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Archon Amongst the Ruins

With a rotating cast of characters surrounding the constants of bassist Andrew Jude and drummer Dan Kurfirst (the latter also of Scribes of Fire and since departed), New York City doomers Archon make their debut in the form of the riff-laden, varied and self-released The Ruins at Dusk. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve known Jude for years now and have happily followed his work through bands like Agnosis, After Dark, Queen Elephantine and Tides Within, though I’ll say of the sundry projects in which he’s been involved either creatively or just as a player, Archon resides probably the closest to my own personal taste. Its doom is vocally abrasive (we’ll get to it in a second) and undeniably dark in atmosphere, but still conscious of groove and there are some riffs on The Ruins at Dusk that come right out of the school of Sleep’s Dopesmoker – I’m looking at you, “The Fate of Gods (Parts I & II).” As Archon show on the opener, “Helena (Ruins at Dusk),” they’re also not afraid of a little jamming.

Among the figures joining Kurfirst and Jude — who also contributes guitar to the middle two of The Ruins at Dusk’s total four tracks and vocals to the first – are guitarist/vocalist Ryan Lynch (ex-12 Eyes), guitarist Brett Zweiman (Clutter, Man’s Gin, etc.), guitarist Shane LaPorte (Wormsmeat), vocalist Chris Dialogue (Alkahest) and vocalist Rachel Brown, who adds melodic lines to “Nature is Satan’s Church” without being swallowed in the surrounding screams. With this level of personnel involved, Archon is a veritable hub of the NYC doom and stoner underground; an intriguing idea for a project if that was the intent. The band now also features other members of Alkahest and, on their coinciding split with Old One on Oppressive Sound System Releases (OSSR), a mostly different lineup. So either what we have with Archon is a project from Jude in which friends can come in, contribute, and leave as they will, or a band desperately in need of a solid lineup. Judging by the flow the bassist is able to maintain on The Ruins at Dusk despite the ranging personnel involved – and as he mixed, mastered and wrote all the music, the credit is his if it’s anyone’s – I’d say it’s the former.

Not only is Archon coherent where many bands in a similar situation wouldn’t be, but no matter who’s playing on any one of these four tracks, the mission seems to be the same: follow smoke to riff-filled land. “Helena (Ruins at Dusk)” sets the tone for the album and is 13:40 of screaming, rung-out doom. One of The Ruins at Dusk’s greatest assets turns out to be the several contributing vocalists, who keep the songs from falling into redundancy where they otherwise might. Lynch, Jude and Brown all contribute to “Helena (Ruins at Dusk)” and still leave room for a monstrously building jam in the track’s second half, leaving “Nature is Satan’s Church” the monumental task of following. The song, which brings in Dialogue’s powerful mid-range growl for the first time on The Ruins at Dusk, is more than up to the challenge. It’s a classic riff, offset by underlying lead guitar lines (maybe from Jude himself, or maybe Zweiman) that only enhance the groove. Brown’s vocals feature more prominently than on the opener and are a great foil for Dialogue, who seems to be in his own world, rhythmic and entrancingly horrific in his approach. The song comes to a noisy and plodding finish, feeding back to quiet and setting up the sudden beginning of “Hymn of Medrengard” like the guy who bends down behind you so that when you get pushed you have something to fall over.

It’s probably my pick of The Ruins at Dusk, is “Hymn of Medrengard.” It’s the shortest cut Archon have on offer at a meager 9:43, and the most active. Some of the Buried at Sea-isms of the opening duo are gone in favor of a more stonerly approach, and Dialogue’s vocals again crush with distinction. It’s also the best guitar solo on the album, and the second section seems dedicated to a doom march that’s as well done as any I’ve ever encountered, the mess of guitar and cymbal crashes slowly overwhelming until your lungs are full. By the time the tape-running-out 21-minute epic “The Fate of Gods (Parts I & II)” comes on to close, the preceding 35 minutes have already been enough for a full album, so I look at the track as something of a bonus on The Ruins at Dusk. It could just as easily have been a standalone EP, but don’t take that to mean I don’t prefer it in its place here. It’s just like a short story worked into a novel, a mini-Dopesmoker unto itself, and more than any of the other three cuts, it’s all about the riff. The riff is what leads the groove, it’s what divides the two parts of the piece, and it’s what’s going to be stuck in your head for a week after you listen to it for the first time. To be short about a long track: it’s a win.

Archon, who started out with the ultra-doomed Evocation demo in 2008, make a hell of a stand with The Ruins at Dusk. There are moments that will be familiar to experienced doomers from the start, but the breadth of ambience Jude is able to evoke is no less present or virulent for that, and the sheer scope of the project, in terms of who shows up where, etc., is impressive on its own, never mind the music actually being made. Or better yet, don’t. Consider the music as well as the clusterfuck of contribution that crafted it and be all the more taken aback. Whatever the future holds for Archon, I don’t know, but with The Ruins at Dusk as a launch point, the project has a solid foundation to work from and a bright spot for the future of New York doom. It is as bold in execution as in concept.

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