This debut album from Temptress was a long time coming. The Texan band returned to the studio following the release of their debut EP in 2019, but soon had their work halted by the global pandemic. The album’s recording was finally finished in 2021, after which Temptress signed with Metal Assault Records. Instead of getting the material out straight away, everyone waited until the time was right, and ‘See’ eventually saw the light of day in the first quarter of 2023, over three years on from its inception.

…And as if to herald their return with the hugest fanfare possible, Temptress don’t exactly break in their listeners gently. The album begins its heavy musical journey with a near-eleven minute epic where the music moves through various dark passages to create something that’s both intense and hauntingly beautiful in its own way.

The opening section of ‘Death Comes Around’ centres around a warm bassline, almost providing a musical pulse, whilst clean guitar parts cast off almost prog rock-ish textures. Instant comparisons can be made with classic Tool (circa ‘Lateralus’), but a closer ear might even hear unexpected echoes of U2’s deep cut ‘Exit’ in the way the guitars cry against an ominous sound, despite being played in a heavier way. The arrival of the first major riff brings more of the expected doom via a genuinely crushing sound; the guitars crash through with a slow, distorted presence, yet never mask the brilliance of the bassline that’s been set in place. With a moody but clean vocal applied, there’s even more of an ominous feel at the heart of the track, but somewhere in their Orange Goblin meets early Floyd backdrop, there’s a huge melody desperate to escape. It’s fairly dour, but it’s there. Four minutes in, the riffs opt for something even heavier, and as dirty lead guitars cut between a group vocal and crashing drum, you get the feeling that Temptress still value a melody, and by the time those guitars stretch into a fuzzy lead a couple of minutes later, the band shows off a full sound that’s big on stoner values, but also has an undercurrent of heavy space rock lending a genuine atmosphere. You won’t find anything flashy here, nor any big hooks; this is purely about setting up a wavering groove and pulling in the listener – but it does that job flawlessly.

Having set a mood in place, it’s up to the rest of the LP to keep up a heavy momentum, but do so in a way that doesn’t feel either too oppressive or repetitive. On that score, Temptress perform well, even though the rest of the album centres more around a pointed stoner groove. At their best, the ‘Waiting’ shows off a band of two very different moods. The first part of the number works around a very loud and almost militaristic drum part. Throughout the faster parts of the track, Andi Cuba’s playing is rigid but still swings, and the raw production really brings out the best in a live sound. Joining the heavy rhythm, a distorted guitar blends the more intense elements of garage rock with a stoner groove, and a dual male/female vocal adds even more character. The repetitious nature of the riff shows off the trio’s abilities in locking down a great groove, and to avoid everything becoming stale, they take a complete detour midway when a very doomy, almost sludge derived riff adds a really intense sound. Like hearing Crowbar slowed to extremes, this brings a few skull crushing riffs to the fore, but as before, the band’s heaviest traits are balanced by a very retro melody. In this case, the melody comes from Kelsey Wilson, who intercuts the swampy sound with sharp, almost bluesy howls via her guitar. It’s utterly superb, and although a less than tuneful vocal could’ve derailed everything upon its arrival, the music remains so powerful that Temptress’ doom continues to thrill.

Providing a little musical respite, the opening of ‘Serpentine’ weaves some fine desert rock, when cleaner guitars drift in and out of a slow pulsing bass. Despite this stretching out a lot longer than expected, it’s great. It really allows for some strong interplay, before the guitar descends into something a little more Iommi-esque, where you can hear Kelsey’s fingers sliding across the frets. When the band finally settles upon a heavy riff, it comes with faint echoes of Zeppelin’s ‘No Quarter’ before switching back to hammer the hell out of another obvious Sabbath lift. As you might expect for a band with Temptress’ musical grounding, their handling of these classic hard rock and doom riffs are absolutely pin-sharp, and Kelsey’s chosen tone really makes the performance. With the vocal settling upon a near spoken delivery drenched in echo, things take an almost pagan doom twist, and the howling cries that underscore a simple chorus hook suggest the band have hit musical peak. Then, just as you think they’ve got nothing more to give, the Iommi groove steps aside for a bit of sludge and bassist Christian starts shouting with intent. Balancing out the more aggressive side of the Temptress’ sound, this number’s instrumental interlude shows yet another side of them, when multi-tracked guitars drop into a busy lead break that’s very melodic and, perhaps, closer to the American 70s rock bands than any doom metal heroics. If you’re looking for a number that captures all of this band’s best traits in one handy hit, look no further.

That retro feel informs the intro of ‘Hopeless’ too, when Kelsey hits upon a sound that isn’t a million miles away from being a mangled cousin of the brilliant 20 Watt Tombstone. It’s lucky the music is so good here – a blend of really heavy stoner grooves and a haunting metallic sheen – since, unfortunately, Christian’s vocals are pretty ropey. He spends the bulk of these six minutes absolutely wailing… A lot of his longer, off-key notes don’t make an attempt to fit the music, either. Maybe that’s the point. Maybe it is deliberate; a way of really pushing the envelope and challenging the listener… Whatever, it’s not particularly good, and especially frustrating when sequenced straight after something as perfect as ‘Serpentine’. With more pure Sabbath-isms driving ‘Into My Soul’ elsewhere, Kelsey’s clean vocal takes the band further in the direction of the overlooked Witch Charmer, and as such, a far more generic stoner sound. This isn’t a bad thing, of course, as it gives Kelsey plenty of room to wield a superb riff and for Christian’s bottom end to give the groove an extra weight. Also, by not pushing the music quite so hard, it gives the band space to concentrate on vocal harmonies, giving a very simple hook a major lift. Stoner metal 101 it might well be, but it sounds superb when played at high volume – and sometimes, that’s all you need.

Rounding everything out, ‘Cry’ is a number for pure doom/pagan doom fans only, since it starts really slowly, and barely changes throughout a very intense four minutes. This, of course, shows how well Temptress handle traditional doom, and their manner when it comes to a funereal tempo is pretty much as good as anyone’s. Like The White Swan before them, though, their choice of vocal here really is key to making everything work. Placing an incredibly clean female cry over a musical swamp sets up a superb contrast, and although it doesn’t make the sledgehammer style or intensive crawl of the music any lighter, it makes it all a little more palatable. You’ll find more interesting tracks on this album, but in terms of a doomy purity, this is an absolute winner.

There’s plenty at the core of this release that doesn’t really differ several other doom and stoner metal albums, but in a lot of ways, that familiarity lends ‘See’s best material a definite strength. Genre fans won’t necessarily be swung by any smaller details or twists, of course, but Temptress still manage to (just about) set themselves apart by being unafraid to drop in a couple of wandering and atmospheric passages, or by showcasing a brilliant dual vocal set up. Although this mightn’t be quite as accessible as new works by Dust Prophet and a couple of other bands at the time of release, it’s a solid full length, and there’s still a huge amount here for doom devotees and massive riff junkies to get their ears around.

February 2023