Rich are the folk traditions of the British Isles. To the fey Celtic substratum – itself subsuming all manner of nameless and time-shrouded Neolithic cultures – has been added vibrant Latin Pantheism, maudlin Anglo-Saxon epics and chivalrous Norman knights. Such a unique mixing of cultures has resulted in an insular tradition at the same time isolated from and connected with its mainland counterparts. In the same tales appear the doom of the Saxon warriors and the bright banners and pageantry of King Arthur’s knights, all laboring in the shadow of druid-raised circles of Celtic stone.
Just as rich, and just as multifaceted, is the islands’ musical history. From the acid and psych-rock pioneers of the fifties and sixties arose the foundations for heavy metal, progressive rock, and punk. Doom metal, in particular, has held a special place in these islands. From its origin with Black Sabbath to its slick codification with Witchfinder General to its boom of innovation in the 1990s thanks to bands like the Peaceville Three (My Dying Bride, Anathema, Paradise Lost) and Electric Wizard, the genre has always touched a chord with British and Irish bands. It is no surprise to find ghosts of the folk tradition working their way into heavy metal, imbuing it with suggestions of meaning and imagery that stray beyond its blues-rock roots into something altogether more experimental and earthy.
I indulge myself in these earnest, perhaps rather stolid, paragraphs only because this is the tradition on which Gévaudan’s debut LP Iter manages to draw. From opener “Dawntreader,” which begins with a soft, beautiful-yet-ominous, vocal-driven passage before spiraling into sprawling, epic riff progressions, and a swirling, lead-heavy finale, it is obvious just how much musical and mythological ground Gévaudan are willing to cover. This is a doom album that draws not only on the genre’s psychedelic roots but also on more modern progressive rock and metal. The lilting vocals and subtly ominous first few minutes of “Dawntreader” for me recall British prog icons Porcupine Tree; the harsher vocals and distorted, bass-heavy riffs of its climax recall the progressive black metal of Fen or Winterfylleth.
The structuring is extremely impressive on this record. Both within the songs and on the album as a whole, enormous attention has clearly been paid to pacing. For an album only five tracks long, Gévaudan manage to cover some pretty impressive ground here. Much of the credit for such engaging songwriting must go to vocalist Adam Pirmohamed, who somehow nails, in turn, a lilting croon, soaring epics, and cavern-crawling harsh gutturals. His is genuinely one of the most unique voices I’ve heard in doom in recent years. His epic cleans on tracks such as centerpiece “Saints of Blood” are easily up there with Morris Ingram (Solstice – New Dark Age) or Capilla Ardiente’s Felipe Plaza Kutzbach. His ability to go from this to either a sinister, soft delivery as on “Dawntreader” or a terrifying, Winterfylleth-esque guttural as at the finale of album-closer “Duskwalker,” is nothing short of spectacular.
The instrumentation is nothing shabby here either. The emphasis is on slowly building, bass-driven riffs that cycle inevitably to satisfying, protracted conclusions. A few quicker paced doom riffs complement this well, such as on “The Great Heathen Army,” which opens with an almost Pentagram-style uptempo riff. Guitar tone is, for the most part, perfectly pitched, with a fairly classic, Solitude Aeturnus-style distorted tone periodically exchanged for reverb-heavy interludes that recall Bell Witch’s Mirror Reaper. Were I to nitpick, I might ask for a little less reverb on some of these parts, and perhaps even a mournful, clean solo or two to complement the prog-rock driven sections. Drumming is excellent, maintaining an ominous, driving rhythm and never becoming frantic even through the faster, black metal influenced sections. Bass work is also handled masterfully, with some particularly exceptional moments towards the end of “Dawntreader.”
Overall, then, this is a truly fantastic release, building on and surpassing the promising demos Litost and Message for the Damned. The album is well named too, Iter being the Latin word for “journey” or “passage,” a good fit for songs dealing with journeys and an album that transports the listener on an expansive musical journey of its own. Couple that with an album cover that depicts a raven dividing in two, perhaps associated with the two ravens of Norse god Odin, and lyrics that draw upon Celtic folklore and British History, and it is clear that this is an album that is thoroughly aware of both its heritage and direction. That holds out musically as well, with Sabbath influenced doom veering towards progressive and psychedelic rock elements, and even, well-guided, steering into the ferocious waters of black and extreme metal.
Iter is as fully realized a vision as could be hoped for, and the future for Gévaudan looks set to be extremely interesting indeed. In an album as steeped in the musical tradition of the British Isles as it is in their folklore and history, these underground doom-metal veterans evoke more than merely the names of the ghosts and heroes that walk in the shadows of Britain’s standing stones and hillforts, but rather draw in something of the true essence of those ancient things. A must-listen for any fans of doom and for lovers of progressive music alike.
“The Great Heathen Army”
“Saints of Blood”
So all of it basically. Sorry.
Iter is out on self-release, and is available to purchase from Bandcamp here.