SHADOWCLOAK – Shadowcloak EP

North Carolina metal band Shadowcloak aren’t messing around on their debut EP. Its five songs tap into some really heavy riffs, but they aren’t content with just hacking out the Sabbath obsessed sounds of so many doom-centric bands. The opening track on this self titled offering, ‘Dark Days’, seems as concerned with substance as much as the heaviness itself. By opening with a slow intro where a burst of feedback appears to emulate the howling wind, there’s an immediate atmosphere, but with a rumbling bass borrowing from 80s goth metal meeting with a cymbal-free drum part, the band’s more thoughtful approach builds a brilliant sound from the off. When the expected heaviness arrives, the riffs take on more of a Paradise Lost quality than a more typical Electric Wizard vibe, with the guitars adopting a dominant mid tempo chug, whilst the vocal falls somewhere between a 90s groove metal growl and a post-hardcore shout. In terms of a hybrid sound, their mix of post-metal and doom gets off to a superb start, but it’s once the mid section kicks in, introducing a more traditional doom riff, that things really get going. That leads into a brilliant sub-goth instrumental, where cleaner guitars take on a fuzzy blues tone and their more melodic stance is countered by a wibbling keyboard hinting at a love of old space rock. Eventually bringing the two moods together and topping the doom with a perfect twin lead guitar, this track shows off a near perfect mix of heaviness and old school melody. If there’s anything here that’s caught your ear, then Shadowcloak will likely hold you in their doomy grasp for the duration.

‘Night After Night’ makes a bigger feature of the space rock keys and cleaner guitar tones, at the heart of a heavy workout that makes the best of a gothic riff. Adopting a massive swaying melody, the riffs crunch throughout, and set against a gravel-edged vocal, they begin to move even further towards the cold goth metal sounds of bands like The Old Wind and Cult of Luna. This, obviously, is a good thing, and the riffs are a better fit with the vocal than before. Even though, genre wise, there are some predictable moments here, there are a few elements that really stand out. A huge, semi-cold, blues infused groove that kicks off around the 2:20 mark shows how effortlessly the band can throw in a massive melody when required. Also, the shift to a more jagged riff during the second half of the track – blending post-hardcore with a bit of trad metal – creates a superb sound. Since this is also used to facilitate a very old school lead guitar break, there’s a very welcoming feel to this track, despite it hitting the listener with some particularly heavy elements.

‘Discomfort Disorder’ reverts to something more Sabbath oriented, and its intro takes on the speed of the best moments of ‘Volume 4’, overlaid with an Orange Goblin-esque guitar sound. This isn’t a complete reverting to type in doom terms, however, as the track’s huge sounding riffs are broken by verses where the slightly more hardcore intent – complete with one of the releases shoutier vocals – often takes the lead. As with a couple of the release’s other tunes, the best moments emerge when genre barriers are crossed, and in this case, it’s hard not to be impressed when the heaviness shifts in favour of a goth metal sound, allowing for a cold, shimmering guitar to lay down a massive melody. With the climax reverting to a heavy chug, however, it’s clear that Shadowcloak aren’t about to wimp out in any way, and they clearly understand that such heaviness is the easiest way to win them more fans.

The EP’s highlight, ‘Everything Is Gone’ revisits a love for Paradise Lost and beefs up the twin lead sound, but then takes a massive detour to tease with muted guitars and clean vocals, centring around a near perfect goth metal arrangement. Even when the band appear more accessible, this has an ominous quality that suits them well, and these quieter interludes also have the effect of making the track’s heavy moments appear even heavier – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. At the most sharp edged, the drums interject with a few black metal inspired blasts, before a slow chug works some fine doom, resulting in a number that features most of Shadowcloak’s best traits in one hit. In contrast, ‘Leave Me My Name’ begins with another melodic goth infused melody, but veers off into a world of abrasive metal influenced by doom and an almost Scandinavian sounding melodic black metal sound. This means the vocals are almost impenetrable in places, but being smart, the band have countered this with a few great riffs that blend classic metal with a pinch of Testament thrashiness, and latterly a goth-doom hybrid that creates an impressive wall of sound. This takes a lot longer to appreciate than most of Shadowcloak’s material, but in feeling very different to both ‘Dark Days’ and ‘Everything Is Gone’, it gives this EP even more musical variety.

Measured against a couple of the doomy releases that appeared in the first half of 2024, this Shadowcloak EP doesn’t quite reach the epic heights of the Goat Major debut or the second Volt Ritual EP, but since it also takes a stylistic side step from those, it’s actually a little more interesting at times. Even taking just its pure basics into consideration, it’s a good slab of hardcore and goth infused metal with doomy intents that genre fans should enjoy. Heard on its own terms, it ticks a lot of the right boxes for a great genre release, and is very good; but in offering a more palatable take on a post hardcore sound than Wyoming Young And Strong and more variation in their doom than The Holy Nothing, it’s the kind of disc that deserves a broader fan base, relatively speaking. If you’re looking for heavy riffs that cross a plethora of different metallic boundaries but still feel insanely focused, then this first effort can definitely be recommended.

March/April 2024