were amiss.

Although more interesting than Negative Wall’s straight doom style and far more accessible than Bludy Gyres’ extreme metal sludge, there’s still plenty within this incarnation of Dyerwulf that feels oppressive and challenging. However, in tracks like ‘Madness For Two’ and the bizarrely frivolous ‘Rolling My Own’, Stewart seems very keen to make sure you never look at stoner rock in quite the same way again, and this – obviously – is a good thing. Obviously, ‘Doomsday Deferred’ won’t be for everyone, but for the more patient listener, it’s the kind of record that rewards with its variety…and sheer audacity.

August 2021