You have to crack open the beers when an epic heavy metal band comes along and gets everything pretty much right, and I guess this is one of those moments with new release Dream Quest Ends by Toronto doomers SMOULDER. So, excuse me whilst I just lean over and open this can. Now, the band certainly doesn’t need any help from me to sell records, but the least I can do is help you out if you are craving a bit of epic doom and you haven’t heard them yet, right?
In short, Smoulder are yes – epic, yes – doomy, but also as thick with guitars as is it possible to get, drenched with every manner of fantasy-metal tropes, and yet clearly current – like a lot of this modern epic metal coming out, played as it is by comparative youngsters, it perhaps fits the age old method for artistic success – an old story, told in a new way.
Opener Dream Quest Ends has lots going on, and even some double kick to end. Warrior Witch of Hel is the strongest track. Cage of Mirrors, yes that ‘Cage of Mirrors‘, is pretty well done. The second half of this album slows down a bit, taken as it is from the band’s first demo – Sword Woman is the most generic track of the lot and plods along for five minutes of pretty standard heavy metal. Voyage of the Sun Chaser starts slowly but quickly develops into an interesting instrumental foray very much reminiscent of MANILLA ROAD’s first two albums. The Queen Is Gone is another busy instrumental job but with some bluesy singing, that kind of fits.
On the three new tracks , vocalist Sarah Ann hangs around with some deliberation on suspended notes and keeps things interesting, often using only a small compass and repeating that whilst the background shifts, just how Shelton did it. She sings properly and with some attitude, like she’s had a lesson or two – the overall sound reminds me a bit of bands like Witch Mountain, and of course the usual Swedish suspects like Lucifer, especially with that bluesy thing going on with the older 2018 EP tracks – to my crusty ears, minor pentatonic scales sound cheesy enough on guitars, but they really can suck the big one on vocals if you don’t know what you’re doing. I guess it works here, but I’m glad they worked out their own vocal approach for the new stuff.
This new material is really strong and I’m not surprised that the release is flying off the shelves! Also check out their 2019 album Times of Obscene Evil and Wild Daring. And if imitation is the best form of flattery, then Eternal Champion should be surely thankful for the existence of Smoulder’s Ilian of Garathorm.
Overall, a very powerful sound, good strong riff and cool lyrics. The spirit of Manilla Road, but tilting towards the blues doom side of things.