The Swedes look determined to bring the doom flame home this year. First with February’s Dautha debut demo Den Förste getting the epic doomers their first proper release on Ván. Then this, Below’s second album, destined to keep the band on a nice upward trajectory from their first back in 2014. Yes, it’s all gone a bit Candlemassy up there at the moment. Below is yet another classic Swedish sounding epic doom band with the emphasis on the ‘power’ end of the doom spectrum – somewhere around Chapter VI era Candlemass. Lead singer Zeb sure knows how to belt them out – even if his vocals often owe far more to Rob Halford and Geoff Tate than the ultra-solemn doom of Ozzy and Messiah.
But Below’s big selling point is not its lung-busting vocals (although that helps) or the epic doom (which normally only makes you think of one band). No what helps raise Below to above the pack is the band’s clear reverence of early 1980s New Wave of Heavy Metal unpredictability that reminds you of a time when you could listen to a heavy metal album that wasn’t mind-meltingly extreme and still get that sense of surprise and, in this case, even a the odd chill running down the spine. Nods to Priest and even Maiden abound and. Then third track Coven owes much to the King (Diamond that is) while the 9 minute title track is a giant slab of progressive, doom-laden power that takes the album to whole new depths of sound and passion.
If you’re still undecided after reaching this point in the album, then the Suffer in Silence and 1000 Broken Bones deliver some classic hook-ridden metal while the band stock up on more epic heaviness than you thought was possible on one album. Because below manages to provide this all with a vintage sound and staying so clear of any hint of cheese, you might be in danger of remembering what good, sold 1980s doom could taste like without lashings of cheddar and parmesan. At times Zeb Jansson’s voice can be a little overpowering. But there’s no doubting that Below have taken everything they’ve learnt from the first album and delivered it with both more finesse and more explosive force in equal share.
The album ends on a lesser note with what, to me, is a bit of a flat sounding We Are All Slaves. But other than that, this is most surely a release that will be catching ears and imaginations with its musty atmospheres and tales of woe. Guest backing vocals by Sorcerer’s Anders Engberg and a (not very impressive, as it turns out) speech by Alan Averill of Primordial should help to hook a few people in too, but, to be honest, Upon A Pale Horse will need no help asserting itself on a few 2017 lists and will do no harm in any efforts to reassert Sweden as the kingdom of doom.
(8/10 Reverend Darkstanley)