Slave To The Grave by Alastor
Death. The enigma that has been haunting our being since the dawn of time. In attempts to console this ever lurking blackened cloud prepared to unleash the rain of eternity upon us at seemingly any second; countless religions, works of art, literature, and records have been spawned. Either make one comfortable with the concept of death or using it as the ever -fascinating and timeless subject that it is and always will be, the best art art is often forged out of death. Wether that’s fear of death, welcoming of death, celebrations of death, accountings of death, or whichever angle an artist wants to tackle death from; it never goes out of style. Death sells just as sex sells; and we’ll never have the answer to the age old dilemma of how it happens, where we go, and what it’s like. The only ones that know are ash and rotting bones in caskets beneath us. But, with records like Slave To The Grave by Swedish doom metal maestros Alastor, with respects to Mr. Crowley, we can get a pretty good idea…. and I’ll bet those buried dead, forgotten skeletons, and wandering spirits alike are hiding in the darkness headbanging to the riffs of Alastor.
“In Death we are all equal” being what the eerily possessing introductory track translates to, with the rumblings of thunder, and the reciting of what I’m only assuming is more hymns of doom in their native language; it is apparent that the blood of death is running throughly through the veins of this record. After an igniting strike of a distant church bell, Slave to the Grave awakens with the casket-rocking riff of “Your Lives Are Worthless.” And when this song kicks in with the chilling lyrics “I came to walk the Earth two-thousand years ago…” or there following “If God could cry we all would drown..” sung like a satanic seer within the Scandinavian forests; it’s guaranteed to awaken some worthless lives. The song plays like a ancient fable of doom, delivering prolific lyrics, hauntingly groovy and intriguing instrumentation, a guitar tone that’ll get the thumbs up from Iomi himself and transport the listener into a distorted, groovy, hypnotic hell; Alastor prove that they are here to rock the devil’s music with the best of those that have ever done it.
The rolling tracks “Drawn to the Abyss” and “N.W. 588” prove to be more absolute masterclasses in occult rock ’n roll. Alastor’s ability to maintain a balance between pure evil heavy metal and hip-shaking, headbanging, fist-in-the-air rock music is indeed something else Sabbath and doom warriors Electric Wizard would approve of. Not to continue harping with the comparison to the pioneers of the genre, and not at all to discredit the unique awesomeness of Alastor alone, I’m afraid it’s impossible to review or even just listen to a doom record such as this and not compare to Sabbath, the masters and creators (arguably) of this genre. The important thing to realize is and keep in the back of your cranium is that a truly great modern-era doom band will take these influences, modify them, and forge them into their own unique weapon on the quest for ultimate sonic doom. Alastor have done just that as there is a noticeable stamp of individuality when Alastor is playing - you know it’s them. And in a world oversaturated with Sabbath worship bands, that’s no easy feat. And they are fucking killer. The sheer sound, tone, and vibe of the record is pure ancient doom awesomeness and really forces you into the right atmosphere and headspace needed to appreciate the record for all it has to offer. The reverb sounds like it is created by the warped string sounds ricochetting off piles of animal bones and dungeon walls… seeping into an opening in the horn of ram’s skull, infiltrating the hollow, brittle and bone-dusty void with the blasphemous guitar harmony, cosmic thumping bass, and soul crushing percussion. Twist, turning, warping, and howling its way through the skull’s cavities and being expelling the sounds of the underworld out thought mouth opening.. giving voice to the dead. That’s just kind of how I imaging these songs being played in the proper way, with respect the the deceased animals and humans alike. In all seriousness, the catchy and melodic yet still devastating doom metal tunes calling for the rise of Lucifer himself are undeniably so awesome that a group of nuns might get (just a little) turned on. All of the outstanding instrumentation, attitude, and production of the record are no doubt impressive; but it wan’t until Alastor hit me with the following opus, “Gone,” that took this record from great, to classic.
The depressive, haunting, acoustic and vocal driven ballad detailing the embrace of death is as hauntingly beautiful as it is paranoid and terrifying. “Gone” is an instant classic so recognizable that I could’ve sworn I’ve heard it before. And that’s not to discredit it as an easy listening pop tune… with lyrics like “A little help from LSD and cocaine until the devil comes to take my soul” proves it to be just the opposite. But this is no obscure cover, this is an Alastor original. Simply further driving the nail of proof in the coffin of doubt that Alastor can write some fucking good ass songs. Go ahead, take away the effects pedals, cool amps, distortion, smoke, fire, and bones.. they’ll hit you with the best ballad found on a metal record in years. Quote me on that. I absolutely fell in love with this tune alone, but set within the context of this record, bookend by pure evil doom of “N.W. 558” and the epic title track “Slave to the Grave,” the contrast makes it all the more fantastic and interesting. After the epically poetic and catchy verses and choruses, Alastor expand this tune into a 70’s inspired rock n roll jam, complete with the groovy shredding and power-pop rock background vibes. No need to feel bad about jamming out and clapping along to some of the most depressing, death-ridden lyrics ever scribed. That’s just the power of music, my friends. Perhaps the brilliance of this track lies within the fact that it is very much the catchiest, friendliest, and easiest sounding and composed song they’ve ever done, yet it is very much the darkest. Sure, there are songs and lyrics that are perhaps darker on the record dealing with tormented souls and the like, but they are not presented in a way such as this - human. This is no demonic intervention via heavy metal riffs, this is a look in the mirror at one’s one fragile humanity and state of mind. Love, addiction, depression, and suicidal thoughts at the human level is infinitely more terrifying than undead beings from another realm, yet they still hone it back and make it the coolest sounding tune on the record. It’s simply a beautiful piece of music that I was at the very least not expecting from Alastor.
As mentioned, the following title track is another doom metal knock out, so this record has more than enough going for it. I would’ve been happy if the metal gods intervened and ended the record on that note. Alas, they did not. No. Perhaps casually, they decide to send us home with a 17 minute magnum opus, “The Spider of my Love.” A sonic journey into blackened psychedelia and (of course) death. The hypnotic void spawned by the shredding of the six string draw you into this song much like a spider webbing a fly. It’s a hellish good time fueled by the ever intriguing drum patterns, deep and lurking bass notes, church bells, and Satan himself only know what else. As the thunder roars its beckoning head again, and the sounds fade into nothingness, Alastor raises their hand of doom in a farewell salute. Now, thats a doom record.
As cool and original yet completely retro and classic sounding as this record is, in terms of production and instrumentation, is all well and great.. but for me, the genius of this record is something on a deeper level. Alastor are a sophisticated and cynical, introspective and philosophical, depressing and at the some time pure rock & roll with no messing around or filler whatsoever; much like the religion of Satanism itself or the principles Crowley preached in his time. I think he would be proud.
Gym Rating: 5/5
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