Doom metal seems to be enjoying a period of renascence in the UK. In recent years more and more bands have emerged from the depths of the country’s underground and become firm favourites. Enter KROH. The Birmingham outfit have been kicking around the scene since 2011, but now five years later, the band are finally here with a reshaped lineup and their debut entry, Altars. With the competition so fierce, does Altars offer enough to set KROH off an upwards journey?
The record opens with Krzyżu Święty, a short introduction track features isolated operatic vocals. Setting the atmosphere and drawing the listener in, Mother Serpent roars into life through fuzzy and down-tuned riffs that swing in rhythm. This subsides for just a moment whilst front-woman Oliwia Sobieszek steps up with haunting vocal deliveries. This continues before the riffs of guitarist Paul Kenney resurface, sucking the listener in and giving a bite. It’s a rich combination of sounds and is incredibly effective of setting a doom-laden atmosphere.
This mood continues as the record progresses. Living Water opens with a eerie riff and a consistent drumbeat from Rich Stanton. As the backing music drives in mesmerising rhythm, Sobieszek steps up again and delivers some truly breathtaking vocal deliveries. Her voice ebbing and flowing to the hypnotic riffs accompanied with the track’s steady pace makes for one of the standout moments on the record. What makes Altars such is a treat is the record’s ability to offer variations in the pace and mood to such a great effect. Feed The Brain feels slower than the tracks that proceeded it but carries a devastatingly heavy undertone. The work of Rich Stanton on the drums and Darren Donovan on the bass are absolutely pivotal to the meat of the track, carrying the beat and rhythm consistently. Operatic interludes only enhance the occult mood and it compliments the vocals, creating a haunting and chilling atmosphere. Moments like this truly raise the hairs on the back of the neck.
Intricate and subtle notes from Paul Kenney‘s guitar creep in as Malady comes to life. The drones and drawn out vocals from Oliwia Sobieszek draw you in before explosive riffs hammer down. Whilst the song-structure may be deemed repetitive as the track unfolds, again KROH demonstrate their abilities to create a chilling atmosphere. Once again, the listener is thrown after the subtle approach to Malady as Break The Bread explodes into life in an instant. Enormous doomy riffs fused by the guitar of Paul Kenney and Darren Donovan create a suffocating tone whilst Sobieszek unleashes some of her best vocals on the record. It yet again reinforces the sheer talent of KROH, to create and maintain such an immersive atmosphere without shattering the immersion is the shining characteristic of Altars.
Stone Into Flesh dazzles you with isolated guitars notes whilst subdued wails feel ominous. This then gives way to a hugely emphatic sound, massive riffs and huge vocal deliveries feel almost uplifting, which is rarely possible to experience on an album that is so crushing. If you can describe the mood of Altars in one word then penultimate track Cold ticks all the boxes. Feelings of isolation and solitude creep in through an interesting guitar tone and steady drumbeat before Sobieszek‘s spoken word segment takes centrefold. It’s an interesting approach to delivering lyrics and it doesn’t feel out of place compared to her usual operatic delivery. Final track Precious Bones is a fitting end to the record thanks to it’s enormous riffs, chaotic crashes from the drums and truly powerful vocals. After such a heavy and crushing trip, Precious Bones gives you one final blast of KROH‘s doom-driven style before building up to a climatic finish with hypnotic playing and then, just like that, it is over.
With the competition in doom metal so fierce these days, has Altars done enough enough to showcase what KROH can do? That answer is an absolutely resounding yes. Altars has a certain charm about it, a spell that ensnares you and pulls you into it’s crushing and intoxicating vortex. The vocals of Oliwia Sobieszek act as a perfect counter-weight to the crushing backing sound of KROH, which makes the listening experience so much more immersive. Altars is a breathtaking record of haunting and chilling doom, a record that will capture your attention and intoxicate you across nine tracks of sheer brilliance. Make no mistake, KROH have crafted a gem of a record, one that can stand firmly with the biggest names in the genre.
Altars is out now via Devizes Records.
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