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Penance : The Road Revisited

PsycheDOOMelic records continues in its role as doom archivist with the release of a rare treasure indeed, the first recorded version of Penance's 'The Road Less Travelled', retitled 'The Road Revisited'. I've heard enough wails of anguish over the years by frustrated doomsters attempting to track down the elusive 1992 version on Lee Dorrian's Rise Above label. If nothing else, collectors should rejoice. But this is more than a simple reissue. This release gives you a look at the raw first attempt by one of America's most crucial doom bands to establish its own identity. This would prove to be an ongoing process, ending only in the spring of 2005.

Doom cognoscenti know that Penance started life in the mid-1980s as Dream Death, a self-described sludge metal band from Pittsburgh. Incidentally, this description is the earliest I've yet seen using the term "sludge". Anyway, Dream Death put out one record in their lifetime, the essential 'Journey into Mystery', which combined doom/death tuneage with angry, hardcore vox. They were years ahead of their time. They also produced a demo in 1988 entitled 'Ode to Sorrow' before breaking up, later to form Penance. Although their playing was better than ever, the soul was somehow lacking. Neverthless, two of the songs on this demo, 'The Unseen' and 'A Wayfarer's Tale', form a bridge between Dream Death and the embryonic Penance, as they also appear on 'The Road Less Travelled'. This demonstrates that the appearance of Penance was not an abrupt event in the history of these musicians, but rather a logical evolution in their tastes and abilities. The difference between Dream Death and Penance seems to be simply that the hardcore-ish vocals were turned down a bit and the 'Sabbathy doom was turned up. Otherwise they were in many ways similar. In histories of the band one sometimes sees a reference to the notion that 3 out of 4 members of Penance were also in Dream Death. In fact, the personnel on Dream Death's 'Ode to Sorrow' demo and Penance's 'The Road Less Travelled' are identical. The confusion may be that vocalist Brian Lawrence is sometimes referred to as Brian Goodbread, when in fact they were (and are, heh heh) the same person. At that time Brian referred to himself as Brian Lawrence, using his middle name as his full stage name.

Which brings us to 'The Road Revisited'. If you're lucky enough to own the Rise Above release, you'll note that the songs are the same. The difference is that 'The Road Revisited' was recorded two months earlier, in January, 1992. For reasons best known to themselves, Rise Above asked for a remix, and the band dutifully re-recorded the entire album in March. Is the earlier version worth hearing? Damn straight. It may be more raw, but to these ears it also sounds more natural and generally better: the mix is hotter, the timbre more natural, the instruments more clear. You can just about measure the dimensions of the recording studio with the slapback echo from the double-tracked vocals. Your sound system may tell a different tale, but 'The Road Revisited' has the edge over 'The Road Less Travelled' on my stereo.

The band may have broken up, but that's no excuse not to add this to your collection. It's an opportunity to acquire a real doom rarity, and a rare opportunity to hear an entirely different mix of an excellent album. Penance is dead; long live Penance!

Reviewer's rating: Unrated


Tracklist :
1. Eulogy
2. The Unseen
3. A Wayfarer's Tale
4. If They Would Cut my Throat Out...
5. Misgivings
6. Soul Rot
7. Not What it Seems
8. Penance

Duration : Approx. 57 minutes.

Visit the Penance bandpage.

Reviewed on ??-??-???? by Kevin McHugh
Aesthetic Death
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