Wooden Stake – Vampire Plague Exorcism   Leave a comment

I’m back again with a doom band fronted by a charming lady.

But you know you have to beware of charming ladies, eh eh …

Band Wooden Stake is actually a vicious duo based in Texas, USA, including the said lady, Vanessa (Nocera) on amazing vocals and bass, and Wayne (Sarantopoulos) on guitar, drums and, minor, keyboards.

Well, while listening to the tunes contained in Wooden Stake’s debut mini-CD, Vampire Plague Exorcism (2010), I started rolling all over the floor, exactly like a vampire stabbed to death by a wooden stake! So amazingly cool …

The name, and the logo, of the band stems exactly from this, the pole employed as the traditional weapon for killing vampires by staking them through their heart. The genre covered by the band is a mixture of traditional heavy doom and occult horror rock lead by Vanessa’s peculiar and charming voice.

The band is absolutely new, so there are not many news about it on the net.

However Vanessa and Wayne are far from being new to the underground metal panorama. They both play in the US death-black-thrash metal band Scaremaker, that released one of the best death metal albums of 2010 (for those who like the genre, me for example …). But this is not enough because Wayne is better known as Elektrokutioner, a flashing name for the filthiest death metal around: Decrepitaph, Encoffination, Father Befouled … Wow!

As I am a fan of Elektrokutioner’s nasty musical output, I should have run across this creature before, for example while playing around with cross-references in Metal Archives. On the contrary I must confess I stumbled into Wooden Stake by chance by surfing in the cursed blogosphere.

Vanessa and Wayne are very busy in working on the new album right in these days, but Vanessa was so kind to interact with me a bit. So this writing is a hybrid thing, an album review mixed with a preliminary, “sort of” interview. But a serious one will come when the work on the new album will be completed.

According to Wooden Stake’s hellish duo, their music is intended to evoke images and sensations inspired by vintage horror movies and anything creepy, preferably set in a moorland and in a dark and foggy ambiance: “decrepit castles, old and forgotten cemeteries, decaying mausoleums, crumbling tombstones, Waldemar Daninsky, werewolves howling at full moons, the Blind Dead ghost ship rising up from under the sea, Paul Naschy films, the films of Hammer and Amicus, the amazing Dracula films of Christopher Lee, all other great Euro-horror from the 60’s and 70’s, haunted asylums, witchcraft, sorcery, alchemy, black pools of blood, skulls scattered across desolate graveyards, etc.”. Well, basically what you need for a sinister imaginative doooooom soundtrack …

Mini album Vampire Plague Exorcism is a far too short soundtrack, although it was sufficient to hook me to this band helplessly. The mini-album includes a short intro and an outro, in pure horror movie-style, and three tracks of scary, occult horror doom dripping pure groove and graced by some truly great, haunting vocals by Vanessa.

The short intro, Sepulchral Awakening, has the whole collection of sounds and effects expected for old-style horror movies: a gravely sounding bell, stormy winds, howling wolves … It should make you scared but actually it is far too exaggerate and makes me think that Vanessa and Wayne like their humour. They intend to create expectation like those exaggerate trailers of the old horror movies, where not much was actually seen to happen (not like the butchery in some modern horror movies) but atmosphere was the key. And, as in the best doom tunes, here you’ve got loads of atmosphere …

The second, substantial track, Stalking In The Shadowland (over 7 minutes), takes you in full doom action. A slow, heavy start lead by the distorted guitar sounds and the impressive pummelling drums give the pace like in a funeral march.

The rhythm of this second track is rather slow and oppressive, very much “Sabbathian”, heavy gloomy doom “by the rules”, although there are occasional accelerations laden with much groove.

In this track, as in the rest of the album, vocals and drums are recorded in sort of background mode relative to guitars. It may sound like an imperfection if you like clean sounds, but it actually helps in creating a distinct retro atmosphere and imparts an additional slight effect of echo, like being listening to the band in a hollow place (dark, hollow place, like a crypt, of course …).

Vanessa’s voice is peculiar: it is indeed very melodious, quite warm and full, but when melody prevails it doesn’t dilute or add any bit of sugar to the overall sinister sound. Vanessa gets the most varied shades from her poliedric voice and even deforms it in sweet to definitely and incredibly nasty growls, like in the second and third track (I actually thought the deeper growls were uttered by Wayne…). The haunted voice of a “demonic banshee” …

Wooden Stake

It seems almost obvious to think about the official doom goddess Jex Thoth when it comes to female-fronted doom metal bands. But in case of Wooden Stake, Vanessa’s style is different, and that’s cool, as it contributes in distinguishing the band and enriching the panorama. Vanessa said to me that she has so varied sources of inspiration for her singing in general, but she has been singing and growling, and playing music, since before she could really speak, haha!

Vocals are often doubled with superposition of slightly decoupled sung and spoken parts and the spoken parts seem to softly repeat some sorts of formulas or prayer as in a ritual ceremony.

