With one of the most beautiful cities in one of the world’s most beautiful regions as their backdrop, Auckland, New Zealand’s The House of Capricorn make their full-length debut with Sign of the Cloven Hoof (Swamps of One Tree Hill), and though it seems with the most superficial of readings – basically that of the names of the band, album and some of the tracks – that The House of Capricorn are simply going to be trotting out the doom clichés one at a time, the reality of the songs on Sign of the Cloven Hoof is far more intricate and individual. An old school single-guitar four-piece, The House of Capricorn offer pleasant surprises right off the bat, with able use of melody and a solid balance of influences.
My first impression on hearing Sign of the Cloven Hoof was, “Well, Trouble has made it to New Zealand,” but the truth is that The House of Capricorn have more going on than mere aping of traditional doom. Vocalist Marko Pavlovic has a balance of gruffness and singing in his voice that reminds me of Steve Brooks’ work in Floor, and though he strains at times on these songs, he nonetheless gets where he is going without any real trouble. The first two of the total 13 tracks on Sign of the Cloven Hoof pass relatively quickly, but it’s with “A Devilish Manifesto” that the album has its first real moment of impact, and his voice is a big part of what makes it hit so hard.
Guitarist Scott Blomfield has clearly been to Sunday service at the Church of Wino: Scientist, but nothing he does is so blatantly imitative as to offend. A touch of The Obsessed here and there isn’t a bad thing. The riffs on Sign of the Cloven Hoof are more than passable, with standout groove moments like “Under Southern Skies” which will get even the most static of heads nodding with approval. Some of the material is underwhelming, but The House of Capricorn started in 2001 and this is their first full-length, so it’s easy to imagine the nine years between day one and album release resulted in a wealth of songs, from which the best were picked for the album. Still, at 53 minutes, it has long since gotten its point across musically before it’s over, and songs like “A Candle for the Morning Star” and “Old Redhook” probably would have been better served as highlight cuts on an EP with a couple live tracks or something like that. It’s hard for a band to make that kind of decision though, and if Sign of the Cloven Hoof is a little on the long side, well, maybe it’ll be nine years before The House of Capricorn get to put out another album, so they better get it all out while they can. Who knows.
In any case, the more memorable and engaging material on Sign of the Cloven Hoof does plenty to offset any missteps the band may have made in structuring the album. Closer “Awakening to Shining Light” affects a hopeful vibe thanks to the driving rhythms of drummer Michael Rothwell and bassist Ami Holifield, who despite shining on this track had her high point earlier on “Sol,” where she casually tossed off an homage to Geezer Butler’s “Supernaut” riff while blending it into The House of Capricorn’s well established atmosphere. On a record where some of the songs can feel samey and hard to distinguish one to the next, moments like that go a long way.
Sign of the Cloven Hoof is worth checking out for adventurous types looking for traditional doom with a modern twist. There’s enough in The House of Capricorn’s approach to stand the band out among a genre the entire point of which is tribute to what’s come before, but even after so many years, it’s apparent there’s still growth to be had. Next go round, I’d hope to hear more diversity from Pavlovic, who keeps roughly the same tone to his voice for all the songs here, and imagine that would do much to push the band’s individuality to the fore, which with the capability of writing doom that rocks as hard as this and still has room in it for melodies in both the guitar and vocals, is right where it should be. Nonetheless, Sign of the Cloven Hoof is a respectable debut and I hope it’s not 2019 before the band follows it up.
Tags: Auckland, New Zealand, Swamps of One Tree Hill, The House of Capricorn