Following up on 2014’s Wisdom, The Order of Israfel are back with their second album, with songs ranging from regular (~4 minutes) to ~7 (the average for the album) and a sprawling ~16-minute closer. Playing doom with its heavy metal roots exposed (though closer to the likes of Saint Vitus than, for example, Pentagram), the band packs in broad riffs, flights of casually-paced shredding, and thumping beats while singing of enemy warriors and specters of death. They do a decent job of capturing the van-era attitude of metal, and there are a few chord progressions you may find yourself humming days after hearing it, trying to place their origin.
On the down-side, there’s a lot of material that will likely sound familiar to regular doom listeners, and not in the ‘hey, cool homage’ way, but more in the ‘freshen up, please’ vein. Fidelity to influences is a tricky line to walk, and even though, for a lot of this album, they play their stuff well, they just don’t imbue it with enough of their own character to help it stand out from past albums which operated in similar style. There are nice touches, certainly; for one, the occasional use of harmonized vocals adds a cool atmospheric touch playing to the retro vibe, and the melody-lines of each instrument are deployed in ways that play well with each other. Still, there’s just some ineffable spark lacking, so that in between the spurts of guitar soloing, the bass-driven riffs are so dogmatic to ‘ye olde doom’ as to drag on without the vitality shown in other parts of the album. It’s in the brief touches, like the acoustic sections in “The Red Robes” and “Fallen Children”, and the vampire movie sample in “Von Sturmer” (with subsequent shredding) where the band comes off as most engaged, which presents a problem for an album that goes just about to the hour-mark.
It feels as though the album is falling to that common doom metal ailment (which seems to be most clearly evidenced in the ‘traditional’ doom bands which catch it) of not being able to fully carry its own weight. There’s enough interesting stuff going on here that if they had trimmed it down they might have had a pretty tight set of songs. But for the desire of ‘authenticity’ that comes from being so long you need a double-LP pressing for your vinyl release, or whatever reason it may have been, things are stretched and inflated past the point of efficiency, leaving an album that bobs unevenly between interesting sections and dullness. And it’s not something that could be fixed by just lopping out a few songs or generally shortening everything, as that ~16-minute closer, “The Thirst”, is one of the more consistently solid songs.
To be clear, it’s not that there is a sweeping level of poor quality; instead, it’s just something that crawls into the measures that are there solely to fill time. And while some of the songs (“Swords to the Sky”, for example, or “A Shadow in the Hills”, with its intro sounding as though it were plucked from a B&W horror movie) don’t really show that much detriment from it directly, the impression they leave is blunted by being swaddled in so much padding. This is somewhat frustrating, as the group clearly show signs of talent and instrumental chemistry; if they had more experimentation to go with that, there’d be much more to praise.
In short, if you want something that would fit with other modern groups like Pilgrim, Magic Circle, and Valkyrie, you’ll probably be able to dig this without too many qualms. If you’re looking for an album that maintains a high standard without any dips, Red Robes will likely leave you wanting something more.