HESPER PAYNE/SABAZIUS | UNDER THE ALUM SHALE

HESPER PAYNE/SABAZIUS | UNDER THE ALUM SHALE

Death/Doom Metal | Newcastle/Brighton UK

Released via Loathesome Unclean Music on 09.07.2012

HESPER PAYNE Facebook | SABAZIUS Facebook

Right, cards on the table first – I’ve been excited about this split-album of unsigned British Doom since both bands suggested a collaboration on the Terrorizer forum nearly two years ago.  In my opinion, both Hesper Payne and Sabazius rate among the best currently-active Metal bands in the country right now, and the idea of them working together on a two-song, single-concept split album with collaborative artwork by both bands has reawakened a kind of excitement I’ve not felt since I was 18 and waiting to be horribly disappointed by Fear Factory’s third album.   I’ll do my best to remain objective and level-headed while reviewing it, but you’ve been warned.

Splits often seem a little slap-dash and undeveloped, something the band knock off quickly in a spirit of obligation or community, but this is an exception – both bands are clearly excited to be working with each other, and have really pulled out all the stops in both music and presentation.  Lavish and frankly beautiful double-artwork from Brooke of Hesper and Steve of Sab support the Lovecraft-inspired theme that both bands play with, and each band has contributed a single 30 minute track (which is the longest thing Hesper have ever done, but by Sab’s standards is an album intro).

Neither of the two pieces on here are exactly “easy”, but Hesper are the more traditionally Metal of the two, and open proceedings in slightly more comfortable territory.  One of the things that sets Hesper apart in a genre which is often guilty of single-mindedness is the range of colours they paint with.  Over its thirty minute duration Call Of The Deathless Dreamer’s Will weaves a genuinely rich tapestry, taking us from mournful pastoralism and through furious disgust to genuine fear.  It contains some of the heaviest and most “extreme” material they’ve recorded since the Titans Of The Northsea EP, but also moments of genuine beauty.  Hesper are one of those rare bands that can move through a range of different styles while still always sounding like themselves – here they blend mournful, almost My Dying Bride-style Gothic Doom with furious Death/Doom and an ending which touches on the psychedelic approach of Esoteric, but retain a unified identity throughout.

If Hesper’s side is a rich and complex tapestry, Sabazius’ Madness From The Sea is a padded wall covered in indecipherable, spiderish-scrawl.  If you only know them from their recent The Watchers mini-album, you won’t be ready for how grueling and genuinely uncomfortable their thirty minutes here are.  They’re clearly enjoying it, too – teasing us with the expectation of a big fat Doom riff before breaking it down even further into torturous, painfully prolonged single-note riffing and vocals that refuse to coalesce from their cloud of whispering, half-heard sounds.  “Hypnotic” is a word that gets used too easily to describe slow Doom, but it fits here too well to not use it.  There’s a ritual feeling to this track, and a cumulative sinisterness that goes beyond the mere sum of musical parts.  It’s as if Hesper are telling us a story about a man discovering an ancient, cosmic presence beyond human understanding, and Sab are showing us what he saw.

Not an easy album, then, but an extremely rewarding one – essential for existing fans of either band, and a decent place to start if you’re not (though with both bands offering their discographies as free downloads on their respective websites, there are plenty of starting places to choose from).   [8/10 – RICHARD THE INFERNAL OVERLORD]