THE WOUNDED KINGS - In the Chapel of the Black Hand CD
I HATE Records
In 2010 this English Doom band's release The Shadow Over Atlantis (also on I Hate Records) was included in the SFM666 best of the year listings. My final words on it's greatness were "Mushrooms, a box of razor blades, a Gibson SG (Tony Iommi playing it optional), sitting in an opium den, black lights and some cough syrup." Now a year later my first reaction to this one was "holy crap!" I'm sure all of their fans have similar comments. The big news for THE WOUNDED KINGS is that band mainman Steve Mills (guitars/keyboards) has an actual line-up on this latest release. Not only has Mills brought in new people for guitar, bass and drums duties but long time collaborator and vocalist George Birch has been replaced with Sharie Neyland. I believe Birch just wanted to move on so Mills followed the path of many other acts in the past year by turning his band into female fronted doom. I'm not complaining one bit since Neyland's vocal presence gives this release more of a gothic/occult ritual splendour.
In the Chapel of the Black Hand is not full of any real surprises, as far as the vocal change, which would take away from last year's The Shadow Over Atlantis. In fact it's a fairly simplistic release as far as Doom goes with three long cuts and one short instrumental. The opening song "The Cult of Souls" starts out with some Hammond organ giving one the feeling of a church service. That goes on for a little over a minute until Mills breaks through the surreal atmosphere with slow solid riffs. It's right at the two minute mark when Neyland's sultry oratory kicks in. Yes 2011 will be called the year when female fronted bands took center stage within the Doom genre. There's enough bands now to dedicate a festival toward it. Yeah that would be a bad idea but can you just imagine what next year is going to be like with all of the band wagon jumping copycats? Yeah well even though "The Cult of Souls" is a good cut it starts dragging along after ten minutes and it's over thirteen minutes in length. Although it doesn't drag as much ass as the fifteen minute "Curse of Chains" did on their An Introduction to the Black Arts split with COUGH also from 2010. By the way COUGH's close to twenty minute opus on there was about as exciting as being in a hospital bed hooked up to a Thorazine drip.
This release continues on with "Gates of Oblivion" which starts as if it bleed from the opener. It's not until the after three and half minutes of a funeral doom procession sequence that the song identifies itself as being different from it's predecessor. If they plan to play this live they better pull out a chair for Neyland while she waits for her vocal part to come in. I'll give her a lot of credit since her vocals soar right over the dread to grab hold of you. The woman has a perfect vocal delivery for Mills' compositions. Mills' riffs can be a little repetitive on "Gates of Oblivion" but with some fine solos, the keys laying down the gothic atmosphere and Neyland's vocals running almost throughout the thirteen minutes of this cut they used the time very well. I'll guess and say that the instrumental "Return of the Sorcerer" was the last song recorded for this just to fill space. Luckily it was like a cup of strong coffee to break out of the haze which features piping hot solo weaving it's way like a snake throughout the oppressive riffs. The finale and title cut left me wondering if Mills was recycling riffs off of his same albums much like ELECTRIC WIZARD does these days. Sure as hell sounded like it until Neyland's milk curdling vocals kick in. It will be with this cut that people (re: new doom web scribes) will make comparisons to BLOOD CEREMONY, which is understandable because of the dark psych atmosphere permeating throughout. Now if they also mention JEX THOTH then they're ignorant.
Be that as it may In the Chapel of the Black Hand is a step back for Steve Mills and company as far as comparing it to past efforts. I give the guy credit for bringing in Sharie Neyland on vocals but in the long run she's a one trick pony in that department. Think about it, how much long drawn out gothic tinged doom can you withstand before you go out scouring cemeteries at night in search of partying goth kids to kill in order to sequester the inner rage that is brought on by boredom? By the halfway mark of these songs, minus the short one, I was staring at the wall of CDs wondering if I should double check to see if they were all in alphabetical order. A daunting task to say the least but I had the time. Something else which comes to mind while listening to In the Chapel of the Black Hand is that it seems rushed. It's as if Mills wanted to get something out quickly. Remember there was around a year and a half gap between their 2008 debut Embrace of the Narrow House and last years The Shadow Over Atlantis. Maybe in a year Mills can return with something better.