Ah, doom metal… it never gets old when done right. This selection, “An Introduction to the Black Arts”, is a combined offering from Virginian sludge/doom masters Cough and the excellent British doom metallers The Wounded Kings. Clocking in at just over a half hour, the gargantuan proportions of the two compositions presented here makes the album seem like a much longer trip.
The aptly titled “Gates of Madness” (Cough) starts the disc off nicely with a few seconds of nauseating feedback. The track is classic stoner doom through and through, although instead of emulating the cliché “really fucking blazed” vibe, Cough prefers to make you feel like you’re coming down off the worst heroin binge of your life. Spirit-wrenching screams puncuate simple old school doom riffage while slowly chugging towards a great Electric Wizard-esque peak. The track features some great clean vocals towards its midpoint, flowing nebulously over the wonderfully retro crushing guitar chords. A wah-saturated guitar solo follows immediately, really topping things off before the drums drop back into half time and the screams return in full force.
Although “Gates of Madness” is a well-written piece, I feel as though the band could have taken in many more directions musically over its 19:34 duration. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the repetitive, trance-inducing aspects of music like this, but at a certain point this track loses its sense of direction and thus does not hold my interest all the way through.
The Wounded Kings’ contribution, “Curse of Chains”, takes a much more Candlemass-derived approach to doom. The overall mood of the song is somewhat softer and more somber than the chaotic, unsettling feeling of “Gates of Madness”. However, the tracks do share a bevy of similarites, the most obvious being the bombastic, slow drumming and downtuned crunch that typify most genres of doom metal.
I felt that “Curse of Chains” outshines the former track, having much more varied composition and instrumentation. The track begins with a long instrumental passage featuring some excellent organ, mellotron and tubular bell work (or perhaps synthisized versions of the afformentioned). In addition, the drumming on this track is much more composition-consciouss, with changes in texture and color puncuating and anticipating chord and key changes very nicely. Operatic vocals reminiscent of Robert Lowe-era Candlemass records provide an excellent atmospheric contribution to heavily layered soundscape. At around ten minutes in, the track fades to an eerie quiet; slowly building on organ chords and peaking with the reintroduction of vocals and a heavily distorted lead. After it’s all over, a beautifully simple piano melody takes the track to its end.
This split is definitely a winner; combining the harshness of contemporary doom with the drug-induced stupor of classic 70s stoner metal and the bombastic quasi-symphonic compositions of classic doom metal. Though a bit unbalanced in terms of song strength, it's well worth checking out if you like your metal slow, heavy as fuck and saturated in the influences of the greats.