[Please note: Album art above is not final. Use the player to stream Faces of Bayon’s Ash and Dust Have No Dominion in full. Original stream expired, and so I have replaced it with the one from their Bandcamp. Thanks to the band for allowing me to host the original premiere.]
Even Faces of Bayon themselves would likely admit it’s been a while since those outside the somewhat grim, post-industrial confines of Worcester, Massachusetts, heard from them. The trio, who released their debut album in 2011’s Heart of the Fire (review here), have continued to play steady local shows, mostly at Ralph’s Rock Diner, and they’ve ventured out periodically, but on a pretty subdued scale. In 2014, guitarist/vocalist Matt Smith (ex-Warhorse) and bassist Ron Miles (ex-Twelfth of Never) were joined by drummer Mike Lenihan, though their second album, Ash and Dust Have No Dominion, features drummer Michael Brown. Accordingly, it seems a fair guess Ash and Dust Have No Dominion — which was recorded by Black Pyramid drummer Clay Neely and mastered by Second Grave guitarist Christopher Drzal and in its final form will boast cover art by much-respected MA-based photograther Hillarie Jason — was set in motion some time ago, though just how long, I couldn’t say.
Certainly its five tracks/66 minutes sound ancient enough, but that’s more an aesthetic choice than actual age, as Faces of Bayon remind quickly of what was their initial appeal the first time out: Namely, the seamless blend they conjure between deathly extremity and stoner riffing. Stonerdeath is a pretty rare style, and even rarer if one wants to count acts who do it well, and it doesn’t quite encapsulate what Faces of Bayon bring to their longform material. You need the word “doom” in there to account for how “Concilium” (13:19) owes as much to early My Dying Bride as to Black Sabbath, or the swaps that occur throughout as Smith trades between his rasping, Paradise Lost-esque growl and nigh-on-goth, cleaner melodic singing. Stoner death-doom? Yeah, maybe. That’s not a bad place to start from.
It’s worth emphasizing the Sabbath influence, as the band does from the roll of “Concilium,” but that’s in line with Heart of the Fire as well. Second cut “Quantum Life” (12:29) is slower, lower and more grueling, the snare sound cutting through less than on the opener and the feel overall considerably darker, an initial lumber giving way to feedback after four minutes in to transition to minimalist spaciousness from which wah-guitar emerges to set the foundation that will carry through the hypnotic, mostly-instrumental remainder of the song, Smith re-emerging from the morass late to toss a final verse into the pit the band has constructed. Miles begins centerpiece “Blasphemies of the Forgotten World” (17:13) amid backing atmospherics, joined soon by quiet guitar and drums and some deep mixed singing, a psychedelic vibe pervasive despite the underlying threat of death (metal). They keep the thread going for nearly five minutes, through a verse, before kicking into fuller tonality — Miles‘ tone deep under what sounds like at least two tracks of guitar, but worth training the ear toward anyway — and the slogging pace is set.
Obviously with Ash and Dust Have No Dominion being over an hour long, Faces of Bayon aren’t thinking of a vinyl structure, but “Blasphemies of the Forgotten World” does have a kind of mirror feel with album finale “So Mote it Be” in its airy lead flourish and coinciding blend of killer ride-it-out groove. Once again, Sabbath is a key factor in the riff, but Smith‘s vocals ensure that the band’s lean is less traditional and more nuanced, and it’s as the march of “Blasphemies of the Forgotten World” plays out that one realizes just how precise the niche the trio have carved out really is. They’re not death metal, or death-doom, or stoner doom entirely, but they find their way to touch on all three and more, all the while sounding like no one so much as themselves. Ash and Dust Have No Dominion becomes a significant achievement in light of its sense of identity, but Smith, Miles and Brown take precious little time to rest on their laurels, instead digging deeper into the swampy mire of “Blasphemies of the Forgotten World”‘s purposefully repetitive rhythm and steady nod.
Enhancing the atmosphere, “Blasphemies of the Forgotten World” finishes about a minute before the track actually ends, feedback giving way to noise, far-back drumming and cymbal wash before “With You Comes the Cold” (4:21) gets underway. The only song on Ash and Dust Have No Dominion under 12 minutes long, it’s more of an interlude and a table-setter for “So Mote it Be” (19:11), but Smith adds some subdued lines to it anyway (some backwards whispers as well), and the vibe is almost like a more straightforward take on some of Om‘s ritualism — another line that Faces of Bayon make it sound easy to cross. When it comes on, the first 40 seconds of “So Mote it Be” are ultra-compressed, but the full tones are there, lurking, waiting. They kick in all at once and immediately one can already hear in one’s head the deathly cadence with which Smith will ultimately deliver the title line of the song — “So mote. It. Beeeeee.” in all-out death growl — though that’s still more than 10 minutes away. Given its length and the odd efficiency with which Faces of Bayon make use of that extended runtime, it’s hard not to think of “So Mote it Be” as the highlight of the album, but if anything it’s one more example of the strength of approach they’ve shown all along.
One doubts most bands could hold together songs like “So Mote it Be” or “Quantum Life,” let alone give them such a subtle sense of movement beneath an outward righteousness of monotony. The tracks would simply fall apart. But not only do Faces of Bayon stand tall at the end of “So Mote it Be” — that vocal cadence indeed carrying the track’s final movement — but they stand tall over a mess of feedback that leads them into using every single second of the closer’s 19 minutes. Ash and Dust Have No Dominion will likely be too extreme for some, too stoned for others, but it’s Faces of Bayon‘s ability to work in multiple contexts that makes the album such a success. It’s slow. It’s chugging, It’s a pummeling, brutal listen, but it’s got as much depth to it as one could want to find, and a long four years after their debut, Faces of Bayon‘s sophomore outing reaffirms how special a band they are. Easy enough to wonder what they’d be able to accomplish if they hit the road as a touring act, but for now they remain one of East Coast doom’s best kept secrets.