Distortion Plus 2013, CD & DD album, 33m 10s
£7+ DD £8 CD
This album comes from a band that situates itself in the tradition of doom metal quite deliberately, and with some self-awareness. By this I mean that they’ve thought about the meanings of the music they love, and precisely how they are produced in that music, and set out intentionally to share more meanings from the same emotional neck of the woods. In other words, although Peacemaker are operating within the bounds of an established set of musical practices, they are doing so in order engender the experiences to which those practices are specifically adapted; they are using the right tools for the job. When listening to music that (like most music) employs received stylistic materials, this is what separates the generic from the original, and it also represents the circumstances in which an artist can screw around with the formal characteristics of a style without sounding as though they are compromising on them. Not that Cult .45 is the site of any particularly earth-shattering reinventions, but the freedom with which Peacemaker employ the tropes of old school metal is devoid of any sense of misplaced reverence. They mine the old quarry for its darkest, most harrowing materials, uninterested in the cartoonish pseudo-Satanism with which they used to be dressed, and build a structure of monolithic riffage that looms over the desolate affective landscape of their lyrics, not like the tower of a dark lord, but more dolorously, like the ruined keep of a dead protector. It’s not what you’d call ‘epic doom’, which usually implies a bombastic, symphonic character, but it is epic as fuck.
Much mileage has been made in recent years of exploring the extremes. How slow can you go, before you slip into the avant-garde territory of drone? What’s the precise minimum of rhythmic or percussive content that’s required to drive a song along in a way that can keep an audience moving? How can syncopation’s propulsive qualities be used to pare that structure down even further? Peacemaker are largely uninterested in traversing the outer limits, although ‘Sorrow Trip’ is very slow, verging on the serially static, but ‘Dead Man’s Keys’, another of the slowest pieces, is well within the mainstream of doom’s tempo spectrum, and most of the music on Cult .45 is in a kinetic, old school mid-tempo. The arrangements’ textures are predominantly thick, deep and saturated; uncontroversial by contemporary crust-sludge standards, but far, far heavier than the sounds that used to be put out on record in the eras these riffs hark back to – though I imagine, and my mid to late eighties experiences suggest, that in the heat of live performance, then as now, amps were simply cranked until they bled. In both the aforementioned tunes the texture is thinned out dramatically in sections, with the bare bones of bass and drums coming to the fore, but on most of the songs the dynamic gradient is less extreme. The vocals are of the roar-shout persuasion, so definitely not very old school, and, again in both of the doomiest numbers already mentioned, there are passages of spoken word, which are extremely effective, forcing a shift in the listener’s terms of engagement with the music. Textural and emotional variation is elaborated across the album as a whole, for the most part, rather than within individual songs, with dynamic and affective high water occurring around the mid-point: ‘Soul Cheater’ is the least doom styled song on the album, with its high-energy ascending riffs, and ‘Journey Of The Faithful’ cuts through the gloom with a solo couched in beautifully emotive Hendrixesque tones. There are also two short, stand-alone acoustic passages, both very pretty and melancholy. The second, ‘Grey Sky’, serves as a sort of epilogue; it felt to me like a moment of calm after a battle, a lovely dawn on a scene of devastation, albeit with some intimation of further action to come.
Peacemaker’s debut album is all about power. Not coercive political power, but the power of natural forces, or heavy machinery, perhaps; it has enormous inertia and momentum. Its themes are dark, sometimes threatening and sometimes tragic, but they are presented with too much kinesis for the effect to ever be miserable. If music represents subjectivities, then this is a perspective with a great deal of agency, one that is more angry than sad, and that deals with shit through activity more than contemplation. It’s also, in important ways, a shared subjectivity, not an isolated individual one. In the old days, metal was all about the heroic priapism of the male lead, the singer or guitarist whose sound bestrode the arrangement as their rippling, tightly clad thews bestrode the stage, but Peacemaker’s sound, in common with many of their contemporaries, suggests a different set of priorities. Solos are much less in evidence, and where they are present, they are not displays of technique; rather than demonstrations of potency and (in this social context) sexual fitness they are contributions to a sound that is communally created and communally heard, injections of textural and melodic energy into the overall arrangement, rather than authoritative utterances for which the arrangements are a mere scaffolds. The vocals don’t attempt to soar above the band in the old-school manner, but are shaped to submerge themselves within it. Despite the obvious debt and homage to an earlier era of metal, Cult .45 is articulated from a very different place; it keeps the riffs, it keeps (and redoubles) the heavy, but the approach to music making is founded on solidarity rather than heroism. This is entirely in step with the social structures of the underground in which music such as this tends to be made and distributed at the moment; this is not the product of an industry, of taste-makers and publicists, but of a grassroots movement motivated by a shared love of the music. As such, Peacemaker come correct with an overwhelming sound and real creative integrity. This is an album of beautifully crafted guitar tones and immense, thunderous riffs, which can hold its own against the heavyweights; a very impressive debut.