Doom might be metal’s most polarizing subgenre. From a strictly musical angle, it can be tough to take—the slowness always risks making it oppressive rather than cathartic, replacing momentum with a morose stasis. The bands I like best play what I call “biker doom,” a sludgy, greasy but still rocking sound derived from Black Sabbath via Steppenwolf. The king of this subgenre is Scott “Wino” Weinrich, the man behind The Obsessed, Spirit Caravan, The Hidden Hand and a couple of solo albums, not to mention his tenure fronting Saint Vitus (who are now back together and have a new album coming out in April). His searing guitar work and harsh, Old Testament vocals have made him a legend in the global metal underground. Following some distance behind him is Karl Simon from The Gates of Slumber, an equally rocking but substantially heavier outfit. (The less said about supposedly reformed drug casualty Bobby Liebling and the wildly overrated Pentagram, the better.)
The stuff that’s much harder to take is “funeral doom,” music that makes the song “Black Sabbath” sound like Motörhead. Funeral doom bands seem to be in whatever the opposite of a race is, competing with each other to see who can play more slowly, letting chords feed back and allowing the drummer time to smoke a whole cigarette between snare hits. The appeal of this approach is utterly lost on me—it’s missing both the soothing qualities of ambient music and the power of metal. But it has its devotees, for sure. The only groups even remotely affiliated with this style that I like are Corrupted from Japan, Monarch from France, and Esoteric from the UK, all of whom add elements of arty weirdness that never seem to occur to their more traditionalist (read: boring) peers.
Pilgrim fall somewhere between these two poles. A trio from Rhode Island, they’ve chosen silly stage names—the guitarist and singer calls himself The Wizard, while the bassist is Count Elric the Soothsayer and the drummer is Krolg, the Slayer of Man—and their promo photo obscures their faces in shadow. The cover painting for this, their debut album, offers imagery seemingly derived from H.P. Lovecraft, in a vaguely medieval style. The track titles (“Quest,” “Masters of the Sky,” “Adventurer,” “Forsaken Man”) indicate an interest in the fantasy themes that have been perennials in metal since the genre’s earliest days. The Wizard’s vocals are clean, eschewing the guttural roars that were “extreme” two decades ago but are now just rote. He doesn’t have the range of a Ronnie James Dio, but he’s got a reasonably attuned sense of drama, shifting from a full-throated bellow to a creepy near-whisper at times. His guitar work is competent, but not much more—it’s not like he’s busting out many screaming solos here. The rhythm section throbs capably, and/but the drums, though they’re played with a pleasing looseness, sound like cardboard boxes filled with sand. I suspect that’s very deliberate. “Retro” fealty includes re-branding the sonic limitations of the past as ironclad rules.
Misery Wizard is kind of a slog, honestly. There’s only one song that rises to a boogying gallop and stays there—”Adventurer,” which is also the shortest track on the disc, at 4:29. (There’s also a brief interlude of Sabbath-esque charging in the middle of “Quest,” but it doesn’t last nearly long enough.) The band spends the bulk of their time on three epics: the title track, “Masters of the Sky” and “Forsaken Man,” each of which takes one plodding riff and jackhammers it into the ground for over 10 minutes. Ultimately, this is a decent effort from a band that could develop into something interesting one or two more albums down the road; right now, though, they’re the sum of their influences, utterly aware of the rules of their genre and totally unwilling to break or even bend them.