Like last their debut in last year’s Sign of the Cloven Hoof (review here), the second album from New Zealander doom foursome The House of Capricorn – titled In the Devil’s Days – is cumbersome. Surpassing that record’s 59 minutes with a full 72-plus, they stretch the limits of what the CD format will hold. Where the two efforts differ, however, is in what The House of Capricorn do with that time. The first album adhered far more strictly to a traditional doom aesthetic than does In the Devil’s Days (released via Swamps of One Tree Hill), which from its very beginnings in “All Hail to the Netherworld” couples cultish or semi-Satanic lyrical themes with a mid-to-late-‘90s Roadrunner Records influence (think Life of Agony and maybe even some groove-metal-era Machine Head, tonally) primarily showing up in the shades of Type O Negative green permeating that song and others like “To Carry the Lantern,” “Veils” and, to a lesser extent, the closing title cut. The House of Capricorn still get down with more genre-minded doom – 10-minute second track “Les Innocents” is almost a direct port of the progression behind Black Sabbath’s “Black Sabbath” – but even that is filtered through a style more the band’s own than what came through on the first record (it’s irrelevant to note, but Type O Negative covered that Sabbath track as well on the first Nativity in Black tribute and redid the lyrics for their The Least Worst of Type O Negative compilation).
Perhaps expectedly, In the Devil’s Days finds its greatest triumphs in the stretches most unique to the band. There’s a Euro-doom drama blended into “Veils” and a Misfits punk bass line from Ami Holifield on “Coffins & Cloven Hooves” that create an expectation of diversity in the material that the band well lives up to. The third cut behind the morose march of “Les Innocents,” “Coffins & Cloven Hooves” especially changes the atmosphere of the album with its up-tempo groove and a guitar line from six-stringer Scott Blomfield in the verse that calls to mind Marilyn Manson’s take on “Sweet Dreams” while also echoing the faster pacing of the opener, which, by this time, feels a world away. It works because the band makes it their own, and because vocalist Marko Pavlovic has no interest in doing impersonations. His singing on these tracks follows suit with the music behind him in being more assured. Perhaps the most effective blend of the sounds overall, though, is on “Arcane Delve,” which takes the faster push – drummer Michael Rothwell’s snare is high in the mix, but his performance remains crisp and classy – of “Coffins & Cloven Hooves” and the memorable chorus to “All Hail to the Netherworld” and ties it directly to a slower-than-mid-tempo doomed stomp. It’s not nearly as bleak as “Les Innocents” or “Horns” still to come, but of the whole of In the Devil’s Days, it’s where the band seems most comfortable, even going to far as to bring in a slower Slayer-esque lead riff at about 4:45. The two-minute acoustic interlude “Canto IV” (actually V, if we’re going by Roman numerals) is quiet enough to pass unnoticed at low volumes, especially followed by the doomed sensibilities of “Veils.”
Among the longer cuts and clearly a focal point for the album as it kicks off the second half of the track list, “Veils” capably displays The House of Capricorn’s increased melodicism and offsets that side of their approach (Pavlovic triumphs in steering the atmosphere) with a lumbering guitar line and weighted crashes from Rothwell. The only thing holding “Veils” back from being the kind of standout that “Arcane Delve” is earlier on In the Devil’s Days is the glut of material surrounding. “To Carry the Lantern” has a solid chorus and fitting inclusion of subtle acoustic guitar layers, but “Illumination in Omega” comes off as redundant in trying to further ratchet the pacing (the acoustics here are more prominent and perhaps just on the other side of too dramatic when coupled with Pavlovic’s lead and Jordana Perry’s contributed backing vocals; at least I think that’s what they are — Perry is credited with “channeling the Nine Choirs of Angels,” which sounds to me like backing vocals) and “Horns,” which is broken in the liner notes into three parts, feels choppy and cobbled together after the fact, and as much as I hate to say it, the fact that there’s already been 53 minutes of In the Devil’s Days before it has a lot to do with that. Instead of being highlighted as it might on an EP or something like that, “Horns” seems like stylistic overkill. The three movements are broken up discernibly, with the middle being the most active and the final a doomed summation of the themes, but ultimately “Horns” is not anything The House of Capricorn didn’t already accomplish on “Les Innocents,” “Arcane Delve” or “Veils,” any of which could have stood in its place.
The band went out of their way to send a disc to New Jersey from New Fucking Zealand, and the effort and expense on their part I consider to be worth mentioning in this context because I genuinely think it would be a disservice to The House of Capricorn and to In the Devil’s Days to not point out the misstep and the potential for growth it represents. As they wrap the album with the titular finale – a more straightforward doom outing with some harsher vocals from Pavlovic, well-sustained notes from Blomfield and room in its second half for a speed jump – it seems that the only element missing from In the Devil’s Days is an editorial eye. The way the album built on the debut in terms of attack is more than praiseworthy, but it’s too easy to lose sight of that fact when actually immersed in listening to it. Their ease with the variety in the material is notable, and the wide breadth they manage to encompass on these 10 tracks shows a genuine complexity and ear for songwriting, so one wants the full experience of the album to echo that as well, and it’s too easy to come out of a session feeling like the last 25 minutes were a blur. If that’s the state of current (or even just mine) attention spans, so be it. Other listeners may have different impressions than my own – and I’ll stress here that among other things In the Devil’s Days did, it confirmed me as a fan of the band – but the ability for an act to step back and think critically about their own work and how it’s presented is pivotal and often the difference between good and great records. They’re on their way, and some of this material is undeniable. I’ll vehemently recommend it, though I still can’t help but feel The House of Capricorn’s best work lay ahead of them.Auckland, New Zealand, Swamps of One Tree Hill, The House of Capricorn