Is there anything more mouth-watering than a sorrowful doom metal band from the genre’s global headquarters in West Yorkshire, England? Hamish Glencross (guitar/vocals) and Shaun Taylor-Steels (drums) are legends of the scene as former members of My Dying Bride, both assured of their legacy with pivotal roles on the classic album, The Dreadful Hours (2001). Scream Blast Repeat did not exist when Godthrymm released their debut LP in February 2020, but we knew of its existence. As a UK band on the renowned Profound Lore Records, the quartet seem to collect ninety percent ratings on Encyclopaedia Metallum for every record they release. It makes sense for us to deliver a more balanced analysis of album number two, even if we are candid My Dying Bride admirers.
We must start by addressing the elephant in the bereavement room. Fifty-nine minutes of doom metal is an undertaking that will test the stamina levels of most listeners, especially those whose only exposure to this type of music is the occasional spin of a Black Sabbath record or a small dose of Pallbearer. By contrast, those that listen to Warning and funeral doom artists like Shape of Despair and Mournful Congregation will have no such problem. Opener, ‘As Titans’, works through four lingering riffs before Hamish approaches the microphone for his first spell of husky vocal phrasings. The menace of the palm-muted down-picking could be from a Solstice record from the 1990s. Eleven-and-a half minutes of this would be tolerable if not a little exhausting, which explains why Godthrymm go out of their way to second-guess your instincts with the introduction of a melancholy female serenade from Catherine Glencross. Listen to the divine harmony of gothic keyboards light up her features in a tasteful bow of the head. The music is easy to follow when there’s so much space to hear the echoes.
The most surprising aspect of Distortions is the strength of Hamish Glencross’ pipes. His voice projects with the chest of Ben Hutcherson (Khemmis) and the head of Layne Staley on ‘Devils’. This one builds from a chugging bass line and agitated drum groove and settles on a powerful down-strum of distorted chords before resetting with a ruminating bass lick for the transition to a doom metal dirge at the finale. The Glencross spouses share vocal duties here like worshippers using the same prayer room. Heavenly keyboards achieve a big presence in ‘Echoes’, which mixes mournful guitar harmonies with savage metallic palm-muting. Does Hamish add a flange effect to his voice here? If so, it works. Close your eyes and you can conjure the image of pallbearers carrying a loved one out of the church for the final parade of the coffin. This slow weep of the guitar harmonising in this section is reason enough to tense your chin with fortitude. It’s an epiphany that comes around too infrequently in metal.
Like any strong doom album, there’s no shortage of riffs that rock with the vigour of a classic Trouble composition on this record. ‘Obsess and Regress’ might offer little to light the way, but it’s a flame that burns with abundant energy. Perhaps the weakest element of the songs is the lack of imagination in the vocal lines. That’s understandable for Hamish, whose main vocation for most of his career has been the six-string axe. His wife has no previous experience in the world of metal before she joined Godthrymm. Both stick to their rigid vocal patterns like car parking inspectors fearing the backlash of a disgruntled motorist. One cannot deny the fervency of their delivery, but more room for spontaneity would be welcome. Hamish appears to recognise this on ‘Unseen, Unheard’, where he lets the ceremonial keyboard samples ghost through the mix in a dignified imitation of the functions reserved for a church organ. You’d think they would scale back the heavy guitars, but they remind us of their time in My Dying Bride with a trademark jolt of tempo from the serene to the mean before your brain can register it. Throbbing bass guitar notes whelp in the background as the band work towards a climax of high-register guitar melodies finished off by Hamish shouting his way through to the end.
Of course, no British metal album can be complete without a guest spoken word passage from Aaron Stainthorpe. The likes of Grief Symposium and Edenfall have already used his services on songs north of twelve minutes this year, and Godthrymm invite him to add a brief soliloquy on the twelve minutes and forty-five seconds of ‘Follow Me’. It’s always a risk to leave the longest composition near the end of a doom album when the listener is most at risk of feeling jaded. Catherine Glencross brings an angelic dimension just when you’re settling into a lull. Biting guitars appear as you glance at your watch. Tom drums patter in respectful remembrance during the sparser passages of guitar at the mid-way point. It sets you up for the stripped-down dream pop of ‘Pictures Remain’ with one last reserve of energy to burn before it’s time to close the curtain of the catafalque.
Think of Distortions as a cure for impatience. Surrender yourself to the reality of the situation that you’ll be here for fifty-nine minutes. You’ll be surprised how easy it is to find peace in a place where emotions run high, and the foreboding produces as much as anguish as calm reflection.
Release Date: 18/08/2023
Record Label: Profound Lore
Standout tracks: Devils; Echoes; Unseen, Unheard
Suggested Further Listening: My Dying Bride – The Light at the End of the World (1999), Hadal – December (2020), Shape of Despair – Return to the Void (2022)