Archon – The Ruins At Dusk   9 comments

In case you think the last album by Electric Wizard is (close to) top heavy of 2010, well, take the monumental debut album by US Archon into account for a comparison because it may turn out to be even heavier …

Archon, from New York, is a rather young band, as it popped up in the scene at the beginning of 2008. Archon’s members are however far from being new to the multifaceted American doom or, more broadly, underground scene. Actually some of these members are very prolific, and are related to a row of bands and projects, some of which are brand new. The best example of this super-activity may come right from the band’s founder and main author, Andrew Jude (Riotto), who is/was involved in dronish space doom band Tides Within, heavy doom act Agnosis, heavy metal band Black Moon Rising, sludge act After Dark and experimental band Immanent Voiceless.

So this band was formed in 2008 by a “hard core” including bassist Andrew Jude together with guitarist Ryan Lynch, from band 12 Eyes, and drummer Dam Kumfirst, from the heavy prog metal band Scribes of Fire. Their two-tracks 2008 demo, Evocation, baptized the band as new provider of “apocalyptic doom and psychedelia” and featured additional guitar-work by Brett Zweimann (from Clutter, Man’s Gin) and by Shane LaPorte from heavy psych doom band Wormsmeat.

Another characteristic feature of this band is a very “fluid” line-up both vertically (in time) and horizontally (in the same album). Fluidity means that band’s members come and go and guest musicians help in making up an impressive team. That’s probably why Archon’s pieces of work are monumental and hypnotizing but far from repetitive or boring.

Year 2010 has been blessed by two releases from these NY ultra doomsters, the substantial split with Old One, out on Oppressive Sound System Records as limited edition in early Autumn (I’m one of the proud owners of it), and the self-produced debut full-length album, The Ruins At Dusk (the release party has been held at the beginning of December).

So the debut album came as a recharge to calm down the thirst for more crushing, mind-blasting sludgy doom after the absorption of the macro dose from that massive, awesome split. In that split Archon provided one giant, charming track, the almost 27 minutes-long Forgotten City. In this track guitar contributions came from three different people, i.e. bassist Andrew Jude, Ryan Lynch and Brett Zweimann. Ivan Khiko and Aaron Campbell from Immanent Voiceless contribute vocals and some electronics  and cello, respectively. Drums are by Joe Branciforte a.k.a Joe Darkside.

Again new line-up for the debut full-length album released immediately afterwards. The four tracks feature up to FOUR different guitar contributions (again by bassist Andrew Jude and guitarists Ryan Lynch and Brett Zweimann plus guitarist Shane LaPorte) and up to FOUR vocal contributions: Andrew Jude (on track 1), Ryan Lynch (on tracks 1-4), Chris Dialogue from heavy psychedelic doom-drone act Queen Elephantine and the new post-metal band Alkahest (on tracks 2-3) and singer Rachel Brown (on tracks 1-3). Don Kumfirst is back on drums.

Therefore here musicians rotate/contribute/superpose in guitar and vocal parts, and in some tracks there are double to triple voices. Rotation is involved also in the composition of lyrics and recording, whereas the music writing, mixing and mastering are all by Andrew Jude.

Uh! Complex …

And it gets more complex if you go and give a look on the band’s page in Metal Archives, where a different “present-day” line-up is listed, and probably there’s something else stewing in the cauldron of these doom wizards …

The album …

Of the four tracks building up the concrete-heavy hour of this album, the first, Helena (Ruins At Dusk) and the last one, The Fate of Gods, are from the 2008 demo Evocation, whereas the two middle tracks are brand new. Track lengths are impressive, as you range from the shortest 9.50 minutes of The Hymn Of Mendregard to the 21 minutes of the monumental The Fate of Gods.

Of course, the old tracks sound a bit different in the new performance, mixing, mastering and with the addition of  a new vocal setting.

The solemn start in Helena drags you immediately into a sonic “lava flow” which is in constant growth until the three vocalists (Andrew, Ryan and Rachel) call each other through torn, almost inhuman screams or else emerge as short crypt-like choirs from the impressive guitar jam. After the apex of the roaring, hypnotic jam is reached, an almost surreal calm lasts for a few seconds before the roll and the wave of meandering, trance-inducing, heavily distorted guitars start and build up again, eventually leaving you breathless.

The second track, Nature is Satan’s Church, starts in a quite dynamic, mid-tempo, groovy way, but the aggression is operated by the raging dialogue between the mid-ranged growls by Chris Dialogue and Rachel Brown, who skilfully varies between fierce growling and very melodic and melancholic clean chant. Insertions of Rachel’s melodic, solemn chant are partly superposed with Chris’ fierce growls and give a charming, embalming and exotic effect. The double chanted parts are built up over and amidst some plodding heavy riffing which continuously reprises the dense lava-like, hypnotic riff drift started in the first track.

