If a band names themselves after one of the largest supertankers ever constructed then the resulting music had better be heavy as balls, and Batillus do not disappoint in the slightest when it comes to this. Originally conceived as an instrumental trio by drummer Geoff Summers, bassist Willi Stabenau, and guitarist Greg Peterson, they later enlisted vocalist/synth-wizard Fade Kainer – best known as the keyboardist from Jarboe’s live band and one half of sludge-via-Skinny-Puppy musical project Inswarm – to add a bit more punch to their sound. The result, heard on their 2011 debut LP Furnace, is an absolutely bonecrushing sludge-doom dirge close to the same level as household names like Neurosis, Isis, or Thou. The previously instrumental nature of their sound shines through, as no member of the band is content with playing the same riff in the same way for long stretches of time, as doom metal is often wont to do. A little drum fill here, a harmonizing guitar line there, a palm-muted section there – each little touch goes a long way in making sure the listener stays interested and the band doesn’t drift off into long stretches of tedious repetition, a blasted wasteland from which few doom bands ever return. Kainer’s synth work adds a staggering amount of texture to each song on the album, filling the listener with a distinct feeling of decay and unease and providing an essential additional facet of darkness to their Cough-like crawl. His work on this album brings the music to a whole other level of monstrous doom, far beyond the already impressive “like Pelican, but heavier” sound of their earlier work. And due to the constant changes of the music, you never get the feeling that the atmospheric electronics are just being used to cover the fact that they’ve run out of ideas (cf. Rosetta’s pleasant yet sleep-inducing The Galilean Satellites or Wake/Lift.)
One can easily tell this is an excellent record from the opening trudge of “And The World Is As Night To Them,” shifting slowly and menacingly like the tempestuous waters of a dark ocean, tossing and pitching the listener and leaving you at the mercy of the storm’s onslaught. Most of the other songs on the album follow the same funereal pace, although the black-tinged “Uncreator” ((Sorry in advance for the low-quality live vids. I couldn’t find the studio versions of the tracks on YouTube, and besides it’s more kvlt this way.)) definitely helped to throw me for a loop. The highlight of the album by far, however, comes with the post-Godflesh monstrosity “Deadweight” – this song already has one of the absolute heaviest riffs of last year, but when the chorus kicks in and Fade growls out “FALL ON YOUR KNEEEEEEEEESSS,” I invariably find that I need a new change of pants. The lumbering gait of Furnace is one of the best examples of how commanding and devastating a good doom record can be, as the album’s slow pace combined with its rhythmic diversity helps to make every single note, drum hit, and tortured scream count that much more. Even the ten-minute closer “Mautaam” will keep you enraptured all the way through. As a long-time devoted acolyte of the Almighty Riff, I can assure you that Furnace will never make you zone out into apathy like so many other albums in the doom field will. This album is brutal, commanding, crushing, and everything a doom metal album should be – with plenty more to go along with that.