Ah, Edinburgh’s own and one of the finest progressive sludge/doom bands about Of Spire & Throne return. Three years after their crushing and harrowing debut Sanctum In The Light, Penance drops as an early Yule present and leaves a huge crater.

For those unversed in Of Spire & Throne I’ve been smitten since their debut EP/demo and they have grown into a hugely impressive band whose sense of tension and dynamics can at times rival Neurosis (I kid you not). ‘From Dust’, the seven minute opener showcases their approach; slow, heavy, distraught music drenched in sludge, woven with a light touch of feedback and fuzz, and changing timing and direction like a straining supertanker. And melody. Yes. Kind of. Deep in this dark, ponderous music and growled voices there is a deep, black melodic touch. This flows into the harsher ‘Reliquary’ where sparse rhythmic thuds are intermittently swamped by great stinking riffs and the vocals from main man Ali Lauder are transformed to tortured howls.

So twenty minutes in, what has changed since their debut full length? Well by this point I detect a harsher approach somehow. Perhaps it’s that the quieter moments, where the riff wanes and the glistening single notes rise closer to the surface, there is as much tension but less quiet. It’s a slight thing but I’d say a symptom of learning and progression. A restlessness that you want in a band like this, a need to explore. At times this takes things closer to something like Corrupted or Khanate but always retaining that Of Spire & Throne identity. You get superb passages of percussion courtesy of Graham Stewart punctuated by chopped half riffs, the burning embers of feedback, the interrupting vocals. You get this weird sense of movement, the kind that Portal create between their soul sucking backwards riffs, that instead of the standstill-one riff monsters out there pushes and pulls you through the ravines. There is also greater use of some more haunting background vocal sounds too which work really well.

Their idea of a short song, by the way, is about seven minutes. ‘Their Shadow Cast’ for examples sprawls out over fourteen but despite the loose, organic sound the tight construction and sense of purpose interspersed with the dark melody (and some fine highlighted bass from Joe Turner) keep this fascinating.

At eight minutes ‘Sorcerer’ is almost interlude length. It serves as a weird brain clearing song too, again showing that Of Spire & Throne grasp the use and the need for shadows and light. This is deeply atmospheric. The first half devoid of drums and vocals, it judders into a beautiful space in a dark, soot coated granite way. We even get some almost subterranean version of choral voices. Sparse and so effective. Frankly ‘Sorcerer’ is magic.

‘In The Wake’ moves slowly into a more punishing rhythm from the held melody. Once there it pummels and hammers and drags your body through rifts of punishment. Closer ‘Dissident’ crushes you totally then lets the debris float out onto gentle still waters before the far shore gathers itself for one last trawl through the sludge.

And quiet.

Criticisms? Well no, not really. It’s generally hard to think of anything meaningful. They have a chosen broad area they explore and they do it so damned well it hurts. But if you don’t get on with the more extreme edges of sludge then they are not for you. This is not easy music in the least. It’s not wallpaper. This will scrape out the insides of your brain. This echoes through bones and churns stomachs and keeps sucking you down into the tar and then sets you adrift only to crush you again. Capture and release. Mentally this is tough. But so worth it. So very worth it.

Again, just superb. They have not let me down.

(9/10 Gizmo)