From the first glance at their album cover, one can see that Saint Karloff make no bones about their influences. Taking influence from the godfathers of doom themselves, and channelling the feel of classic horror, it’s clear that there is going to be some heavy-duty Sabbath worship on this album. But underestimate ‘Saint Karloff’ at your peril – while their riffs, jazzy breaks and thunderstorm-laden opener are very evocative of Iommi, Geezer, Ward and Osbourne, ‘Saint Karloff’ have a unique style of their own which is at once classic doom, and a breath of fresh air in the oft oversaturated stoner doom scene. The recipe: a heavy dose of old-school doom, a side of heavy psych with just a pinch of stoner rock.
The lyrics contain some social commentary which can be hard to discern from Mads Mervold’s distorted vocals. Though this definitely adds to the overall doomy effect of the songs, on first listen the listener is likely to miss the excellent, evocative lyrics. ‘Ghost Smoker’ opens with, “Dead children stacked in the abyss of my pipe… smoking their ghosts fills my soul with their sorrow.” Karloff make no excuses for their social commentary, and this reviewer would dearly love to see some lyrics sheets pour over and dissect the meaning of each song. The overall effect of the music and vocals is sludgy and sometimes incoherent, the occasional lyric which can be discerned is often surreal and disturbing.
‘All Heed the Black God’ opens with ‘Ghost Smoker’, which from an atmospheric, stormy opening builds into an infectious riff which will have you unconsciously nodding your head. The drumming is very reminiscent of Bill Ward, with some swingy-ness uncommon in many modern metal bands, who seem to simply smash the cymbals as hard as possible much of the time. Adam Suleiman, Karloff’s resident percussionist, clearly understands that sometimes less is more, knowing when to go full pelt and when to use a lighter touch. ‘Space Junkie’ follows, a fast chugger which owes as much to ‘Motorhead’ and ‘Highway Star’ as ‘Children of the Grave’. ‘Ganymedes’ follows, in which the pace of the album relents slightly for a dreamy acoustic number whose classic doom analogue is perhaps all too obvious.
It is in the second act that ‘Saint Karloff’ kick things up to eleven, with the brilliant ‘Dark Sun’, a hypnotic track which finds its groove and sits in it for the duration. ‘Radioactive Tomb’ is probably the highlight of the album, an absolute belter of a track which maintains its momentum through savage riffing, peaks and troughs, while finally careening towards a car crash drum solo crescendo. The album wraps up with ‘Spellburn’, showcasing ‘Saint Karloff’s psychedelic credentials. With the rhythm section holding things down, Mervold is free to play, taking us from solo opener, doomy verse, and spins out to a chugging third act which divulges and deviates, but always resolving itself in the same delicious riffage.
One could, perhaps, accuse Saint Karloff of the uninventiveness that plagues many bands that wear the influence of Sabbath on their sleeves. But the appeal of classic doom and stoner is to induce a hypnotising, trance-like state. ‘Saint Karloff’s excellent riffage certainly has this quality, punctuated by solos which extend the ecstasy further, enhanced by their psychedelic leanings and jazzy changes and interludes. The second half of the album in particular shows their mastery of the doom structure and a high level of musical skill and cohesion as a band. A very strong debut album to be sure and one expects even greater things in the future from this Norwegian power trio.
‘All Heed The Black God’ is out now on Twin Earth
For more on Saint Karloff, check out https://saintkarloff.bandcamp.com/