Friday, April 12, 2013
Arkham Witch - Legions of the Deep
Legions of the Deep, Arkham Witch's sophomore effort, is about as wildly inconsistent an album as a band could write. In one sense, it's incredibly varied, with Arkham sounding like three different witches throughout the entirety of the album. While this trio of sisters may have worked well for Shakespeare, I don't think the variety bodes well in the case of Arkham. For me, the band is best when they are echoing the Heavy Metal styling of bands like Running Wild, early 80's Sabbath or Manowar, influences which all seem to appear and disappear across the album. The second biggest influence is obviously that of Doom giants like Candlemass and Witchfinder General. With a couple thrashers tossed in, there are roughly three of each style of track. The thrashier numbers don't seem to work for Arkham or their Witches. While Legions of the Deep is in no means a dismal failure, it's by no means an immediate classic or contender for best of lists either.
The album's got excellent artwork by the always talented Jowita Kaminska, this time portraying gaunt looking citizens from some unnamed off-the-beaten-trail New England town staring down a squid-bat-gargoyle creature spawning off the local coast. The booklet is jam packed with expanded artwork revealing the full vista from which the cover artwork found itself cropped from. Snow giants, red haired witches and rats the size of Russian prison dogs gaze out at a distant aquapolis, glowing under a full moon's lunar luminescence. Band photos reveal a band that has a sense of humor, and just really loves the genres that they admit they steal from. There's no hard feelings or trying to be secretive about it either. They wear the stuff on their sleeves. Why wouldn't you though? It's also cool to look in a booklet and see local a locals like Argus and Overkill (obviously a ton of bands have been influenced by Overkill) represented.
The album really has four highlight songs with second song, "At the Mountains of Madness," being give or take depending on what you're really into but I really think it's a great track with nods to Pentagram. Opening track, "David Lund," is a hard hitting doomy cut with moments similar to Briton Rites' awesome For Mircalla which came out last year. Perhaps not as busy, the foundation of this song are memorable doom riffs. Iron Man's I have Returned could be another comparison. Vocalist Simon Iff? - I have no idea what the purpose of that question mark is, but apparently if you put it after your name it makes you mysterious or something - is a treat on this album as he utilizes a few different styles across Legions. On this track he sounds like Phil Swanson, best known for his work in Hour of 13, who also sang on that Briton Rites album while on "At the Mountains of Madness" he sounds more like a looser, more soulful and less vicious version of Metal Inquisitor's El Rojo. The first of the album's best three tracks appears three in. "Iron Shadows in the Moon," aside from having a really awesome title, is a great Sabbath-on-the-cusp-of-Dio-era track with easily memorable riffs, a patented bridge / refrain section and highlight solos. Originally I thought this is where the album would really start to pick up and be phenomenal, as all things were leading to increasingly quality tracks. Unfortunately the album's biggest clunker, "Infernal Machine," craps all over that possibility.
Just like "On a Horse Called Vengeance," which also employs sub par thrash tendencies and boring riffs, "Infernal Machine," is obnoxiously amateur sounding. I guess the band felt they needed a heavier, faster track or something but it's not necessarily faster by any means and the continuous pumping of the main riff, a riff that wouldn't be at odds fitting in on a Lamb of God album, just kills "Legions of the Deep's," momentum. Followed by the awesome Running Wild placeholder, "The Cloven Sea," is damn good fun, it's another shorter track and even the vocals are tilted to sound like Rolf. There is very little to hate about this track and just when I thought that "Infernal Machine," was a flop or a dud track, we get "On a Horse Called Vengeance." I think it's the seventh track that steals the bottle though as "Gods of Storm and Thunder," is a hard-rocking Accept flavored track with Deep Purple undertones that is sure to raise glasses to the ceilings in bars. Perhaps the chorus, which I really like, is used as a crutch a little too much, and perhaps the instrumental section in the middle is samey as the other tracks, but it's just a perfect mid-album bruiser.
I honestly don't get much out of the last three tracks. Granted title track "Legions of the Deep," sounds like pirates and being on the open sea which is perfect for the album and "Kult of Kutulu," has a lot of energy and grittiness and "We're From Keighley," is a cool home-crowd anthem all the tracks also have some flaws. "Kult," has a really dumb chorus that sounds like the Munster's theme song, Though not an inherently negative comment, "Kult" and "Keighley" both have a hardcore punk tendency. "Legions" has a sample thrown into the track about two minutes into the song from somewhere - apparently it's from a radio play. It also has a sailor's song sung about a minute later with vocalist Iff? and Leo Stivala of Forsaken fame pairing over sounds of waves to really hammer home the whole ocean / sea / exploration of things that can't be known themes going on across the album. The inclusion of an acoustic cover of The Lamp of Thoth's Blood on Satan's Claw fits well with the top-tier tracks on the album and implies the band is really at heart a Doom outfit.
While there are some real slamming Heavy Metal and Doom tracks here that would warrant getting this album, the five or six tracks that do little for me may lead to some second questioning. At the cost of importing this release for those of us in the USA, I doubt we'll see the band making inroads here for a while. I say dump the thrashier parts and focus on the Doom and traditional Metal tracks - they do them so well that it really is hard to explain why the band even goes that route as well. On an album that runs close to an hour's worth of material, leaving off the ten minutes of thrashy material would have created a much more consistent and enjoyable release, regardless of those that claim the tracks add variety or whatever. They don't show the album at their best. Thinking back, I was unimpressed by their track on Metal On Metal's compilation, "For Metal," which also took this thrashier vein. A track like "Iron Shadows," or "The Cloven Sea," appearing would far better represent the band.