Dark Buddha Rising brew up a heady mix of influences that can’t fail to hook in a certain section of the metal community – as well as all those who regard the discovery of Nirvana’s darker side and smoking weed as one and the same thing. The psychedelic album titles, the clash of drone, doom and sludge metal all bound together in a ritualistic cauldron. Not to mention a band name that’s about as evocative as it’s possible to get. These Finns are on their sixth album now and are clearly masters of what they do. They gained traction with more recent releases as well as a landmark set at Roadburn a few years ago – now enshrined as a live recording. The question is whether Inversum will be the catalyst that provides them with a fresh momentum and the kind of regard that many think they deserve.
It was always going to be tough to follow 2013’s 81 minute reverberating opus Dakhmandal which allowed the band to embark on an expansive exploration of its mojo. Relying heavily on a core drone meets heavy doom sound, twisting and progressing almost imperceptibly at times, it then pulled in driving chants and horribly distorted growls as well as a stoner vibe alongside both cool and utterly chaotic 70s psychedelia in equal measure. A must, therefore, for anyone that regards Electric Wizard or any band with the words ‘Bong’ or ‘Weed’ in its title, as the core of their music library but can’t be arsed to get up out of the sofa every 45 minutes to press ‘start’ all over again.
In true drone style, it’s difficult to pick any two or three bars of a Dark Buddha Rising album that you could confidently say is a repetition. Instead the band opts for a journey of gradual transformation with different experiences and moods embedded in the shimmering drum patterns and oscillating bass lines. Within minutes of sticking on Inversum, you’re catapulted on a trajectory towards an unknown destination but one that is clearly not going to allow you to settle into any comfortable zone. An easy, if edgy, proggy introduction quickly melts into heavier thundering territory with some leaden but fairly aggressive angular riffs hitting the speakers early on.
There’s a bit less of the seamless drone this time round. It’s replaced with more primal doom and venturing well into the heavier end of a stoner sound to carry the flat, sludgy, ritualistic vocals – vocals which just serve up another swirling layer rather than creating any kind of focal, centre point. The core riff then starts to unfold and unpack with about nine minutes to go on the first track, dissolving into dark, psychedelic chaos that trails off gradually into what almost becomes an extended outro but which is then picked up by a pulsing, clipped, two-by-two riff that inevitably delivers the final down-the-rabbit-hole moment.
If you’re still feeling inexplicably short changed – there’s still another 23 minutes to go. The second part follows an oddly similar format, down to the rocking stoner finish. And while perhaps heavier in some ways it felt a little like it never quite reaches the head mangling highs and lows of the previous track but still presents the band’s full time-warping skills. Whilst the first track ends in a collapsing vortex of sound that threatens to open the ground beneath and swallow you up, the finale this time round is more like being hit by a four minute surge of electricity.
One thing that will not go unnoticed by fans picking up Inversum is its relative brevity. Clocking in at 47 minutes, it’s a good third to a half less than the previous releases. But, for all that, it doesn’t feel rushed or in anyway an edited version of the band’s previous form. The two tracks (Eso and Exo – Greek for ‘within’ and ‘without’ respectively) work independently of each other and each could be regarded holistically or individually broken down into distinct movements. Ideal in a gig situation, I’d suggest, and maybe that’s part of the point here.
Where Dark Buddha Rising works best is when it is exuding chaos – the clashes of all its different aspects together in a screaming psychedelic vortex. Less so in the slower doomy drone passages, in my opinion. For a band that is considered to be a drone band that’s maybe an issue. The slabs of doom and bass should be able to conjure up thoughts and images with every slow and creeping breath – but I don’t really find Dark Buddha Rising achieves this so much as when it really lets itself loose.
A band which employs such a menacing, introspective sound like this is always going to stump many more listeners with is dark, sprawling intent than it wins over. And maybe that includes me. But there’s still some fantastic stuff going on here even if it doesn’t achieve quite as much as it should from start to finish as it promises. That said, if ever there was a release that was going to shift the balance of wider opinion in the band’s favour without sacrificing any credibility, then Inversum is it.
(8/10 Reverend Darkstanley)