Faces Of Bayon – Heart Of The Fire (Ragnarok Records)
By Jay Snyder
June 6, 2011
Faces Of Bayon have had a tumultuous history in their brief existence thus far. From the loss of drummer Matt Davis (RIP, and condolences to all, this album is his last recorded work to my knowledge), to overcoming all odds and actually getting Heart Of The Fire, out in the public eye…FOB have traversed a rocky road since their inception. I’ve had the esteemed pleasure (thanks to Josh from Kintaan) of hearing a few of the band’s live sets, so I’m more than primed and ready for taking Heart Of The Fire straight to the face!
FOB consists of Matt Smith on guitar/vocals (he served a brief stint in Warhorse), Ron Miles on bass (Twelfth of Never, Scattered Remnants), and Matt Davis (Twelfth of Never, Labyrinththeory). Mike Brown is now the drummer in the wake of Davis’ tragic passing. Heart Of The Fire consists of 6 time-rifting dirge doom tracks recorded live in FOB’s “cave of Bayon.” This is stripped-down, honest as Abe sludge/doom/death that’s an ideal listen for fans of Winter, Frost, Warhorse, Coffins, Soulpreacher, Burning Witch, Toadliquor, and Cathedral during the Forest of Equilibrium days. Nothing optimistic anywhere to be found here; riffs that dissect minds instead of placing a groove in them (although there’s a certain degree of catchy riffing to be had), bass distortion so thick you couldn’t cut through it with armor piercing shells, tribal drum flourishes that keep the material breathing and organic, and vocals that are growled from the depths of some stinkin’, moldy cave…yep, that’s what you’re getting on Heart Of The Fire, so those hoping for a more upbeat, less soul-raping incarnation of doom as we know it, better get their fix elsewhere. But, for the rest of us sick pups that like miring in the muck and mud of this great, often misunderstood form of the art itself, FOB brings the goods on their debut platter…and then some.
Opener, “Brimstoned” puts all of FOB’s black magic tarots on the table. At nearly 12 minutes in length, it’s not secret about the kind of skullduggery FOB makes their trade. Squealing guitar feedback shoots railroad spikes of piercing malevolence right through the girder thick skin of bassist Ron Miles overly distorted, necro grooves. Slowly but surely an actual song begins to phase into view, as a hobbled beat, and tangible guitar riffs, shape the tune into a grueling doom/death jam. Davis pounds away with heart and fervor, underlining the madness with a tribal swirl that’s heavy on a bubbling, witch’s brew of tom clatter, and snare abuse. Smith’s bellowing, “caveman havin’ a bad day” vocal growls roar overtop, but are surprisingly pronounced, and understandable, lending the poignant, esoteric imagery a great deal of humanity…as the vocals are truly vicious, but come off more mantra/chant like due to their decipherability. I’m feeling Celtic Frost all over this one (circa Monotheist), with a touch of Warhorse, and Winter wrapping things up. The midsection lets up on the crushing display of boot stompin’, trudge doom, choosing to relish in ethereal feedback, smooth wandering bass lines that strip back the distortion, mystical spoken word, and an atmospheric drum break that all sound directly channeled from the nether itself. They inject this feeling of ebbing, deep-seeded darkness twice into the song’s latter half, amidst a storm of fumigating growls, downtrodden doom riffs, and a finale that ramps up the pacing, and insanity just a click above their traditional, unearthly crawl. An appropriately psyched out guitar lead draws things to a close, professing a love for the scorching psych/rock guitar workouts of yesteryear, as the whole things descends back into the doom addled void from which it was spawned.
