Gévaudan – Umbra


Hertfordshire doom metal quartet, Gévaudan (pronounced zyuh-vuh-dan), are one of south-east England’s best kept secrets. Formed in 2013, they celebrate their tenth year of existence with their sophomore release following 2019’s epic Iter LP. For this album they signed with Belgian black/doom label, Meuse Music Records, and recorded it at Tony Iommi’s favourite studio in Warwickshire. What started out as a plan for a conventional album turned into one long composition of forty-three minutes and eleven seconds. You might gasp at the demands placed on you as a listener, especially if doom metal is not your thing, but Umbra is well worth your time and patience.

Like Warning and Shape of Despair, Gévaudan approach doom metal in a funereal state-of-mind. Their music acts as a passageway to the next life rather than a denunciation of its toils. Guitars ache with longing; basslines speak the language of melody; drumbeats have no desire to crush you into submission; and the vocals of Adam Pirmohamed ruminate like the tragic heartfelt pleas to a God that does not exist. It’s easy to identify seven parts to Umbra as you would seven tracks on an orthodox collection of songs. The first part starts with a solitary synth drone and aims to blind your eyes with the dangers of a bright light in a pitch-black setting. A volume swell of guitars fades into the soundscape like a quiet congregation of ancient Saxon leaders in the English forests. Your ears will detect a distant channel of amp feedback in the background as a hi-fi drum comes closer with each beat of the rack toms. It’s a clever way to work towards a boiling point of staccato guitar stabs before the breakthrough ends the tension and the pinch-harmonic notes chip away at your skin like nettle stings. Adam Pirmohamed waits until 04:20 before cupping the mic in his hands and releasing his first solemn words with a sway of tearful emotion. Think Aaron Stainthorpe of My Dying Bride with less of the cracked notes and more of the anguish you encounter at a funeral eulogy. There’s a bravery to his words that does not come easy to those in the throes of an emotional fracture. How did we reach seven minutes of slow reverberations so fast? The first pentatonic rock solo arrives at 09:37 like a forlorn hope that time might heal. It doesn’t.

Part II starts at 12:46 as the distorted guitars fade out like astronauts tossed from the disposal shaft of an aircraft. Bruce Hamilton rings the clean chords with his fingers as Pirmohamed adjusts his voice to one of a quiet despair hidden behind an earnest exterior. My Dying Bride fans will recognise the vast loneliness of this serenade, yet you can also hear clouds of amp feedback loop in the background like a distant search party working to rescue you. This arrives in Part III at 18:50 when all members glance up and rouse their instruments into maximum power settings. Of course, it’s a doom metal eruption, but it’s unsettled and aimed at your heart strings. The vocals come close to the theatrics of power metal in the overwhelming overflow of energy and electricity, but Gévaudan’s singer lives in the baritone register and retains a deep cadence to his higher-pitched outbursts of grief. And his is not the only voice. Hamilton’s weeping pitch bends and legato movements on the fretboard speak to you like a David Gilmour solo.

Making the transition points connect to each other in a song of this length is the biggest challenge for any group of musicians. Modulations can sound like decisions that serve the status quo rather than move away from it. The ringing chords and on-the-spot drum accents in Part IV ponder for three minutes before finding a resolution to the tension with a piano reset. It’s the critical moment in the listening experience, and Gévaudan navigate it with a sorrowful heart of glittering synth drones that could be from the The Cure’s legendary Faith album. Bruce Hamilton’s pinch harmonics electrocute you like self-inflicted wounds. Can you feel your soul floating towards the grave in a fearless liberation as your body puts up one more gesture of resistance? The piano lines form into agitated shapes in the transition from Part V to Part VI, and bassist, Andy Salt, does not waste the opportunity to follow the simple arpeggios with shadowing scale movements. “Lingering call of blight, a whisper of insight divine / Ever waiting god, calling me to back to him,” cries Pirmohamed in recognition of his one last walk on the earth before he lays to rest under its turf.

It’s fitting that the final act is an ignorant thump of palm-muted guitar crunches and vocal theatrics that dig into the words like fingers grasping on a rope. Hamilton attacks the E minor scales like Tony Iommi shaking off his snow-blindness in search of the divine light. Gévaudan welcome the end with a bang. It’s tempting to join them on their precipice. Surrender. Let yourself go.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 13/10/2023

Record Label: Meuse Music Records

Standout tracks: N/A

Suggested Further Listening: Warning – Watching from a Distance (2006), My Dying Bride – The Barghest O’Whitby (2011), Ahab – The Giant (2012)