Review Summary: The finest Sardinian stoner/doom you’re likely to hear this year
Doom/stoner metal and the associated offshoots tend to suffer from a (oft-deserved) reputation similar in many respects to late 2000s-era post-rock. In essence, the genre itself is relatively easy to make enjoyable, but by the same token it is often difficult for artists in the milieu to transcend the style’s generic trappings and take their music from good to great. It’s not hard to find many replacement-level doom and stoner groups, and they’re often pretty fun to listen to, much like many of those crescendo-core bands made exceptionally pretty music without really having anything new to say. In both cases, though, occasionally a listener will stumble across an artist bringing some reinvention to the somewhat tired movement. As you may gather if you’ve read this far, Dohlmen are the new kid on the block doing just that within the landscape of contemporary stoner/doom metal.
Hailing from the mountainous, sparsely populated Mediterranean island of Sardinia, Dohlmen have no aversion to sharing their roots. Not only are the song titles and lyrics entirely in the local Sardinian language, but thematically the songs tackle regional folkloric themes. This is an interesting move which sets the band apart from comparable groups, but even without this aspect there’s simply a spark in their music on this debut album which elevates it above most of their peers. For an LP just a sliver over thirty minutes long, Dohlmen not only do a whole lot right, but they also craft a diverse set of songs within a template which isn’t especially known for variety.
Beyond the expected head-banging riffs and toe-tapping guitar solos, Dohlmen’s self-titled album excels at two things: impressive vocals with surprising stylistic variation, and a dark atmospheric touch. As far as the vocals go, vocalist Daniele Piredda impresses in multiple ways, providing hardcore-ish shouting on opener “Sa Oghe”, dramatic shrieks more expected in a thrash song for “Focutone”, and sludgey affectations on the closer “Mama Chieta”, with numerous examples of more traditional doom/stoner vocals in between. This type of range adds a lot of intrigue to the album and helps keep the songs fresh. With regards to atmosphere, Dohlmen pursue an ominous vibe and pull it off. The shortest track “Cundenna”, featuring spoken word vocals over a sinister minimalist backdrop, aids in this effort, although it arguably also interrupts the album’s flow excessively.
The usual touchstones for a band of Dohlmen’s ilk are certainly all over this self-titled effort (there’s simply no escaping the reach of Black Sabbath and their followers in this musical realm). However, there’s no doubt that Dohlmen have generated a refreshing product with their first release. While the LP has some flaws (the album flow could be improved, there are some iffy transitions between sections in “Sa Oghe”, and the band may be able to integrate the different styles they toy with here more effectively on their future endeavors), Dohlmen have undoubtedly cemented themselves as a band to watch in the scene. In the process, they remind us of the beauty of being a music fan in the internet age: in previous eras, no matter how great the band, a group singing in a fairly obscure language about local subject matter would almost certainly never have reached the vast majority of our ears.