Review Summary: A unique blend of Post-Metal, Doom and Ambient.
I'm what some might call a depressive music junkie. It's not that I'm some miserable scene kid who sits in his room all day listening to AFI and blogging about how pointless life is and such, but music has always been my drug of choice whenever I feel blue or in need of inspiration. Groups like Tool, Nine Inch Nails, and Dark Tranquillity have definitely gotten me through some rough patches and because of those cathartic experiences I've recently been interested in the genre of doom metal, supposedly the darkest of all metal genres. Unfortunately, up till now I haven't found a single band that has appealed in any way to me. The overly lengthy, and grandiose arrangements let down by weak vocals and musicianship have continuously pushed me away from the genre. However, I may have just found a band that defies these stereotypes enough to tickle my fancy.
This band is California's Eyes of Fire, a group that intermingles earthshaking walls of Post Metal distortion and Ambient shades with an undeniably doomy sound. It should be noted that two of the band's members, bassist/vocalist, Matt Fisher and guitarist/vocalist, Dan Kaufman, were in the lengendary, Doom Metal band, Mindrot. Thus, it is unsurprising, given their heritage, that Eyes of Fire shares many similarities with its parent group, however with some considerable differences. Mindrot had a significant punk/thrash influence to their sound and also focused much more on heaviness than ambiance and mood. At its core, Mindrot was really an angry, heart-broken metal band. Eyes of Fire takes things a step further by expanding on this emotional drive and injecting it with a sludge metal influence a la Neurosis and Isis. Frankly it's a very effective approach; one of the things that has always bothered me about doom is the fairly stripped sound of the actual music that is created. The bands who make this genre of music I would assume aim to craft a sonic expression of the emotions of fear, dread, depression, and madness. Given this aim, weak mutters, dull drumming, and boring sustained guitar riffs just don't do it for me.
Fortunately, Eyes of Fire avoids these clichés and instead smothers the listener in a horrific wall of sound chock full of brutal churning riffs, tribal percussion, gothic tinged synths and diverse yet ferocious vocals, all while maintaining an acute sense of melody. Songs like "Blood (This Consumes You)," "It All Dies Today," and the eight minute epic that closes the album "Fire Inside" are absolutely monstrous. Listening to these songs feels like a cross between sinking in quicksand and having a building collapse on you. This to me, is precisely what doom should sound or even feel like. Another aspect of the Post Metal mind-frame that is heard on this album is the way the songs mostly follow the patented "ebb and flow" dynamic. The tracks take the listener on an emotional journey that traverses soft pensive moments, as well as angry squalls of noise. This is quite impressive in itself, considering that most of the songs here only average about five minutes each. Several bands who employ such an approach frequently take 10+ minutes to reach their climactic destination, however Eyes of Fire exercises both great restraint and songwriting ability by eschewing such a temptation. One of the only exceptions to this is the oddly mantra-like "Salvation" which plods along aimlessly for seven minutes.
From a vocal standpoint, diverse doesn't even begin to describe Eyes of Fire. At least six different vocal styles are present on this record between the shared duties of Fisher and Kaufman. Fisher handles most of these, shifting effectively between hardcore barks, tonal shouts, baritone croons, eerie whispers, and full out belting. For the most part he does a good job with this range of styles, only occasionally getting a little off with his higher pitched singing, which some might argue adds to the emotional tension of the music. His bass playing also demands mention; it is very prominent throughout the disk and is surprisingly technical in parts, calling Tool's Justin Chancellor to mind. However, it's when Kaufman takes the mike that things get dicey. He uses a kind of higher pitched scream that while tolerable in small doses, like when juxtaposed against Fisher's bellows in call and response, gets very grating when used anymore than that. This completely ruins "Fight Me" which is unfortunate because the cleanly sung outro is creepily magnificent. The lyrics are fairly simple and straightforward, not much is left to the imagination in terms of imagery, but they are certainly delivered with conviction and suit the music quite well. The rest of the instruments are not immensely technical on their own, but swirl together to create a very impressive sound over all.
Eyes of Fire have produced an enjoyably cathartic, albeit flawed sophomore effort that shows a band that has found a way to transcend the dead end tendencies of the Doom Metal genre. This album will appeal as much to fans of post and sludge metal as it does to doom-heads and should thus be approached with an open mind. This is certainly different than most of the radio-minded metal that is barfed out of the So Cal scene and accordingly takes a few listens to appreciate, but anyone who needs their doom and gloom fix will find Prisons definitely hits the spot.