Four years after releasing their second album, Last Sunrise (review here), on Profound Lore, Indianapolis doomers arrive at Of Woe and Wounds a much different band than they were their last time out. Their debut for Cruz del Sur, Of Woe and Wounds is their first full-length to feature Devil to Pay guitarist/vocalist Steve Janiak sharing those duties with Chuck Brown, and the first to feature bassist Dan Davidson, who joined last year, rounding out the rhythm section with drummer Corey Webb. New label, new dual-vocal approach, new low-end, Apostle of Solitude aren’t quiet coming out of the gate cold on their third offering, the preceding Demo 2012 (stream/review here) having previewed “Blackest of Times,” which leads off Of Woe and Wounds and “Die Vicar Die,” one of its catchiest hooks, and a demo leaked as well for “Whore’s Wings” (stream here) that showcased some of the album’s promise. Still, none of these quite prepared the listener for the heft Apostle of Solitude would sling this time around, as they mark a decade since their founding in 2004 and six years since they made their debut with 2008’s Sincerest Misery on Eyes Like Snow. With a crisper production — one can hear it in the crunch of the guitars and in Webb‘s hi-hat on “Die Vicar Die” — and the steady interplay of Brown and Janiak‘s vocals, the four-piece come across on these 10 tracks as being in command of their sound and able to work within a variety of downer, thoroughly doomed levels of despondency. Apostle of Solitude have always had an emotional element at work in their material — they were ahead of the game on that — and whether it’s “Push Mortal Coil,” the eight-minute culmination “Luna” or the brooding “Lamentations of a Broken Man,” on which Janiak takes the fore vocally, that remains true, but never has their presentation been more direct.
There are few frills in Apostle of Solitude‘s sound, and that’s always been the case. They are doom. No pretense, no bullshit. Born of the same lineage as The Gates of Slumber, they have never had much use for anything more than drums, guitar, bass and vocals in expressing their particular brand of sorrow, and Of Woe and Wounds drives that impulse even further. A later cut like “This Mania” feels like it’s changing things up for a faster pace than “Push Mortal Coil” before it or the morose “Siren” after, but essentially the methods are the same. Brown, Janiak, Davidson and Webb don’t really need anything else. The sway of “Siren” and the chugging initial buildup of “Blackest of Times” as it moves out of intro “Distance and the Cold Heart” readily accomplish the weighted task before them, and at nearly 60 minutes long, if Of Woe and Wounds was going to lose track of itself along the way, it would. Opening catchy with “Blackest of Times” and the quicker “Whore’s Wings,” the album instead draws the listener into its dark, spacious sound before reveling in the miseries of “Lamentations of a Broken Man” and “Die Vicar Die,” which pushes subtly toward the eight-minute mark with a long instrumental/solo break in its second half that gracefully pulls back to the chorus to finish out and shift into “Push Mortal Coil,” shorter, faster and more metal-sounding. I guess “more metal” applies to the album as a whole and is a function in part of the production. Produced by Mike Bridavsky, who also worked on Last Sunrise, Of Woe and Wounds is a long way from the bleed of Sincerest Misery, and though Apostle of Solitude have always had a clear, big sound, they’ve never come across quite as on top of the beat as they do here, and it gives the bulk of the record a more aggressive feel. It’s a long way around to avoiding sonic monotony — which a lot of traditional-style doom doesn’t — but Apostle of Solitude are skillful enough songwriters at this stage to make it work.
That’s true on “Blackest of Times,” “Die Vicar Die,” and “Whore’s Wings,” which again, have been around for a while, but also “Push Mortal Coil,” the thrust of “This Mania” with which it’s paired, and the aching “Siren,” which follows and leads the way into “Luna,” the album’s longest cut and greatest single achievement in tying together the various sides of Apostle of Solitude‘s sound. In its lurching riffs, smoothly executed vocal harmonies and desolate feel, “Luna” nonetheless manages to convey one of Of Woe and Wounds‘ central hooks, incorporate some of its best guitar interplay and remain one of the most memorable impressions on offer. It’s also, for all intents and purposes, the closer, though “Distance and the Cold Heart (Reprise)” returns to the intro to bookend in suitably mournful fashion, a plodding three-minute instrumental afterthought that’s hypnotic in its long fade, what sounds like backwards guitar set to a slow beat from Webb. You could call it a departure from the straightforward vibe so much of the album elicits, but it’s also how Of Woe and Wounds started, so to say it’s inconsistent would just be factually wrong. One decade and three albums deep, Apostle of Solitude don’t feel like they’ve settled. As much confidence as they display in their doomly approach, particularly in the vocal harmonies and weaving of lead and rhythm guitar tracks, they also set a course for areas of continued growth. I won’t claim to have any idea where they might head sonically, if the metallic vibe on Of Woe and Wounds portends a direction they might pursue from here on out, but as they move into their second decade of existence, the fact that Apostle of Solitude so blatantly refuse stagnation bodes well for their ongoing progression.