Somewhere between doom and death rock, Massachusetts trio Conclave dig into low tones and downer vibes on their self-released debut demo/EP, Breaking Ground. The late-2014 three-song offering tops out at 21 minutes, so it’s enough to basically get introduced to the three-piece’s approach, which seems to be the whole idea in the first place since whatever else Conclave do, they don’t exactly mess around when it comes to getting to the point. Riffs lead the way through “Footprints in Blood,” “Lifetime” and “Walk the Earth (No Longer)” on the sleeve CD recorded to analog 8-track, punctuated by the sans-effects shouts of bassist/vocalist Jerry Orne — a former member of underappreciated and due-for-a-reunion brutal groovers Warhorse who also plays with Conclave guitarist Jeremy Kibort in reactivated death metallers Desolate — and the nod-ready double-kick of drummer Dan Blomquist, whose metallic style fits well with the progressions on these three introductory cuts. They are raw, it’s worth noting, and having been fortunate enough to see the band live ahead of hearing the demo, I can confirm that their deathly presentation is no fluke on “Footprints in Blood,” the rush of which starts out as a faded-in feedback and quickly gets underway with an almost punkish abandon.
Structures on the three songs are for the most part straightforward, and I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point Conclave picked up another guitarist to complement Kibort, since former Grief/Warhorse six-stringer Terry Savastano and his Martyrvore bandmate Matt Gemini both guest with solos alongside Kibort‘s own leads, but as a marker of the band’s arrival, Breaking Ground doesn’t stick around long enough to get tiresome. It is a first step, but that step is forward and starts momentum headed in that direction, Orne‘s semi-growl following the riff of “Footprints in Blood” until the closing shouts and soloing dissolve into a soon-to-fade wash of noise. I almost wish they’d let it go longer, to offset some of the precision death-metal execution of the song itself and add an element of sludge chaos to the proceedings. “Lifetime” picks up almost immediately with a slower turn and standout performance from Blomquist, who proves able to swing when called for, as in the middle lead section of the song, and match his step to a winding, fret-jumping riff from Kibort while still holding a sense of groove. Nine-minute closer “Walk the Earth (No Longer)” brings both the death and doom sides together strongly and gives a momentary breather in its intro before an ever-heavier push hits a thrashy mark in its second third and shifts into a lumbering second half that comfortably and rightly rides its groove into oblivion, shifting some in pace but thoroughly dooming out along the way.
Brutal heavy rock? Possibly. Death sludge rock? Somewhere in there. Breaking Ground isn’t death-doom the way one generally thinks of that blend as balancing, but no question their metallic impulses play a huge role across these three tracks, as do their guest lead guitarists. The fact that Breaking Ground seems so straightforward on the surface and still manages to defy easy classification can only serve Conclave well here and going forward, and as their first release, I wouldn’t ask anything more of it than to pique interest, which it does without self-indulgence or playing redundantly to genre.