When I was eight years old, I tried to be a wrestler. For several weeks, my dad took me to the local high school gym to take part in what was known as “Little Guy Wrestling” clinics. I had no prior knowledge of the sport, and really didn’t have much interest in rolling around on a mat with another boy. The only reason I joined was to hang out with a couple of my best friends at the time, Burrell and Moorman. To no avail, I hated it. It was too hot, too frantic, and I was miserable at it. I just didn’t enjoy getting man-(boy?)-handled for two hours when I’d rather be at home playing “Contra.” I finally had to give up on the sport, and as a result, would feel a tinge of guilt whenever around my two friends at school. It would be the first and last time I ever quit something.
That is, until black metal came along.
I really wanted to enjoy black metal. My good ol’ friend SongsSucks was jamming to the early pioneers of black metal way before it became a popular trend, and I really felt like I should like the music he played for me, yet I remained hesitant. Last year, at the height of the mainstream black metal movement, I decided to make a concerted effort to understand the budding genre, getting any new black metal album I could get my hands on. Despite my yearning to understand the genre, I left each experience feeling much like I did as an 8-year-old in the Estherville High School gym – overwhelmed, aggravated, and a little bit scared. There were glimmers of enjoyment on albums like Liturgy’s “Aesthetica” and Atlas Moth’s “Ache For the Distance,” but who was I kidding? I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d lost touch with the world of metal after just falling head-banging-over-heels for it only a few years earlier.
In what I had hoped to be the year I figured out black metal, the only metal album to make my “Top 40 Albums of 2011” was Yob’s doom metal masterpiece “Atma.” The album featured music that was just as vicious and violent as that from my foray in the black metal scene, but the songs seemed more controlled, more musical, more methodical. The tunes had hills and valleys, moments of illumination off-set by even more moments of sheer darkness. It wasn’t the machine-gun burst of madness of black metal, rather a slow, plodding, purposeful production.
It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I had the realization that my love for “Atma” wasn’t simply a last ditch effort to pledge my allegiance to metal. Two recent albums have given me the epiphany that not only has my venture into the world of metal not come to a dead end, but the path has now veered back toward the forefathers who dwell in the Temple of Doom Metal.
Allmusic.com defines doom metal as: “Even more indebted to (Black) Sabbath than most metal, doom metal is extremely slow, sludgy, and creepy, feeling so heavy it can barely move; its deliberate pace and murky guitars are meant to evoke (what else?) a sense of impending doom.” It’s no coincidence that two of the best albums to come out in the final year of the Mayan calendar are both focused on that same “sense of impending doom.” What are these two pioneering albums, you ask? Pilgrim’s “Misery Wizard” and Pallbearer’s “Sorrow and Extinction.” Since Pallbearer’s “Sorrow and Extinction” has already gotten lots of attention here and here (I’m sure I’ll be writing about it in June for my mid-year “Best of List”), I decided to review Pilgrim’s debut album.
[Metal Blade/Poison Tongue; 2012]
I liked Pilgrim before even hearing one note of their music. Something about discovering them felt predestined. First off, there was the album title – “Misery Wizard.” Nothing is cooler than a wizard, especially if said wizard specializes in the trade of misery. Secondly, I heard the bad ass names of the band members – Count Elric the Soothsayer, the Wizard, and Krolg Splinterfist, Slayer of Man. Then there was the album cover – a morbid medieval painting with a wizard standing over a miserable assembly of deformities: a crab/worm woman, a saggy-titted burn victim with tentacles for arms, a two headed premi-baby without limbs – all of them standing/sitting/lying in what resembles a ghostly amniotic fluid while the devil looks on from the background.
Then, of course, I heard the music, and I myself bowed down to the Misery Wizard, the band’s morose dirges weighing down on me like a yoke of agony. The guitars crash upon you with one assiduous riff at a time, persistent waves of mystical bedlam that refuse to let you reach the stern and distant shore. The drums pummel you like an aging George Foreman, slow yet overpowering with each potent blow. And when the vocals do occasionally make an appearance, they only further that feeling of desperation, a muffled cry lost within the sludge.
The highlight of the album for me is “Quest” because the band toys with the listener, giving glimpses that they may just let-up on their persistent attack. After 4-grueling minutes of muddy madness, the band provides a moment of hope. For two minutes the band displays an upbeat, heroic pomp. Eventually the double guitar lead kicks in, a final bastion of hope, only foreshadowing the wall of muddy noise just up ahead. “Quest” provides a reminder that there is no such thing as hope in a world of impending doom.
Only on the song “Adventurer” does the band feel like it loses track of the albums overall mood. An upbeat rocker that is more Judas Priest than Reverend Bizarre. In the vein of Judas, it’s a fun little romp and a nice break from the muck and the marl. Then again, if I wanted to hear these upbeat theatrics I’d turn to a band like Slough Feg or Judas (for Christ’s sake!).
Pilgrim are not trying to take metal in a new direction; they are paying respects to the forefathers of doom. The Black Sabbath influence is obvious, but their inspiration goes beyond the groundwork by Tony Iommi. One of the band’s biggest influences is the Finnish doom band Reverend Bizarre which broke up over five years ago (Reverend Bizarre just so happens to have strange band member names such as Albert Witchfinder, Peter Vicar, and the Earl of Void). Instead of trying to be a part of the hyped up black metal sounds, Pilgrim has looked to the past to try and wrestle with the traditions of doom metal. Let’s just hope this young, promising band doesn’t quit as quickly as an 8-year old version of myself.