The third track, Hymn of Medrengard, lasts “only” a bit more than 9 minutes but is very varied. It starts solemnly with a repeating melody which would become obsessive or else monotonous if it weren’t reworked by the guitarists.  The melody eventually progresses into an almost desert-stoner rhythm over which Chris and Rachel again interact through growled chanting. Impressive, a desert rock tune with double sludge-hardcore-styled vocals …

The fourth and last track is mostly instrumental and starts with the reprise of the leading melodic line which has been developed and reworked throughout the album. The start is soft and acoustic, with a solitary chord trembling until the sound starts build up little by little, gets richer and more complex as soon as all the four guitarists give their own contribution, either in the distorted base wall of sound or as reverberating riffings or threads emerging from different levels or directions. Vocal contributions are limited to Ryan’s fierce, almost demonic screams and shoutings in the background and briefly interrupting the hypnotic development of the leading motif in the first half of the track. This long track, exceeding 20 minutes, is roughly divided in two parts by a pause in the hypnotic mantra, a short interval in which silence briefly prevails before the roll starts again, with new elaborations of the guitarists over the leading tune. This long track develops like a tide or else like an endless, atavic march of which you may not see the end. It is incredible how varied this monotonous march is! You can go back several times to this exhausting long suite without getting actually bored if you try to catch the different shades of the guitar sounds. I have the impression of hearing even the sound of keyboard or piano towards the end, although no piano contribution is listed. The only possible way to end this suite is a gradual slowing down until the sound dies out in a soft trembling of cymbals and a weird chord vibration which sounds like a shriek of a frog in a distant pond. Very poetic and natural …

Especially the long final track has been compared by JJ from The Obelisk to Sleep’s Dopesmoker. Well, definitely…

In order to approach this review in the last weekend I’ve been going back to some stuff I’ve got of some of the other bands where Andrew Jude Riotto & friends are involved: Agnosis, Tides Within, Queen Elephantine, Alkahest. After the “treatment”, I came to the conclusion that Archon’s album is exactly the synthesis of what Andrew Jude has been playing around in the last years. Archon picked up bucketfuls of almost bluesy, groove-laden, heavy doomy tunes as in Agnosis and loads of psychedelia and dronish, mind-warping rhythms from the space post-metal projects. And the result can’t be too distant from Sleep.

What is new or at least different, at least to me, and helps giving a kick of originality is given by the extended line-ups and the amazing vocal additions.

We have heard several fine to excellent albums with astounding sounds sometimes made by very small groups of musicians who did a huge work on elaboration of sound, pedals, amplifiers, etc. This is a kind of great skill, for sure.

I guess Archon have a partially different approach. The incredible richness of sound in an album which is basically built up over a single leading melody is created through personal, physical, solid contribution by more people, more minds, more sensitivities coming from different musical experiences. And the new line-ups for the coming releases sort of guarantee that the results will be peculiar and, well, unique even within the same musical style. Well, I think that Andrew Jude, who is behind all this, is not far from being a genius …

And to make the most of this, an excellent treatment of the sound is needed in order to give to each sound form each contributor the right weight at the right moment. I sometimes used the terms “emerging” for both vocal parts and some guitar sounds, because this is exactly the almost “visual”  impression I got while hearing this album repeatedly. I think it is an impressive result of the mixing process operated by Andrew: chants or riffs rise and bloom out of the wall or of the continuous carpet of sound but they are not suffocated, they stand out for the amount of time they need. And then they go back, fade away into the flow, like ghosts of restless souls. Also in the last track, the complex architecture of the sound composed by the four guitarists is rendered in an astonishing way, and you can hear even the most delicate guitar chord vibrating in the sea of distortion. I found this quite stunning.  

Another feature that I loved particularly is related to the vocal parts. It’s a bit weird to think about a psychedelic doom album with double/triple, male/female vocalists singing like in a hardcore-crust band … And, well, it fits! Anyway, to me this album is a further proof that voices are essential even to this type of music. I’m not a total fan of instrumental-only music although, of course, I do appreciate it when it’s good. However I find that voices, even as painfully distorted screams as those in sludge or hardcore, add something valuable, add life and power to the tunes. After listening to Archon’s album featuring up to four vocalists you have, or better I have the impression of having heard actually an instrumental album with an extended range of sounds. I didn’t get the meaning of the lyrics expressed by moans or growls, I didn’t even try, but those sounds are there to empower distorted, plodding riffs and the ultra-doom wall of sound, and these (human) sounds are unique.

I started my review recalling the other super heavy album of the year, Electric Wizard’s Black Masses. Obviously these two albums sound distinct, even if they share many features, especially heaviness, distortion, gloomy atmospheres, obsessive rhythms. However the two albums, to me, have a common structure: they start and develop by means of variably dynamic tracks lead by similar hypnotic melodies, powerful riffs and torn vocals and then end through a long, almost instrumental psychedelic march progressing and dying like a classic Ravel’s Bolero (I know, it’s a trivial comparison …). But Archon and Electric Wizard evoke different images in my mind. Heaviness in Electric Wizard is, for me, dope and Satan in a dark mossy forest (very “British” …), whereas heaviness in Archon is dope and forces of Nature, dope and huge open spaces (very “American” …).

