Review & Full Album Stream: Saint Karloff, All Heed the Black God

saint karloff all heed the black god

[Click play above to stream Saint Karloff’s All Heed the Black God in full. Album is out on LP/CD July 27 through Twin Earth Records with cassettes through Hellas Records.]

Opening with the call of a crow, shortly working its way into sampled thunder and in the meantime igniting immediately Sabbathian riffage marked out by a subtle brightness in its fuzz, the debut album from Saint Karloff, All Heed the Black God, arrives via Twin Earth Records and Hellas Records like a message telegraphed to the converted. Opener “Ghost Smoker” tops seven minutes and dips into blues rocking twists and turns as guitarist Mads Melvold layers his own harmonies — unless that’s bassist Ole Sletner or drummer Adam Suleiman backing — in a midsection shuffle, and the Oslo three-piece delve into accessible melodies as they cross reaches they won’t see again until the bookending closer, pushes closer to the eight-minute mark with an even purer Sabbath worship, like “Under the Sun”‘s malevolent boogie given a modern edge.

I say this nearly every time I mention Twin Earth Records in any context, but the label has an ear for tone that’s second to none, and as Saint Karloff join the imprints ranks, they fit excellently in that regard. The thrust of “Space Junkie” and the birdsong-laced acoustic interlude “Ganymedes” follow “Ghost Smoker,” each following the Black Sabbath blueprint in their own way, but Saint Karloff manage to make their own impression tonally and the deftness of Sletner and Suleiman in pulling off shifts in tempo and lacing one groove into the next set the three-piece apart from the masses when it comes to capturing that aspect of their forebears. In that regard and in terms of general pacing, they’re simply better at it than most bands.

The task of “Ghost Smoker” is clear at the outset in terms of setting the mood and tone — figuratively and literally — for what will follow, and “Space Junkie” answers back the patient groove with the album’s most fervent shove, leading to the interlude. This one-two-three progression of songs is pivotal to the impression All Heed the Black God makes one whole. For one, it is utterly classic. Put your intro where your intro goes, dig into a righteous groove, follow with a good sprint and then hang a louie into something entirely unexpected. It’s a smart play, and clearly intended to keep the listener on their toes as they make their way through especially for the always-pivotal first listen — going for the, “I don’t know what’s happening here, but I’m into it” impression, which they succeed in capturing — but most importantly, it speaks to a conscientiousness of craft from Saint Karloff, so what while their sound might be easy to pinpoint in terms of its influences early — hang on, we’re getting there — the very fact of that stems from a clarity of purpose on the part of the trio. They meant to make it that way, in other words, and they’re educated enough in the roots of their approach to know what they’re doing.

That’s something that only continues to help them as “Ganymedes” gives way to the three-song punch of centerpiece “Dark Sun,” “Radioactive Tomb” and “When the Earth Cracks Open” ahead of “Spellburn.” This middle salvo is likewise crucial to the overarching feel of the record, particularly as it represents a branching out in terms of influence. “Dark Sun” feeds Uncle Acid‘s “Death’s Door” garage doom through a filter of early Witchcraft — and better, works well doing so — before launching at around four minutes into its total 5:35 into thicker riffing and an all-around meaner roll, Melvold either bemoaning or bragging, “We have no soul/We are soulless,” with just a touch of post-Jus Oborn inflection in his voice.¬†That twist fades out to finish “Dark Sun” as a highlight and the subsequent “Radioactive Tomb” confirms a suspicion heretofore held throughout the tracks regardless of speed or anything else: that Saint Karloff have a great drummer.

saint karloff

I am a firm believer that a truly excellent drummer — like an excellent singer, bassist, guitarist or even keyboardist sometimes — can make the difference in a band, and listening to Suleiman shove along the gallop of “Radioactive Tomb” as naturally as he held back during the verses of “Ghost Smoker,” his class and creativity as a player come through in such a way as to vibrantly enhance the work of the other two players around him.¬†“Radioactive Tomb” laces additional percussion into its first half, but even so, it’s the drums holding it together it all opens up heading into and through the midpoint, a consistent, familiar beat that Suleiman makes his own. And even as he counts on his ride after everything else has dissipated, it’s clear just how central the swing and character of his playing is to the band. On the more blown-out “When the Earth Cracks Open,” as Melvold wahs out a lead and Sletner explores a highlight performance of his own, the drums carry over a straightforward progression that makes each cymbal hit count amid tom runs every bit worthy of the Bill Ward comparison they seem to be shooting for. That, “how on earth is he keeping this together?” vibe.

That’s not to take away from the work Melvold and Sletner do here — as noted, Twin Earth sniffs out excellent tone, and they both bring plenty of it — it’s just that when called on to do so, Suleiman is more than able to hold down the songs in a way that sounds easy and simply isn’t. From that shift in “Dark Sun” through the early movement in “Spellburn” en route to the aforementioned “Under the Sun” chug, he always seems to be where he needs to be, and the whole band benefits from it. Still, it’s the guitar in the foreground as “Spellburn” heads toward its sudden cold ending, and the balance across the ultra-manageable 38 minutes of the release of contributions balances well.

There are many aspects of All Heed the Black God — one assumes such heeding would be done on, say, a special day of observance, likewise absent of light — which will seem familiar to the more experienced heads who take it on, but that’s half the point. The other half is in the potential for growth Saint Karloff demonstrate throughout this thesis in Iommic Studies. Even more than the universal symptom on display throughout much of the riffing, it’s that potential left as the primary impression of the album, and one hopes Saint Karloff will continue to build on the vital chemistry and aesthetic willfulness they conjure here.

Saint Karloff, “Spellburn” official video

Saint Karloff, “Ghost Smoker” official video

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