Whenever I hear a record like the The Shadow over Atlantis, the jaw-dropping sophomore outing from UK doomers The Wounded Kings (and contrary to whatever hyperbole is yet to come, reason knows there are other albums that have provoked this reaction), I feel oppressed by it, like I’m drowning in it — and yes, that is a very good thing. The duo’s I Hate Records label debut crosses traditional lines with newer atmospheres, and maintains a punishingly, torturously slow approach that simply is the essence of doom. As the cover art harkens to the vinyl days of yore while keeping a mystical, occult vibe, so too does the music fall into line across the six tracks of the album.
The Shadow over Atlantis is bookended by two 10-plus-minute tracks; “The Swirling Mist” and “Invocation of the Ancients.” Between them are four interestingly timed pieces, “Baptism of Atlantis” (8:11), “Into the Ocean’s Abyss” (2:02), “The Sons of Belial” (8:01) and “Deathless Echo” (2:50). The shorter tracks are essentially mood pieces and interludes, “Deathless Echo” setting up the closer especially well with multi-layered organ synth work from multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Steve Mills. The structure of the album isn’t necessarily based solely on the timing of these songs — that is, it doesn’t depend on them for flow or its overarching melancholic groove — but the numbers are interesting nonetheless, and add somehow to the mystery of the listening experience.
This is occult doom, through and through. It comes out in both the music’s slow ritualism and in the lyrics, which are delivered with a sort of far-off vibrato like Pete Stahl of Goatsnake in an echo chamber with Messiah Marcolin. There is a traceable narrative of mythological destruction (that of Atlantis comes to mind), but The Shadow over Atlantis isn’t a concept record in the Ayreon sense. Each track offers a complete and satisfying listen — interludes notwithstanding; though I might argue for either piece out of context delivering something on its own as well — and it’s just when they all come together that The Wounded Kings’ doomly immersion is complete.
Though they include bassist Luke Taylor and drummer Nick Collings in their live incarnation, on The Shadow of Atlantis (and it was the case on 2008’s Embrace of the Narrow House as well) it’s just Mills and guitarist/vocalist George Birch. Guitars are multi-tracked throughout, so thickness isn’t a problem, and the cave of reverb around the vocals makes the songs sound fuller and bigger, more like a band. Lead lines peppered within the songs add another memorable element. There’s nothing incomplete, is what I’m getting at, because of a lack of players involved in the recording. Mills, who produced and mixed the album, shows himself to be a more than capable engineer as well, and one can’t imagine there was much The Wounded Kings were looking to accomplish with The Shadow of Atlantis that doesn’t show up on the disc.
It’s doom for doomers, for sure. Those who can appreciate the long and storied history of occultism in rock and metal will see the Lovecraft dripping from their speakers and delight The Wounded Kings’ being able to pull it off without sounding silly, tired or cliché. The Shadow over Atlantis, with its methodical plod, rampant miseries and opium-eating appeal should find a welcome audience among doom purists and those who just want a slow riff to lose themselves within. Embrace of the Narrow House was a strong debut, and The Shadow over Atlantis shows Mills and Birch to be more confident and distinct in their craft. It’s a win all around.
Tags: I Hate, The Wounded Kings, UK