I don’t know about you, dear metal brothers and sisters, but I was eagerly awaiting the release of Castle’s third long play record. Their sophomore, Blacklands was such an amazing discovery; an album that I rapidly came to cherish among my all-time favorites from the heavy/doom hybrid style and one of my top ten 2012 highlights. It prompted me to swiftly seek their 2011 debut, In Witch Order, which proved to be solid if not all that exciting material. Clearly this band progressed a great deal in terms of songwriting skills (they had the technical skills since the beginning) in the span of just a year. Therefore, the possibilities of their new tunes, with two years in the making, made me drool like a wolf stalking a big, warm and distracted hare.
And so here we are, 2014, the year that saw this Californian power trio unleash Under Siege, their second album featuring Denis Forkas Kostromitin’s magnificent dark art on its cover, which was the factor that made me check out Blacklands in the first place. A great choice indeed, and the figure emerging (or is it entering?) from the bull is both puzzling and elegant. But how do the musical contents of this beast fare? Well, if you enjoyed the band’s back catalogue you shouldn’t fear disappointment. Though it certainly didn’t ensnare me at first listen like its predecessor, Under Siege is practically a continuation of the same aesthetics. All eight compositions are under five minutes in length, concise and sober heavy/doom ripe with quality powerful riffage and the mesmerizing chants of Liz Blackwell. That’s what I hoped for, and that’s what we got, hellyes!
Now, unlike their sophomore, I do feel this newest record is a bit lopsided, with most of the outstanding moments stacked in the second half. Nonetheless, “Distant Attack” is an excellent opener, propulsive and sensual. I love the background choral arrangements with Liz’s voice, as she sings on top of those. Yeah, these guys don’t need another vox, that’s for sure. I do find improvement in the limited vocal participations by the band’s axe-master, Mr. Mat Davis. I was not a fan of his grunts on past albums, yet here he chose a less gruff voice, and the result is pretty good, most notably on the excellent album closer “Evil Ways”. His spot-on riffing is still excellent, even though the song structures on this record are somewhat simpler than the more slithery tunes on Blacklands.
I’m not sure who handled drums here, since as of late the band appears to be having troubles in sticking with a drummer. Whoever sat behind the kit sounds remarkably similar to Al McCartney’s style… and that’s a good thing! All the instruments are easily appreciated, and as it suits the band, the production is organic and aims for a vintage sound. My personal highlights are presided over by “Pyramid Lake”, a magnificent piece that starts with that Ozzy-esque ‘all right now!’ sung by Liz, and have some memorable leads throughout. Then, the final three tunes are no short in quality either, I wouldn’t be able to tell you which one I enjoy the most. If you’re looking for good vintage heavy/doom this 2014, look no further and grab this. My only quibble is that at under 34 minutes in length Under Siege is a bit short, leaving you aching for more Castle metal. Not a bad thing, after all. May the Castle stand strong for many more years!
1. Distant Attack
2. Be My Ghost
3. A Killing Pace
4. Pyramid Lake
6. Labyrinth of Death
7. Temple of the Lost
8. Evil Ways
Mat Davis – Guitars
Elizabeth Blackwell – Vocals, Bass
Al McCartney – Drums