If you can believe it, “Ethereality” is probably even heavier, and darker than its predecessor. Whereas “Brimstoned” had some slow motion, head-banging swing to a portion of its riffage, “Ethereality,” is a much more broken down, busted-knuckle affair. Riffs aren’t so much as played in the early going, as they are strewn throughout the track in dismantled, misshapen tidbits of deranged, desolate drone reliant on only a few striking notes/chord progressions, as Davis really works a cracking, tribally influenced barrage of drum rolls into the gnarled, introductory riffs, and heavier than thou low-end buzz. Once the track settles into its main theme, the band drives a sparse, neuron- collapsing dirge into the ground, as Smith’s throaty, crystal clear growl echoes the idea of having Lucifer himself handling the microphone. The track is simple, and repetitive, but gets under your skin in the way that the finest slow burners from Burning Witch, Khanate, and Godflesh do, even going as far as employing a threatening keyboard drone behind the track’s climactic volley of nuclear radiated doom riffs, creating a fully realized, head-caving finish.
What a surprise to my ears that such a heavy cut is followed up by the tranquil and peaceful “Godmaker,” FOB’s “Planet Caravan” or “Jail” if you will; a candlelit, peace jam that’s full of psychedelic beauty, and shimmering instrumentation with nary a distorted note to be plucked. Matt’s vomit basked growl is reduced to a waiflike, clean croon that serenely floats above the soul-searching guitar lines (this song reminds me more and more of Down’s “Jail” with each subsequent listen), lush bass sweeps, pulse like drumming, and additional FX manipulation. It’s not so much an actual song, but an ambient, otherworldly canvas on which the band applies a variety of different colors, tones, and mood variations to…with the end result coming off as priceless as an original Van Gogh painting…yet even more fucked-up, and more modern art warped!
Heart Of The Fire reaches its apex with two sprawling pieces that both clock in over the 10 minute mark. First up is “The Original Sin,” a behemoth of a track (and the album’s longest) that opens with lucid clean guitars strumming out a death hymn, before the entire band enters with a unified bang, simultaneously squeezing out your guts, and kicking your ribs, with another round of rolling, constantly pushing tribal beats, and wave after wave of searing, sludge covered guitar/bass riffs that are as nasty and anti-everything as Burning Witch, and other slovenly, influential “razor to the wrist” doom giants. After they push the depressive bleakness of the dirge-like opening, the band wallows in a heaving, scummy Cathedral/Sabbath kind of groove via Warhorse’s blown-out amplifiers that’s almost upbeat in its execution…it’s one of two tracks whose sets of riffs can be described as such on this plastic black hole of an album (in my case it’s a digital black hole), but still the whole tune is downright rotten and overwhelming, like the stench of horseshit on a farm in mid to late July. They switch up riffs several times, lingering on damaged, bi-polar speed deprived hatred one minute, and then sinking back into syrupy swing sludge, before fading out with a torrential downpour of feral white noise. The one track on this album that is ALL about the catchy doom/sludge shuffle is, “Where The Golden Road Ends.” There’s that sludge-y, all encompassing dark, screamin’ blues vibe from the first Soulpreacher LP Sonic Witchcraft all over this one, and it’s felt in every note of the slower, more turgid grooves, the wah-soaked riffs and solos, and the workmanlike rhythmic crunch. The only thing that’s a real differentiation from any of that Soulpreacher material is the booming, spoken growls, but basically it’s a slice of pure bliss for fans of that particular Soulpreacher record…with a heaping side dish of Warhorse’s As Heaven Turns To Ash… making for a particularly maw jamming garnish, and a pair of haunting organ lines (intro and outro) added for a dash of spice. It’s a fantastic track that manages to stand tall, even if it’s not the first of its kind, and it might just be my favorite on the disc! Heart Of The Fire chooses to make a restrained exit, drifting off into the vacuum on the angelic wings of “The Fire Burns At Dawn,” a somber instrumental piece that marries melodic guitar warmth, with soft rhythmic touches, and a chorus of angels.
Heart Of The Fire is a powerful debut from a band that’s ploughed a hard road to get to where they are now. This is the atmospheric crush that should’ve been present on that new Body record…the one that kind of left me soggy, and limp. This album is a trip through a yawning, cosmic wormhole, one that will purify your soul by subjecting you to the horrors it holds inside. Anyone into this kind of sludge-y, brutish rock should investigate this band without any further hesitation!
Visit the Ragnarok Records website at www.ragnarok-records.com