Stoner metal band Blessed Black released their first album ‘Beyond The Crimson Throne’ in January 2020, intending to take the underground metal scene by storm. As history has proved, that year’s arrival of a global pandemic and a total shutdown of the live scene meant that any plans had to be rethought. Despite a very tricky couple of years, that release’s commitment to a riff suggested great things ahead for the band, and this EP length follow up more than makes good on that early promise.
‘Hellbender’ starts a great release by delivering a solid Black Sabbath infused riff, allowing guitarist Jake Stone plenty of opportunity to introduce himself. With both he and second guitarist/vocalist Joshua Murphy soon locking together with a huge sound, the track takes on a timeless stoner sound, where fuzzy guitars and slow bluesy grooves collide, with a huge, crashy drum part pushing everything forward. That’ll take all of twenty seconds to win over fans of the style, but there’s actually a pleasing melody here too. It occasionally comes through via a very natural vocal, but mostly – and this really helps to lift the track above a stoner rock norm – its huge melodies are delivered via a swirling organ that sounds as if it’s on loan from an old proto-metal LP from the late 60s. If that isn’t enough to impress – even though it really should be – a brief shift into a slow blues jam before a wah-wah drenched solo shows off the band’s understanding for the need of a great melody within their obviously weighty sound. This is all very familiar, of course, but it doesn’t ever stop it from sounding seriously good.
With more of a groove applied to the heaviness, ‘Obsidian’ offers an even more retro sound when the heavy riffs drawing influence from the likes of Trouble and Orange Goblin are bolstered by a brilliant twin lead sound, and the return of a very 70s sounding organ lurking beneath the surface. As before, Blessed Black sound great when tackling an immense mid tempo riff, but sound even greater when briefly increasing the tempo. A flawlessly played lead break, again adds a slightly bluesier tone than many of the stoner rock scene’s more familiar heavyweights lack. Whether crooning against the slow riffs or adding a rock flair to the busier sections, Murphy’s approach to a vocal seems very assured, and the decision to add a world of echo gives his already big performance an air of other worldliness. Listen even more closely and underneath everything you’ll hear a solid, chugging bassline (courtesy of Black Tractor’s Brad Bellamy) adding to Blessed Black’s huge sound. As before, there’s so much here that could be likened to a hundred bands ploughing a similar musical furrow, but the way these guys weave their way around a heavy melody makes them a cut above the competition.
Last up, ‘Unable’ manages to mix the ominous mood of Black Sabbath’s ‘Children of The Grave’ with a semi bluesy swagger, creating another very interesting and melodic stoner jam. Here, those twin leads dominate once again, but there’s something in the way Ray Bates approaches the drums in a more measured fashion that gives the track a more stately feel. At the point where you feel the head bobbing mid tempo might be in danger of becoming too repetitive, the band the shifts focus to allow for a couple of great solos, and its a pleasure to hear Stone and Murphy trading off busy licks before dropping into a twin lead that’s a little more obviously derived from Iron Maiden during their epic ‘Powerslave’ sessions. Of course, a timeless approach to stoner and doom trumps any originality here, but this track provides more direct and relatively simple evidence of how well this band can play. It’s safe to say, if you have any interest in melodic doom and massive stoner riffs, you’ll love what you hear.
In just three songs and sixteen minutes, ‘Seasons, Vol. 1’ cements Blessed Black’s place within a sprawling metal underground. Even with hundreds of similar bands vying for your attention, this heavy quartet stand out as one of the best stoner/classic doom bands to emerge – partly through musical prowess, but mainly due to their understanding that sometimes you need more than pure heaviness alone. In terms of great doomy thrills, this triple tracker comes highly recommended.