Going back to the mini CD, the third track, “13 Condemned”, is shorter, almost 5 minutes, is faster and lead by a beating rhythm. This track most closely reminds me Pentagram both for the slightly dissonant vocal style, the groovy melodies, the coupling of vocals and drumming in the faster parts. There’s a minor but charming, or I should say, scary, addition of some grave growled singing to the slow chanted intervals.

The + 4 minutes-long fourth track, Forbidden Oath, sees more of extreme variations in the vocals but what stikes of this track is the massive, irresistible groove lead by downtuned and fuzzy guitar that dominates all the other components of sound, vocals and drumming. This is pure Pentagram groove as well … Actually this is the track from where Wooden Stake started to exist. Vanessa told me that Wayne sent her the core of the track and she was “conquered”! Here are Vanessa’s words:

“(Wayne) sent a track to me that was pure DOOM and I knew right away I could work with this. (That track being “Forbidden Oath”). I wrote some lyrics, learned the bass parts, and I laid down the track in one night. As far as going into the direction of a DOOM band, it interested me because it was a chance for me to write a different style of lyrics and focus on different vocal styles.”

The fifth and last track, the almost 2 minutes long A Passing Lament, is a melancholic outro which ends with a tail of solemn religious chants and the sound of a storm.

The overall style of Wooden Stake’s heavy doom is markedly vintage, retro-sounding, for the sinister tunes, the vocals and the production. Guitar riffs are rather simple but absolutely hooking and “fat”. The drumming parts, along with the vocals, are especially worth of note. They are pummelling but the dominance of the cymbal sounds give a sort of “light” touch. Wayne’s drumming has a distinct old-school flavour which contributes to the precious retro sound in Wooden Stake. The drumming is powerful, when not hammering, even if it doesn’t build up a cacophony of noise and even when it is slow. It is sounding like “ritual” to me and beautifully contribuites to the sinister atmosphere of the sound. It’s actually the same “old-school” flavour lingering onto Scaremaker’s faster, death-thrash tracks, and makes you feel the sweat behind the beat.

More than a word is to be spent about the production of the sound in this debut album, where, as previously mentioned, the chanted parts and the drumming are recorded with a background effect relative to the guitar work. This way of producing/mixing sounds has actually the result of enhancing, or even making the focal components of Wooden Stake’s music, i.e.,vocals and drumming, stand out even if they emerge from the background.

Vanessa’s comment on the album’s production, cured by the band members themselves, was full of enthusiasm: “I personally love the sound of this band and the sound of the recordings that we have done. It really gives it a raw, vintage sound and I think it stands out on its own. I can’t really think of anything it sounds like, even when I think about older bands, it doesn’t mimic anything I’ve heard.” I cannot but agree!

Black Sabbath, Candlemass, Pentagram, Saint Vitus and Electric Wizard are to be taken as overall sources of inspiration, if not obliged references, in Wooden Stake’s style. However to me the tunes absolutely recall Pentagram and Saint Vitus as the tunes are drenched with loads of retro-groove. Wooden Stake share heaviness and obscurity with the heavy doom monsters, but I can grasp a certain “easy-going” attitude of style and up-beat and very groovy melodies that I find particularly well expressed in Pentagram. This is my opinion, of course.

So I found Wooden Stake’s irresistible style eerie and obscure but also extremely catchy and, well, this was a sort of surprise, especially if I was thinking about the nature of the other musical projects of the musicians involved. But Vanessa confirmed that Black Sabbath were actually her entrée into heavy music in general, and something similar was expressed by Wayne in a recent interview: entering straight into the most extreme genres of metal, jumping off completely the “normal”, mainstream rock, but getting a life-long imprint of doooom and groooove from Black Sabbath, Candlemass, Motörhead …

Vanessa

The mini-CD Vampire Plague Exorcism was released (in limited edition) by Hexamorphosis Productions, a sub-label of Razorback Records in late September 2010.

Wooden Stake shares an incredibly productive attitude with the bands in which both Vanessa and Wayne are involved. So Wooden Stake was not just an experiment diverting the couple temporarily from the death metal-oriented musical activity. Actually Vanessa, who has the attitude of the people who give themselves a thousand percent in what they do, confirmed that she had a great time working on this band and really exploring her vocal abilities. Therefore the hellish duo has a few more goodies about to come out!

The upcoming releases, on which the couple is actively working, are the “Invoke the Ageless Witch” 7″ EP, which will be out on Sarlacc Productions, and the full-length album “Dungeon Prayers and Tombyard Serenades” which will be released on Razorback Recordings.

Two more releases are in program, a split 7″ EP with Blizaro (label to be announced) and a split 7″ EP with Druid Lord (Altsphere Records).

I’ve listened to the new tracks posted on myspace for the coming album and from what I’ve heard I have the feeling the new output will be heavier. My impression has been confirmed by Vanessa. The new release will be a little heavier and the lyrics as well will be a little darker and more grizzly. So Wooden Stake is really going through a metamorphosis as far as gaining a more dynamic sound and getting a little deeper with the lyrical content.

Well, I can’t wait! …………………………………………………………………9/10

Review by Marilena Moroni
Wooden Stake @ Myspace
Razorback Records

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Posted November 23, 2010 by doommantia in Wooden Stake

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