We Will Not Bow
11/14/2018 - Review by: Vinaya SaksenaI'll begin this with a bit of history for those not familiar with the New England doom scene. Benthic Realm guitarist/vocalist Krista Van Guilder has a musical history going all the way back to the late 1990's, when she co-founded the doom trio Warhorse, with whom she recorded a self-titled demo in 1997. She departed from the band the following year, while bassist Jerry Orne and drummer Mike Hubbard continued working under the name with guitarist/vocalist Matt Smith (now of the super sludgy Faces Of Bayon) and then the late guitarist Todd Laskowski, with whom they recorded the 2001 full-legth "As Heaven Turns To Ash"- which is now regarded as a bit of a cult classic and was reissued on vinyl by Southern Lord in 2015.
Van Guilder, meanwhile, has spent the ensuing years forging an increasingly recognizable musical identity in a succession of bands: Lucubro, the death and thrash metal-influenced Obsidian Halo, and finally the doom quartet Second Grave. That band released two strong EP's and then the stunning 2016 full-length "Blacken The Sky" (which is still available for free on Bandcamp!). And then, almost immediately after that album's release, it was announced that Second Grave had decided to disband, with that year's RPM Fest appearance being announced as their final show.
Fans in the local doom scene were obviously saddened that the band was splitting immediately after delivering an album that finally realized the potential their previous works had hinted at. Thankfully, however, Van Gilder and former Second Grave bassist Maureen Murphy decided that wasn't the end of the road, quickly forming Benthic Realm with drummer Brian Banfield of The Scimitar. They began writing songs and gigging, and then released a solid, self-titled three-song debut EP with reassuring quickness the following spring. Since then, Banfield has amicably left the band. He was quickly replaced by Dan Blomquist of Conclave- a band which also includes Van Guilder's former Warhorse bandmate Jerry Orne.
All that brings us to the band's second EP, and their first release with Blomquist on the tubs. On the first EP, the band kept things fairly basic, like a stripped down, one guitar version of Van Guider and Murphy's previous band. Riffs were simple, catchy and sturdy as oak trees, and the rhythm section played in appropriately sparse, punchy fashion, with Banfield showing a knack for big, powerful beats reminiscent of John Bonham. Van Guilder mostly sang in a rich, somber, low-to-mid range clean voice, though she has been known to unleash the odd bit of death metally guttural vocals. And while flashy guitar work was clearly not a priority, Van Guilder showed herself to be a capable soloist, summoning memorable, rich-toned leads on her Gibson SG. On "We Will Not Bow," little has changed, though the band does try out a handful of slightly different moves.
One thing that is noticeably different this time around- in my opinion, at least- is the feel that Dan Blomquist brings to the grooves. Gone, for better or worse, is the big, fat, punchy groove that Banfield seemed to consistently bring on that first EP. In its place is a somewhat more nuanced touch and a less boomy (but still hefty) feel. But Blomquist wisely doesn't seem to have gone out of his way to change the band's approach to groove, and he certainly doesn't get excessively flashy. Compared to Banfield, however, he does seem to lean a bit more towards finesse and subtlety rather than wholesale devotion to a big, simple groove. I'm not saying one approach is better than the other, and this is honestly one of those things that can be kind of hard to get across precisely in written form. But check out the combination of fairly standard double bass drumming, subtle ride cymbal touches and well-executed fills Dan pulls off towards the end of the instrumental "I Will Not Bow" to get an idea.
On the surface, this EP does not stray far from its predecessor, direction-wise. However, there is a slight shift away from the debut's fairly straightforward arrangements and riff-based approach towards something just a bit more complex and nuanced. On one hand, this means that the riffs aren't as catchy and immediate as they were the last time around (with the glaring exception of the intro riff to "Thousand Day Rain"). However, there is also less reliance on catchy, immediate individual riffs and a feeling of each such component being part of a greater whole instead. (Although the uptempo opener "Save Us All" gets things off to an urgent start.) This also means that song arrangements are more fluid and likely to surprise us by veering off what initially seemed like their intended course. The closing cut "Untethered" make particularly noteworthy use of this approach, bringing the EP to a dramatic but not overwrought close. One thing I like about this EP- and the band's material in general so far- is that it tends to operate at the upper end of the doom subgenre's tempo range, allowing for musical ideas that aren't wholly dependent on the sloth and sludge that some bands (in my opinion, at least) use to excess. In any case, this is another solid offering from a trio of established doom purveyors who have wasted little time carving out a unique and engaging take on a type of metal that- as much as I often enjoy it- can easily become tedious. If doom in its less excessive forms is your thing, you should definitely give the band a listen. I'd give it a 4 easily if it were a full-length of this quality.
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