The long awaited follow up to Out of the Garden bristles with a palpable sense of urgency and brutality that the Philly doom quintet bring with swiftness akin to a biblical plague that decimates all in it's wake.
Religion. What a dirty word it's become within the last twenty five to thirty years. If you claim to have any sort of religious leaning in today's world, you are reviled and seen as a backwards thinking relic of a time unenlightened. As a person of faith myself, it is a turbulent time. We face many of the same issues that face people who are not as faithful: work, school, familial stresses, the inevitability of death and taxes. We of faith have something that continually has a place in the front of our minds, and depending on who you ask, that thought will always be our standing in the eyes of God. It is a constant that we take into account that those who don't have a belief system have a hard time understanding. It shapes most of the core values that members of the three major world faiths (Christianity, Islam and Judaism) have in order to operate as a disciple of Deity. Explaining something like this is tough in words but this is where CRYPT SERMON fully exercise that power to those without faith. They wowed everyone in the heavy metal flock with 2015's Out of the Garden, which contained songs that ranged in topic from Christ healing the blind man, the rending of the veil of the Temple of Herod, the calling of an unspecified Old Testament prophet and the expulsion of our first parents from Eden. Eager acolytes have waited long and hard for a new revelation like John on Patmos, but the Philadelphia apostles of doom have given us a new testament to envelope our minds and souls with prophecies of holy heavy metal entitled The Ruins of Fading Light. Burn those offerings and grab your shield and sword, it's time for a crusade.
The Ninth Templar (Black Candle Flame) leads off The Ruins of Fading Light with an intro very similar to Temple Doors. Epic charging riffs courtesy of Steve Jansson and James Lipczynski roar forth like lions and announce a darker and heavier sound than before. The doom metal influences are still present of course, yet the overall textures are a bit bleaker, somber, blacker. With Jansson handling guitar duties in DAEVA and Lipczynski self releasing his own black metal project ANCIENT FLAME earlier this year, it's no surprise that some black metal influence may have crept into the songwriting on this release. As he did on Out of the Garden, frontman Brooks Wilson steals the show as a vocalist of extremely high caliber with little competition aside from maybe Brendan Radigan of MAGIC CIRCLE and the one and only Messiah Marcolin of CANDLEMASS.
With some of the aforementioned black metal elements from the side projects of Jansson and Lipczynski being the double bass drumming of Enrique Sagarnaga, Wilson delivers a raw vocal performance that invokes prime Solitude Aeturnus. There is also the major surprise of a menacing growl that Wilson throws into the track and it fits surprisingly well. Very rarely do harsh vocal moments in traditional doom metal work cohesively. REVEREND BIZARRE were able to pull this off on a few songs throughout their career and it is on this track that Wilson truly challenges Albert Witchfinder's towering aura. And it is with this battle hymn that CRYPT SERMON announce that their long awaited sleep was not wasted. In fact, I quickly came to the realization that this could end up becoming something much more grand in scale than it's predecessor.
When Key of Solomon triumphantly marches forward across your speakers, it is go time. Wilson unleashes that monstrous tenor as he proclaims the iniquities of the Old Testament prophet/king that turned from God. The CANDLEMASS vibes are inescapable on this track, but there also seems to be a slight hint of DIO-era SABBATH, especially in the context of the riffing. I also don't think it would be amateurish to label the sound of this song, and the record as a whole, as epic. Within the context of a biblical story, the sound that CRYPT SERMON have commanded throughout their recorded output can be likened to such events as The Flood, the Plaques of Egypt, the ascent to Sinai or the sacking of Jericho, but while those events have their harrowing moments, it's the triumphal ascent to Sinai moments that CRYPT SERMON truly hold you captivated. The only band that can sound this menacing yet so triumphant that comes to mind is WHILE HEAVEN WEPT, particularly on their third full length Vast Oceans Lachrymose. Key of Solomon has that titanic weight behind it yet ultimately brings a fist pumping energy that is as uplifting as it is downtrodden.
By this point, you should know what kind of temple of doom you've entered and now it's time to take a trip to Our Reverend's Grave. Could this possibly be an homage to REVEREND BIZARRE? A not so subtle nod that religion is a dead construct to many? A thinly veiled allusion to that one scene in The Omen? Who knows, all I know is that the momentum that was in full force from the beginning of the record doesn't halt here. Jansson and Lipczynski rip through some of the record's strongest passages while Brooks Wilson gives yet another spine tingling performance as he shouts, "Come down Moses the mountain's on fire! The brazen serpent in your hand. Lord God has made me a liar, bite my tongue or I'd be damned." I have always felt like Wilson has had a true knack for conveying story through his vocal performance and he truly makes it all seem believable on this track and on Christ is Dead. While Epochal Vestiges serves as a bridge between Our Reverend's Grave and the aforementioned track, it doesn't break the flow and really adds an unsettling ambience to the funereal proceedings at hand. The acoustic opening of Christ is Dead brings those feelings of dread before one of the record's meatiest riffs announces it's barbaric entry, eventually giving way to a choral chant. Wilson croons before again letting out his inner mad Rob Lowe during the chorus while the acoustic guitar adds a melodic edge that will become an ear worm for many.
