As time rolls on and the extreme by necessity has to become more extreme and, in doom, the frequencies get lower and slower and the use of synth noise to flesh out songs is increasingly commonplace, it’s possible for a duo like Saint Augustine, Florida‘s Dark Castle to be a full band. The songs are thick and rich, viscous, heavy and — as much as I know several bassists who won’t want to hear it — don’t sound like they’re missing anything, despite the character and diversity that another instrument can bring to a given track or movement. Of course, with studio technology one person can make an entire record alone (Sweden‘s Forest of Shadows comes to mind as an example of it in the doom world, though of course there are a ton of one-man black metal acts), but those albums rarely feel complete and are often on the other side of the line between brilliance and self-indulgence.
Whereas, as in the case of Dark Castle‘s full-length debut, Spirited Migration (At a Loss), guitarist/vocalist Stevie and drummer/vocalist Rob, who also handles synth, the band achieves an entirely developed atmosphere that borders on prog ambience with instrumental centerpiece “Weather the Storm,” while maintaining a stripped-down aesthetic that confidently snarls in the direction of Oceanic-era Isis and younger, rawer Crowbar. Their demo, Flight of Pegasus (still available for purchase on their MySpace page) feels underdeveloped in comparison to the album, which given the amount of touring the duo has done since its release is exactly the way it should be. Stevie and Rob are a solid unit writing solid songs, even if the title of their album reminds me of “Spirit Journey Formation Anniversary” from Aqua Teen Hunger Force.
A track like opener “Awake in Sleep” or “Flight Beyond” feels dynamic without being predictable or clich?, and though Stevie‘s vocals rely almost exclusively on growls — there’s a spoken part on “Grasping the Awe” — the mood doesn’t feel overblown and varied pacing helps keep the material from blending too much together. The insistence of the rhythms, another trait from Isis or the post-metal set in general, will feel familiar on “Flight Beyond” or to a lesser extent “Into the Past,” but put into the context of the Spanish-style acoustic guitar interlude title track and “Weather the Storm,” it just feels like one more trick Dark Castle is able to pull off without entirely succumbing to the confines of one subgenre or another.
Modern doom heads will find satisfaction in tension-building closer “A Depth Returns” and though by its end Spirited Migration has already long since established the given Dark Castle sound, the six and a half minute confirmation will nonetheless be enjoyable to anyone who’s gotten off on Rwake, Deadbird, Zoroaster or Godflesh records. Not bad for two people, and certainly a promising beginning for this Floridian duo. It feels like the kind of album that no matter what they do from here will be sought after in the coming years. The only group of people I could see having a legitimate gripe with it is bassists.
Tags: At a Loss, Dark Castle, Duos, Florida