Anyway, I still have to decide whether Archon is heavier than Electric Wizard’s Black Masses.

Archon made their releases, all of them, available for download at their website for a ridiculously small donation (or at will).

Go and check yourself.
Review Written By Marilena Moroni

I just want to add one last thing, unbelievable: this band is unsigned.                                       10/10

Official Website
Archon @ Myspace

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Posted December 21, 2010 by doommantia in Archon

9 responses to “Archon – The Ruins At Dusk

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  1. For me to say this is heavier than Electric Wizard…that's kind of a long shot…but, I dig this so far. I think I just need to get this and spin it a few times to produce a good description. So far I enjoy what I hear. The main harsh vocal isn't too, original? Original's not the right word but it sounds like other bands. BUT the other voices sound damn great. Good use of riffs and leads too.

    Thanks for the post Ed!

  2. I would say it is heavier than the new EW so I would go that far. It isn't too original but I am digging it so far. I have only had the album a bit over a week or so, so time will tell I guess how much I really like it.

  3. I didn't mean that the main single growled/screamed voice is original. That's not obviously the case, as most sludge tunes have fierce vocals.
    What I found original or else unusual, at least for vocals in a psychedelic doom album, is to mix rather wild growls and screams from several (male/female) singers contemporaneously, in a way that I happened to see more frequently in some fierce punk or grindcore bands. I'm thinking, for example, about Mörser.

  4. well. first off – i come from a punk/hc space and second – i am not a musician.

    So while i love all EW and Black Masses is killer (In my top 5 on the Doommantia poll of 2010); and it is certainly amongst the heaviest of any band's lp's out there – i would say this Archon is comparable in heaviosity.

    So – how am i to define “heavy”?

    When i think of bands like Tryptikon, Cannibal Corpse, Napalm Death, Merauder (God is I…especially), Acacia Strain – they seem much heavier to me. More crisp tough riffs then this doom metal.

    so is it just a tuning issue? like tuning to drop D or E? and that is why is EW e”heaviest”?

    not trying to debate anything – i am genuinely curious. and am willing to learn. i love doom – and i love this site for exposing me to exponentially more bands.

  5. It all comes down to how you define “heavy.” Everybody has a different set of rules for that, personally I still rate Sabbath as one of the heaviest bands of all time, sometimes a acoustic and a haunting vocal can be heavy in terms of emotion. It is a interesting debate and one I might explore further in a post in the future.

  6. I am not a musician as well, so I am not of course giving technical recipes for heaviness. Actually I'm not giving any recipe of any kind, eh eh …
    Well, as Ed wrote, heaviness may be intended in a highly personal way. To me heaviness is given surely by the sound of the instruments but also by the overall atmosphere that the sound (different instruments plus voices …)is able to create.
    Well, I guess there are tons of nasty extreme metal and hardcore punk bands that surely sound heavier, or at least technically heavier, than many doom bands. And I love those almost unbearably heavy nasty sounds able to make your ears bleed! However some bands, not necessarily crushing, grip you in your guts.
    I feel that heaviness, extreme heaviness in many thrash or death bands is something to be “consumed” fast, very frenetic. heaviness like a blow.
    Doom-sludge music has, to me, a different heaviness, less apparent, but sometimes at the end stronger: the heaviness that is able to keep your mind suffering and glued to an album often for over one hour, the heaviness that in nature would make hard stuff like solid ice masses, rock or glass yield and creep.
    Definitely it would be interesting to see how the concept of heaviness in music is intended by people.
    There may be quite intriguing answers …

  7. I agree, heaviness is not all about the sound of the guitars. There is heaviness in mood, in lyrical subjects and so on. It is like, you can't really say who is the heaviest band in the world anymore. In the 70's it was Sabbath, that was clear but now, it is all up to the taste of the listener. I don't even think about it anymore, I am more interested in the actual songs. Sometimes being too heavy can actually kill a song if a band doesn't know what they are doing. Simply tuning down to Z doesn't make you good.

  8. ok – thanks. i agree 100% and as a side note; when i try to explain Sabbath to people who at be casual listener..i wish i could go back to 1969 – where the prevalent music was hippie stuff like CSNY or whatever. and then, maybe heavy was Deep Purple or Led Zep or Elf or Coven – but to hear Black Sabbath for the first time; within that context and no warning of knowledge what would be unleashed once the needle drop. *(similarly is my to desire to see PSYCHO in 1960 after casually walking into a theatre).

    So yeah – Sabbath is the ultimate in Heavy. And electric Wizard sure takes the crown in the present. But back to the original post this Archon is pretty heavy. Cheers!

  9. Yeah I have been saying all that for years, I first heard Sabbath from my parents in 1970 so I was used to them by the time I got my first Sabbath tape in 1973 but younger people especially not understand how heavy they were for the time. Sabbath by comparision were 10 times heavier in 1970 than Electric Wizard in 2010 simply because you had nothing else like it at the time to compare it to. Hell I even got in trouble at school in the mid 70's for daring to play Sabbath at a school dance ha ha. People thought they were totally extreme back then.

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