Indianapolis, IN-based quintet Conjurer have self-released their debut full-length, Old World Ritual. The group, which consists of vocalist Dustin Mendel, guitarists John Rau and Bryan Wyrick, bassist Gabe Whitcomb, and drummer Dillion Enright, falls firmly in the sludge/doom category but seems to draw from a wide enough range of influences to be able to forge a unique identity.
Sometimes it is difficult not to apply a narrative, even a false one, to debut albums. This is certainly the case with Old World Ritual. One can imagine these songs being written in the order they appear on the record. Opener “Never Enough” and second track “Trudge Down” are the two most straightforward pieces on the record. Both are relatively upbeat for the sludge genre, aside from the doomier end to “Never Enough.” Harmonized guitar parts give the songs a nice, unexpected sense of nuance.
The third track, “Entheogen,” begins to hint at the wider sonic vistas ahead. The first half of the tune pounds away as before, covering similar territory to the Melvins, but then a wonderful, delay-drenched, arpeggiated riff allows the song to breathe in a way that had not happened before.
At this point, the album opens up even further with “Black Throne” and “Singularity.” The riffs often have more space, and the tempos begin to shift more throughout the course of the songs. By the time “Flesh to Ash” kicks in, the songwriting has fully evolved. Things are much more epic, and the larger musical journey is much more involved. The riffs go well together, but stand out on their own as well. And while the sounds are still extremely heavy, the dynamics vary quite a bit more.
Track seven, “Witch’s Hale,” harkens back a bit to the first two songs, yet also contrasts itself a bit in its utterly unique midsection. The track seems to hint a bit toward a Queens of the Stone Age influence, or a more stripped-down early Mastodon vibe.
The trio of songs which close the album, “Time Stands Still,” “Marauders,” and “Gold Mask,” are the endpoint of the path the band has followed throughout the release. While the sludgy sounds of earlier are still present, there is a vastness that suggests groups like Neurosis or early Isis. “Marauders” begins as the most upbeat of the trio, but the aggression comes with heaping doses of skillful guitar work, and then the song breaks for a middle section carried by the bass and drums. The song is closed out by an epic doom passage.
“Gold Mask” is a powerful statement, revealing a band now at the height of their powers. The song is heavy, but also very dynamic. The mournful clean riff that closes the album sounds nothing if not final, leaving the listener wanting to hear more, to hear where this group takes things next.
If possible, Old World Ritual is an album best listened to from start to finish. Every song is solid, but the track order pulls the listener in progressively deeper with each song. By the end, one is anxious to hear what Conjurer is capable of as they gain even more experience and confidence.