As a genre, doom thrives on retro sensibilities. No other genre of metal has such a dedication to tube amps, analog tape recording, vinyl-only exclusives, and other musical elements everyone thought had died out at the tail-end of the last century. While other subgenres of metal have moved forward at a blistering pace, changing and morphing their sound into unheard-of directions (for better or for worse), doom has mostly remained where it always has been – still perched on the same beanbag chair under the same blacklight, rolling up yet another spliff on the same cover of Master of Reality. Such a backwards-looking mindset seems like it would be more conducive to stagnation than innovation,* but somehow doom just keeps getting better and better. Modern-day masterpieces like Electric Wizard‘s Witchcult Today and Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats’ Blood Lust prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that there’s still plenty that can be done with a formula that hasn’t really changed much since the early 1970s, and after their phenomenal debut LP Misery Wizard, one can unquestionably add Rhode Island “true-doom” champions Pilgrim to the gallery of new dogs perfecting old tricks.
Aside from the metal-as-all-fuck pseudonyms the band members have taken (The Wizard on vocal/guitar duties, Count Elric the Soothsayer on bass, and Krolg Splinterfest, Slayer of Men on drums. FUCK YES.), the most startling thing about Misery Wizard is how much of a classic it feels like already. The riffs are simple and repetitive but incredibly catchy and instantly memorable, with tedium avoided by the occasional spice-up here and there by massive drum fills and the occasional fretboard trill. The musicianship is phenomenally tight, and Pilgrim prove that they can tackle a lumbering crawl along with a groovy stomp – check the majestic “Quest,” where a funereal procession gives way to an infectiously headbangable bridge with a wicked pentatonic guitar solo halfway through. Not to say that Misery Wizard isn’t heavy, though – it’s bookended by “Astaroth” and “Forsaken Man,” two of the heaviest doom cuts in recent memory. Of particular note are the vocals: in an age where most of doom is fronted by merciless growlers and screamers, each trying to be more crushing and heavy than the next, The Wizard’s full-throated quasi-operatic baritone is a real breath of fresh air, calling to mind Candlemass’ legendary vocal invoker Messiah Marcolin or even the incomparable Wino of Saint Vitus. The beefy guitar tone, more than likely augmented by Orange amps,** does an absolutely perfect job of being crushing and devastating but not too overwhelming, and the drums provide the perfect lumbering gait that true doom metal demands. The only real complaint I have about Misery Wizard is that it’s too short. It left me wanting more, much more, from these new champions of the old school sound – and if their next record is even half as good as Misery Wizard, Pilgrim is all but set to become a doom metal institution.
Album: Misery Wizard
Label: Metal Blade Records
Release Date: January 31st, 2012
*How many mediocre basement black metal bands do you know of that’ve tried to redo Transilvanian Hunger for the five thousandth time? My point exactly.