Northern England trio Coltsblood launched last summer with the Beyond the Lake of Madness demo tape (review here) and immediately demanded attention via their crushingly slow, excruciatingly heavy, thoroughly doomed approach. That two track release, as though eaten by a larger undersea monster, has been subsumed into the three-piece’s Candlelight Records debut full-length, Into the Unfathomable Abyss, which furthers the brutal largesse of the demo, stretching out to nearly an hour’s runtime and finding some variety — in sound if not overall mood — by incorporating a few faster parts here and there. The album, which was recorded at Skyhammer Studios with Chris Fielding (Electric Wizard, Conan, Primordial, etc.) and features nightmarishly detailed cover art by former Grief bassist/vocalist Eric Harrison, pits longer pieces like “Beneath Black Skies” (14:09) and “Abyss of Aching Insanity” (12:29) from the demo against shorter ones, those two together with the penultimate “Ulfeonar” (a paltry 11:31) forming an unholy trio of slow-cooking heft that provides atmosphere the way one thinks of water filling lungs. Shorter cuts are interspersed around them, though by the end of the record, the timing works out that even the “shorter cuts” have topped eight minutes, as the closer “Return to the Lake of Madness” (8:31) rounds out no less grueling than “Ulfeonar” before it. Still, earlier on, the noisy intro “Valhalla Awaits” (2:17) the faster “Blood” (2:20) and the building instrumental “Grievous Molestation” (6:52) are well placed to give a breath of air before the next dive back into the heart of the titular abyss, which at its grimmest could rival anything put forth by Ahab, but seems bent toward more sonic diversity. Comprised at the time of bassist/vocalist John McNulty (ex-Conan, ex-Black Magician), guitarist Jemma McNulty and drummer Steve Primeau — the latter since replaced by Jay Plested, also of Black Magician — Coltsblood affirm the potential of their demo while distinguishing themselves among the more extreme end of doom’s practitioners.
Play slow enough and things just start to sound like they’re falling apart. Nothing against that, but Coltsblood never quite get there, even as John‘s throaty shouts echo over the crawling earlier stretches of “Ulfeonar.” The intent is vicious, tectonic heaviness, but Into the Unfathomable Abyss still has a groove to it. One can hear shades of Conan‘s tonal dominance in the quicker parts of that song or “Blood” earlier on, but as the blackened scream about halfway through “Beneath Black Skies” and the bulk of Coltsblood‘s lumbering rollout shows, they’re on a different trip, even if they do manage to sneak a shuffle riff in there every now and again. The McNultys make a devastating pair, tonally, and when Jemma‘s guitar takes an airy solo over the steady rumble, the effect is more mournful than psychedelic, a noisy chaos emerging in the last two minutes of “Beneath Black Skies” to set up the blastbeaten charge of “Blood,” which is in and out in nearly one-seventh of the time but no less wretched-sounding — and yes, I mean that as a compliment. Even here, Coltsblood aren’t void of melody, but even that seems to have been twisted into something dark, a drawn out, plotted lead reminding of some of Nile‘s grandiose soloing. As a centerpiece, “Abyss of Aching Insanity” provides the album’s least compromised lurch, feedback and crash working in tandem to seer the consciousness before the next measure cycles through, Primeau more or less taking the opposite approach from “Blood” and playing as slow and open as possible. About halfway through, everything drops out but the bass, and for a moment, the album leaves you alone in the desolation, presumably to ponder how on earth you ever went so deep to start with. Jemma takes a layered solo when the guitars and drums return, but there isn’t really meant to be any release of the tension, and there isn’t.
The last three songs, “Grievous Molestation,” “Ulfeonar” and “Return to the Lake of Madness,” make up nearly half the album’s runtime as the shorter-to-longer and longer-to-shorter progressions in the tracklist finally merge with the closer, and though “Grievous Molestation” also breaks briefly to the bass and flows into a solo, similar to “Abyss of Aching Insanity” before it, the vibe has long since been set, and Coltsblood are enough in control of their sound that they can take it wherever they so choose. Into the Unfathomable Abyss is long at 59 minutes, but that’s part of the point. It’s not supposed to be an easy listen. “Grievous Molestation” climaxes with more blackened thrust à la “Blood,” and then slowly marches and rumbles its way directly into “Ulfeonar,” feedback rising and falling out as Primeau‘s drums come to the fore. They might be at their most cohesive on the second to last track — or maybe the album just corrupts the mind with its hypnotic plodding — as they fluidly trade paces back and forth while maintaining the extremity of their atmospherics throughout in a way that feels most like the apex of Into the Unfathomable Abyss if only for releasing some of the tension the preceding five cuts have mounted. Launching with a slow-unfolding lead-over drone wash of noise, “Return to the Lake of Madness” offers a last-minute expansion of the approach that, while consistent with what came before, seems to answer the spaciousness Jemma‘s guitar has hinted at all along in a way one might call subtle if subtlety can apply at the kinds of volume of which the record proves worthy. With no vocals, the closer finishes off the album with perhaps its most ambient moment, but Coltsblood hold firm to the bleakness of their presentation, the melancholy in the guitar giving way at the end to a flourish of feedback before the last fadeout. For those who caught wind of the demo, Into the Unfathomable Abyss will follow suit in its overall mood and feel, but where Coltsblood distinguish themselves is in the various elements they’re able to bend to their will in service to that, be it black metal or stoner riffing, classic Eurodoom guitar or grinding rhythmic turns. Their debut showcases a will to establish a take of their own using all of these, and in so doing, sets them up for a creative expansion that has already begun to result in an individualized sound. As they continue to craft their abyss, one looks forward to finding out what mountains of madness they’ll scale next.