There is something about the ethos of the sludgier and doomier realms of metal that means whilst it can be complex and layered, equally it lends itself to a stripped back and minimalistic delivery. Being born from the simple guitar/bass/drums/vocals DNA of early Black Sabbath, that traditional line up has since been stripped back further, there being a fair few three piece acts out there such as the mighty Morass of Molasses or the crushing Conan. However, Sardinia’s Alchemical Wake go one better, or should I say one fewer, comprising just two members, one on drums, one on guitar and vocals, meaning there is no place for either to hide, and each having to work to their fullest.
Opener on debut album ‘Cassiopea’, the dragging ‘Libra’ starts with a slew of electronic effects that are in short order kicked aside by drums delivered with all the speed of a zombie on a treadmill, supporting a fuzzed out guitar riff that arrives with an equally monolithic pace, the pained vocals being low in mix, like a plaintive cry of a mountaineer trying to be heard over the advance of a slowly rolling avalanche.
‘Noctua’ does a little to raise the pace, but only into a stumbling jog; do not anticipate Slayer style circling to Alchemical Wake’s music as it is the sound track of heads nodding in deep concentration and contemplation rather than wind-milling hair, pumping fists and stomping feet. Again, somewhere in the track there are lyrics, but I genuinely feel they would not be missed, the piece being every bit as successful as an instrumental. This is even more true on the grinding ‘Orion’, the bass heavy tone concealing the vocals beneath a heavy layer of sludge. I genuinely checked and experimented with my player’s settings in case something had gone wrong, but a fair amount of twiddling with virtual knobs has me convinced the band are just letting their instruments deliver their message.
The final track on this dark journey through space ‘Andromeda’, takes the bands inherent heaviness even further, mournful beats and dragging chords pulling themselves across a dense thirteen minute wasteland of dense riffery as devoid of light as the firmament between our own insignificant planet and the distant titular star system. Nothing the band play is frantic, frenetic, or pit inducing; rather this is as raw as metal can be, delivered with a foggy passion for all things dour. As debut albums go, it is hard to beat, and as evidence of what can be done with a band with just two members, it has few rivals, everything about ‘Cassiopea’ sounding like it could be produced live without compromising the raw energy that comes through on the record.