Big on atmosphere, big on time and big on tone, the first album from Brooklyn doomers Batillus is a bleak, oppressive six-song outing that’s bound to ring their name out among the underground converted. Doom heads, be aware. The band, which formed as an instrumental trio and later added be-dreadlocked vocalist Fade Kainer (Inswarm, Jarboe, occasionally Man’s Gin), have unleashed a monster in Furnace, their Seventh Rule Recordings debut. With one guitar, one bass, one set of drums, one vocalist and a host of effects and synths, they set up posts along a range of heavy-footed doomscapes — which, contrary to the album’s title, actually sound quite cold — managing to incorporate some of post-metal’s progressive ideology while almost completely avoiding the now-clichéd traps of that genre. Fans of Suma, Unearthly Trance, Ufomammut and other drone-conscious neo-doomers will want to take note of the four-piece’s methodology, impressive and punishing in equal measure as it is.
Guitarist Greg Peterson establishes dominance almost immediately with the beginnings of opener “…And the World is as Night to Them,” while Kainer’s tortured vocals – far off, screamed, caked in reverb – slowly unfurl a sort of wretched lyrical poetry. Drummer Geoff Summers and bassist Will Stabenau keep the song grounded through an ambient section, the latter especially and rightly present in the mix throughout most of Furnace. When the song breaks to Summers alone keeping the slow beat, you know it won’t be long before the rest of the band kicks back in, but it’s no less satisfying when they do so, and though “…And the World is as Night to Them” is among the lengthier tracks at 8:53 (only the closer is longer), it nonetheless manages to set the darkened, depressed tone of Furnace well, moving into and out of its heaviest moments with graceful transitions and brutal sonics. “Deadweight,” which follows, begins with synth and the bassline from Stabenau, moving quickly into one of Furnace’s most memorable riffs. At no point is the album really accessible in the sense of being an easy listen or wanting to make friends, but the somewhat quicker pacing of “Deadweight” and the groove Batillus elicit are undeniable.
Another drop out, this time to just Peterson’s guitar and Summers’ drums, is a high point of the record, and Kainer’s repetition of the line “Fall on your knees/Crushed by your soul/Poisoned your mind/That serves you no more” (and variants thereupon) is as close as Furnace gets to a genuine chorus. Of all the songs to stick in the mind after a few preliminary listens to the album, “Deadweight” is the most likely. Batillus follow it with the faster, shorter “Uncreator,” which finds Summers touching on some d-beat drumming in the black-metal-styled intro and Peterson making the most of his inhuman tone as the tempo scales back. That tone is again what allows the feedback-soaked hugeness of “The Division” to carry over at any volume. Kainer’s synth noises are most present here, and there’s plenty of room for them amidst the spaces between riff cycles and general languid movement of the song. Blah blah blah oceans, blah blah blah place tectonics – point is, the thing sounds fucking massive, and though Stabenau’s contribution isn’t to be discounted, for a large part of the affair, it’s Peterson carrying that across.
One would be remiss as well to let Sanford Parker’s production go without a mention. The ubiquitous Chicago native, who engineered and mixed Furnace at Semaphore Recording last May, doesn’t lose sight of the subtleties in Batillus’ sound – as heard in some of the short, airy progressive interludes on “The Division” – and the album is that much more successful for it. The ultra-slow end of “The Division” would seem like the apex of the album, giving way to feedback and abrasive noise, but “What Heart” keeps Furnace moving into an even more horrific place, Kainer’s synths adding not just underlying noise to the mix, but a sense of melody as well. As points of potential go, “What Heart” stands with “Deadweight” among the stronger, the synth adding an element of drama absent from the other, more vocal-heavy songs. Peterson’s guitar plays well off it in a kind of protracted semi-lead, and Stabenau and Summers also seem to stand back. It’s as though the whole band is giving the synths room to breathe, and it works out well, especially since the part is still heavy and it’s not like everyone stopped playing and it’s an out-of-place interlude. Batillus, still a young band, manage to do the more mature thing and work it into their already established songscape, rather than butt everything over to awkwardly fit it in.
The 10-minute “Mautaam” closes out Furnace, starting with a computerized-sounding voice doing quiet spoken word for about a minute before the song actually starts. A long, gradual build ensues, Batillus moving from a crawl to, by the song’s end, some of the same sub-blasting that showed up in “Uncreator.” By now they’ve revealed just about everything they want to reveal on the album, and all that’s left is to stomp their way to a sudden finish. As with a lot of Furnace, songwriting takes a back seat to heaviness on “Mautaam” in terms of what Batillus seem to want listeners to take from it. Even with it’s already-noted build, the track sounds more concerned to beating you over the head with its aural heft than giving a complete sense of the piece of music. That has its ups and downs. I won’t take away from the band that they are really, really fucking heavy, but there’s a reason I consider “Deadweight” among the strongest cuts on Furnace, and after sitting with the record, I think that reason is because it engages with traditional songwriting techniques while also working to subvert them. There’s still clearly room for Batillus to develop, and the upshot of their debut is that it’s worth keeping an eye (and ear) as to how that process plays out going forward.Batillus, Brooklyn, New York, Seventh Rule