Smoulder – Times of Obscene Evil and Wild Daring (Cruz Del Sur Music)

Monday, 6th May 2019
Rating: 9.5/10

Epic doom isn’t a genre in metal for the faint of heart – especially given the work established by Candlemass and Solitude Aeturnus throughout the 80’s, 90’s and current times. Canadian act Smoulder relish the opportunity to put their stake in the ground for this movement, evolving from an initial jam session in 2013, relocating to Toronto to find like-minded bandmates, and eventually securing some Illinois compatriots to fill out the current lineup. Their debut demo The Sword Woman in 2018 caught the interest of Italian label Cruz Del Sur Music, and here we have arrived at the full-length Times of Obscene Evil and Wild Daring.

What’s apparent early on and continues throughout these six songs is the attention to detail to draw out every key melody and harmony, heightening the awareness for the next transition on both the vocal and musical fronts. Shon Vincent and Collin Wolf as guitarists lay down the crushing rhythm foundation to build out organic, spirited leads full of emotion – conjuring up classic Black Sabbath and Mandylion-era The Gathering during the instrumental sections for “The Sword Woman”, often using sparse notes to allure the listener into another aural dimension. Although most of the rhythm section parts are below mid-tempo, there are occasions where bassist Adam Blake and drummer Kevin Hester get to flex their chops in a true, double kick/pumping manner a la Iron Maiden for “Bastard Steel” – vocalist Sarah Ann leading the mountaintop charge through a significant ‘we hold the power/ we have the wall /as night gathers/ we must stand tall’ call to arms chorus. The band know when to emphasize the key cultural/victorious chord progression, the type that sends shivers to the core and causes the battalion to rise as one in the audience.

Sarah’s penchant for diversity is another strong selling point to Smoulder’s appeal. The unique lower notes she holds out against a wicked edge during “Shadowy Sisterhood” as equally engaging as the slower, drawn out nature to her lyrics and upper echelon falsetto during the nine-minute closer “Black God’s Kiss” – akin to the best elements of Solitude Aeturnus and Cirith Ungol. The best track is the engaging opener “Ilian of Garathorm” – from its 70’s-ish spacey keyboard/sound effect opening all the way to a pounding guitar base, the vocals cascade into a fantasy-laden tale for the ages (Manowar and Iron Maiden fans will unite) – Sarah even putting in a nod to Deep Purple and Eternal Champion for those looking for special earworms. It’s a song for the ages – a companion to “I Am the Hammer” from the already mentioned Eternal Champion, one that epic doom/heavy metal followers savor and treasure.

Add in a superior mixing/mastering experience with Arthur Rizk (Eternal Champion) and spectacular cover art from Michael Whelan (Cirith Ungol, Sacred Rite, Sepultura) and it’s very clear why Smoulder deserve all the attention and accolades coming their way. It’s rare to see a newer band channeling their affinities and love for a genre in the right place this early – we’ll have to see if lightning can continue to strike again and again, as Times of Obscene Evil and Wild Daring sets the bar very high in this sub-genre – producing a future classic.

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