A few weeks ago, I was searching the net for some new metal, getting tired of listening to my usual set of bands (I’m mostly into the dooms). I gave a number of lesser known doom bands a shot, but I was left jaded by the usual stoner metal cliches. I then took a chance at the Russian Goatpsalm, which I found posted on the doom metal subreddit. I listened to their first track off their new album, Downstream, and man was this song alone a journey. This is no doom I’d ever heard before.
This group absolutely refuses to be put into a single genre. So many labels can put put on it: black, death, doom, ambient, industrial, tribal, experimental. Such a strange concoction of music. But it works so well. This is definitely outside of what I normally listen to. Outside of most people’s range. Quite avant-garde really.
The record features mostly death and black metal vocals, which I’m usually turned off to, but they work effectively here. The vocals along with the tribal instrumentation and the ambience of nature sprinkled in give it a primitive feeling. On the other hand, the modern synths and electric guitars add a different shade of darkness to the mix. The synths give it this mysterious, wandering vibe, while the riffs are very much doom-based.
The album starts with “Grey Rocks,” which opens with a forest soundscape. Synth textures start, whispering vocals creep in, and a relentless, mid-tempo guitar chugs through the woods. Space keys appear mid-song and give it a spiritual vibe, as if discovering the divine. The keys and guitar have an ominous build-up, as if a creature lurks at a distance. Closer and closer. “Flower of the Underworld” follows, and starts out with quiet, but fast tribal drumming, and a woodwind instrument giving a warning. It’s a chase through the jungle. The harsh vocals and guitar then come in. There are also some sampled female backing vocals used throughout to add an extra layer of mystery and mysticism. This track gets particularly doomy with its riffage. The woodwind comes back, sounding like a wolf solemnly howling at the moon. “White Sea” commences with the ambiance of the ocean and seagulls. A stringed instrument is leisurely played along with synth additions. It’s like being marooned on a deserted island. It ends on a gloomy note however (of course).
“Orphan” is when the darkness is cranked up to an 11. The synths in particular get nasty. Along with the chanting vocals, this short number gets really heavy-handed. It becomes a very crowded soundscape. The second half gets very choppy with constant growling in the background. The beast has awakened. “Of Bone and Sinew” is a bit more of the same. Besides the occasional fast-tempo section, this one is a bit forgettable. “The Waylayer (A Great Spring Hunger)” goes back to the primitive nature of the album, featuring a grim acoustic guitar (with some sinister electric guitar for good measure), many vocal chants, including what sounds like Tuvan throat singing. The LP ends on the title track, which prominently features harsh vocals as its main driver. Though it is very atmospheric, this one is a bit more of the same like “Of Bone and Sinew”. It doesn’t really do anything new or interesting.
Under the “influences” section on the band’s Facebook page, it simply reads “DARKNESS ITSELF”. That is a fitting description of their sound. The focused combination of what are often contrasting elements make this album one of the most unique and interesting albums I’ve ever come across. Besides some redundant material in the back half the record, this album is exemplary. Give it a listen and get transported into another plane of existence.
1. Grey Rocks
2. Flowers of the Underworld
3. White Sea
5. Of Bone and Sinew
6. The Waylayer (The Great Spring Hunger)
H. – Bass/Electronics/Noises
Kim – Drums
Sadist – Guitars
Vaarwel – Guitars/Vocals