Review Summary: A haunting new effort from doom metal originals.
Underground metal is in dire need of more bands as creative as Salt Lake City's SubRosa. On their fourth full-length More Constant Than The Gods
, this doom metal collective skillfully chisel space for themselves amid low-end amplifier worship, neo-classical chamber music and dark Americana. The skeleton of their sound is typically based on gargantuan riffs and methodical rhythm section, yet the lead guitar parts are curiously emulated by a pair of violins.
Even though this combination of instruments has been used in heavy music before, SubRosa's approach to incorporating strings into their core doom metal aesthetic is truly unique. Violinists Sarah Pendleton and Kim Pack have a penchant not only for crafting stirring melodies deeply ingrained in American rustic tradition, but also delirious trails of feedback that make the listening experience even richer. These off-kilter, experimental jazz inspired string arrangements often take the outfit to the whole new level of intensity, bringing a refreshingly unsettling quality to their music.
Another tremendous asset of SubRosa is Rebecca Vernon whose clean vocals don't comply with genre conventions either. Treading a fine line between '80s goth and '90s indie rock, she explores the record's underlying theme of empathy with aplomb. What's more, Vernon knows the value of guitar tone, putting in dense, ultra-heavy riffs whenever a song calls for them. The massive scope of More Constant Than The Gods
is not only reflected in sheer volume, but also the act's inclination for expansive epics that ebb and flow, centering around wondrously crafted layers and perpetually morphing dynamics.
Opener “The Usher” is a 14-minute suite that ideally encapsulates the quintet's strengths along with burning ambition to match. The two-voice funeral balladry of the track's intro suddenly bursts into a full-on sludge assault that later collapses under the weight of discordant violins. It all leads to an absolutely astounding climax that's at once grandiose and uplifting. Following on, "Ghosts Of A Dead Empire" is imbued with destructive power due to its massive stomping groove interspersed with Eastern-sounding strings. The compositional dexterity and Vernon's assured vocals are also central attributes of “Cosey Mo,” a stunning metalgaze tune that showcases SubRosa at their most accessible.
Not every song is as powerful as these three standouts, though. While its first half is impeccably consistent, the record begins to lose steam towards the end, proving that too much ambition can have a detrimental effect at times. Finalizing the LP on a low note, “No Safe Harbor” fails to match the intensity of the previous five numbers with its mellowed-out arrangement. Even though More Constant Than The Gods
could use some trimming down as a whole, the formula nurtured by the band is so expertly implemented that the album makes for an utterly compelling listen. SubRosa have matured substantially, delivering their most accomplished effort which shows how ingenious and poignant doom metal can get in its capacity.