|The new Camel of Doom is something like the result you might get if you set the heaviest bands of 1972 down in a modern recording studio...|
|Wow, it's a bit like having a flashback to the 1980s the last time I had such a psychedelic, ruminant-themed experience was when scruffy, hairy bloke Jeff 'Yak' Minter was busy unleashing a series of hectic 8-bit games on the early home computing crowd. The trippy, technicolour packaging of 'Psychodramas' (subtitled 'Breaking The Knots Of Twisted Synapse'), emblazoned with a rainbow-coloured band logo takes me straight back to the joys of playing Attack of the Mutant Camels, or the later, madder Llamatron, and experimenting with the free Trip-A-Tron music light show generator on my old Atari ST.
Given that, according to Camel Of Doom's MySpace page, main man Kris Clayton (gtr, synth, vox) was busy being born at about that time, it's quite possible that this is more of an accidental convergence than a deliberate homage to the creator of Meta-Llamas The Game. If so, it's perhaps because Yak Minter, similar fondness for ungulates, bright colours and hectic activity notwithstanding, is a little too ephemerally recent to have registered fully on the Clayton consciousness. For here is a band proudly and distinctly drawing on a much earlier 1970s Psych/Prog heritage, namechecking the likes of Pink Floyd, Hawkwind, Black Sabbath and King Crimson along the way. (Sadly, no mention of Amon Düül II who despite a preference for penguins - pioneered the whole camel-art thing with Carnival In Babylon, just before, erm, Camel took up the baton. But, anyway, we digress).
If that all sounds a bit retro, well, yes it is as a starting point. This isn't an entirely proto-doom revival exercise, though: something that may be made clear if it is mentioned that the last decade for Camel Of Doom has not only involved several other releases, but also a fair stint on guitar duties with Esoteric, who know a thing or two about the application of modern unconventionality. Continuing that collaboration, Greg Chandler handled the recording, mixing and mastering duties for 'Psychodramas' - and a fine job he made of it, with a rich, deep, crisply varied and powerful sound to the whole album.
It isn't entirely clear whether the band has actually returned to being a solo project it looks like it, but given the ten-year genesis of this particular venture, one assumes that the material is a mixture of individual and group work. It certainly sounds more like the latter, without any of the often quite sterile atmosphere that solitary artists can generate when deprived of collective input. This is a fully-fledged and highly proficient sonic assault, underpinned by some excellent drumming, driven by ferocious guitar and fleshed out with bass, keyboards, samples and saxophone. Not to mention some very individual vocals: hard to describe, but a sort of clean, defiantly angry, approximately-tuneful shout that works surprisingly well, especially with the often-used echo. Extra bonus points are awarded for the occasional use of a vocoder!
The old adage is that a camel is a horse designed by committee, which may be humorous but lacks veracity. It's a beast designed to operate perfectly in a specialised and hostile environment; it just happens to look a bit odd while doing so. Similar to this camel, in some respects: describing it may sound like an ungainly compromise, but it's actually a well-adapted mix of various influences, based on a solidly Stoner-riffed backbone that anchors the three longer tracks comprising the bulk of 'Psychodramas' into a firmly Doom framework. Sections of Ambient- or Avantgarde-inspired experimentation slip, mostly seamlessly, into those extended pieces, while the shorter tracks are almost exclusively textural interludes, and the two intermediate-length parts of 'Self-Hypnosis' work some Death influences into the mix. Keyboards and effects, laced throughout the album, play off against the guitar lead as it shifts between massive overdrive and gentler, exploratory pedal effects. As a whole, the musical atmosphere sits well in a concept 'telling of how the artist used arcane techniques to rebuild a mind shattered by constant self abuse, drawing on the darkest aspects of the psyche to force his mind in submission to his own will'. Designed for purpose, one might say, and with a maturity of development that really shows.
If I was going to quibble at all, it would be that there are maybe a couple of minutes of slightly-redundant riffing - in total - that could be trimmed from the playtime without really losing anything. And I'd have loved to have heard more of the sax an instrument with a magnificent Rock pedigree that could, one feels, be used a lot more than it is in the Doom world. Those aside, the picture I'm rather left with is that this is something like the result you might get if you set the heaviest bands of 1972 down in a modern recording studio and told them to make something brilliant for the new millennium. Rather unjustly lacking any record or distribution deal at the moment, one can only hope it finds a home with a label sometime soon. Final verdict: gloriously unusual, almighty trippy and definitely worth several listens. Especially for anyone who's ever wondered what Blue Cheer and Hawkwind would sound like jamming together. Or people who just like camels, of course.
Note by the Admin:
The reviewer's question as to whether this album is a solo effort or not has got an answer: the record was a solo effort in the end. Kris Clayton hasn't collaborated with anyone else in the band properly since 2005.
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1. Purify The Air
2. The Anger Of Anguish
3. From The Sixth Tower
4. In This Arid Wilderness
5. Self-Hypnosis I: The Manual
6. Self-Hypnosis II: The 18th Key
7. Machine Of Annihiliation
8. So It Is Done
Duration : Approx. 60 minutes
Visit the Camel of Doom bandpage.