Sixth track The Snake Handler is the longest song on the album and the longest CRYPT SERMON track to date and most at this point would feel uneasy. While Out of the Garden had long songs, this record is ten tracks with seven true songs and three interludes. Many would see this as an exercise in excess and pompous show but the CRYPT SERMON procession doesn't have the stuffiness of Mass on a summer's day. The length is not an issue for me, especially since this runs about a minute longer than PALLBEARER's Foundations of Burden. Oh, and keep PALLBEARER in mind, I'll come back to that later. The Snake Handler drives forth with the power of the Sermon on the Mount and yet again offers beyond gargantuan riff work while Frank Chin and Sagarnaga also shine during the song's more up tempo sections. They truly have to keep up and stay on their toes when they jump from mid paced trod to full gallop around the five and a half minute mark before the Ark of the Covenant styled face melter of a solo brings your being face to face with the unknown. It is once again a triumphant piece of pure red blooded doom metal that harkens back to before the days when just about every band with an Orange amp and a down tuned guitar was considered doom.
I have to give some context to what I mean by the latter statement. When most people think of doom metal nowadays, they immediately jump in the wagon that the only doom bands are ELECTRIC WIZARD and SLEEP. This is where I say that while yes, these bands are heavy and doom laden, they are more in line with stoner doom whereas CRYPT SERMON pull from bands that defined the genre in the late 70's and early 80's: TROUBLE, SAINT VITUS, PENTAGRAM and CANDLEMASS along with bands from the 90's and early 2000's like WHILE HEAVEN WEPT, REVELATION, SCALD and SOLITUDE AETURNUS. There is not a single fuzzy guitar to suggest that this would be confused with an EARTHLESS or any other "bong wizard occult heavy rock" band. This is straight up unfiltered DOOM METAL. No flutes, no folk passages with pan pipes and no songs about getting high and dropping out of life. The only thing heavier than life itself is this offering from these unholy priests of doomed heavy metal, which is crazy because most of these guys don't consider themselves doom metal connoisseurs. Pretty interesting to reflect on over a beer and a bible reading.
Small interludes Oath of Exile and Enslave the Heathens set the stage for the final eucharist of Beneath the Torchfire Glare and The Ruins of Fading Light. The former track utterly destroys your puny mind when Wilson unleashes a bone chilling scream around the two minute mark. While he does let off that banshee wail, he also gives a really surprising yet highly effective falsetto. On the closing title track, listeners are brought oa low point when suddenly Messrs. Wilson, Jansson, Lipczynski, Chin and Sagarnaga decide to treat you to some hefty as hell.....wait. Have I heard this intro before? Possibly in Skyrim? Well whatever it is, I dig it. I dig it HARD. Finally, the doom announces itself like the heavenly choirs at the one minute mark and now you must repent or be doomed. Erecting a brass serpent of unholy power, Wilson and the guitarists weave a nasty little spell to haunt your dreams forever. Then, out of nowhere, that scream of Wilson's comes forth and possibly the guitar solo of the year begins, urgently prodding you to reenact the scene of Christ cleansing the temple of the moneychangers. When it ends on the glorious vocals of Brooks Wilson giving his all, you've finally seen the light and reach out to feel it and you are swept up into the clouds.
With all of this being said, I had to step back and take stock of how utterly shocked I was that this band created not only a worthy follow up to one of the best doom metal albums of the 2010's, but they singlehandedly created one of the greatest doom metal albums of the 21st century. Now about the PALLBEARER thing I mentioned earlier, that band can pretty much be credited with helping ignite the doom bonfire of this decade with their godly debut album Sorrow & Extinction. While many albums have come out since that behemoth's emerging in 2012, none have really been able to match it's impact on me personally. Sure KHEMMIS, YOB and many others have gripped me, but The Ruins of Fading Light stands defiantly as the crowning jewel that bookends the 2010's as the best doom metal album since Sorrow & Extinction. This is a bold claim from someone who's very life was drastically altered by PALLBEARER's debut, but if that kind of endorsement isn't enough, maybe it's time you read from the testaments of old and new and see what the Lord God has to say about how heavenly and pleasing this burnt offering is to Him.
The Ruins of Fading Light is out now via Dark Descent Records. Get yours HERE.