I was fortunate enough to be standing in front of the stage at Het Patronaat at last year’s Roadburn festival when the Irish trio Dread Sovereign made their inaugural live appearance, and subsequently, the first time I put on their debut full-length, All Hell’s Martyrs, the chorus of “Thirteen Clergy” immediately brought back the memory of the murk-laden, atmospherically dense doom the three-piece craft. All Hell’s Martyrs is due for release this Friday, March 21, on Germany’s Ván Records, on both CD and gatefold 2LP with preorders available, and while one might recognize drummer Simon “Sol Dubh” O’Laoghaire and bassist/vocalist Alan “Nemtheanga” Averill from their ongoing tenure in Primordial, Dread Sovereign prove quickly to be an entirely different beast in terms of style and approach.
The guitar work of Bones is an immediate distinguishing factor. While Averill sets a foundation of malevolently churning low end on the 10-minute “Cthulhu Opiate Haze,” Bones‘ guitar is equally amenable to topping it with extended droning feedback, chugging riffs or solos alternately mournful or, as is the case later into the penultimate “Cathars to Their Doom,” rife with classic rocking flair. Averill‘s vocals — inimitable and a key element in Primordial‘s many sonic triumphs — begins “Thirteen Clergy” with a shifted, more trad-doom affect, though it seems to wear off as All Hell’s Martyrs continues to progress, and by the time they’ve made their way through the interlude “The Devil’s Venom” and into “Pray to the Devil in Man” (also the title cut of their 2013 debut EP), he’s melded this take with layered semi-spoken chanting, melodic wails and familiarly righteous proclamations, keeping deeper growls and high-register screaming in his pocket for when the song seems to call for them.
At 67 minutes, All Hell’s Martyrs is a considerable undertaking, and while I haven’t seen how the vinyl edition breaks down into sides, in a linear format its trudging intent is made clear, and the songs seem to echo up from the Lovecraftian horror cave in which they were no doubt put to tape. “Pray to the Devil in Man” gives way to the longer second half of the tracklist, which only gets more consuming as the relatively uptempo “Scourging Iron” gives way to the ambience of the interlude “The Great Beast” en route to the closing trio of “We Wield the Spear of Longinus” (11:35), “Cathars to Their Doom” (8:55) and “All Hell’s Martyrs, Transmissions from the Devil Star” (13:19). Unto themselves, these three tracks carry a full-length’s worth of doomly terrors, but taken in context with the rest of All Hell’s Martyrs preceding, they not only make sure you’re lost within Dread Sovereign‘s plod and wretched sensibilities, but also that you don’t come back the same as you went in. Bones shows more fleetness in his soloing in the faster second half of “We Wield the Spear of Longinus,” but if there’s any hope presented, it’s devoured with everything else by Dread Sovereign‘s noisy, Satanic wash.
For fans of Averill‘s contributions to post-black metal in Primordial — that’s to say nothing of O’Laoghaire‘s own; his drumming is the steady ground on which these tracks are built — the grueling chaos of Dread Sovereign is bound to present a different side, but knowledge of the one by no means precludes enjoyment of the other. These are different bands, and whatever else it might be, All Hell’s Martyrs is a debut from a trio establishing itself in a territory of aesthetic, whatever sense of accomplishment they may bring via past experience. While “Cathars to Their Doom” echoes the numerology of “Thirteen Clergy” in its rocking second half and “All Hell’s Martyrs, Transmissions from the Devil Star” marches into the album’s synth-topped finish, it’s worth appreciating All Hell’s Martyrs as a beginning as much as a culmination.
To my knowledge, the album has been featured in a couple full-length streams this week. I’m happy to be in the company and to have the chance to feature it here for you to check out.
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Dread Sovereign‘s All Hell’s Martyrs is out March 21 on Ván Records. For more info, check the links.
Tags: All Hell's Martyrs, Dread Sovereign, Dread Sovereign All Hell's Martyrs, Ireland, Van Records