|There is not a track on Mindrot's 'Dawning' that falls short of perfection.|
|1989 seems an awfully long time ago now. Black Sabbath were simply filed under Heavy Metal in my record collection, rubbing shoulders with everything from Angel Witch to Neil Young. Candlemass' debut was in there somewhere, but I'd yet to hear it described as Doom and, in any case, there was more likely to be a Sisters Of Mercy album on my turntable than any niche Metal offering. Pre-mainstream internet and with a very limited selection of rock journals on offer, news of extreme musical subcultures didn't travel far or fast – which is why it doesn't surprise me in the least that the formation of Mindrot, over the pond in California, was one of many completely unnoticed events. That was something which continued for some years; in fact, until after their equally-unnoticed dissolution in 1998.
In between those dates, they produced the 'Forlorn' EP and a brace of albums: the first of those, in 1995, being 'Dawning', a copy of which first fell into my hands a few years later, amongst a job lot of secondhand rock CDs. It was something of a revelation, even at first listening: a schizophrenic amalgamation of influences that didn't so much fuse genres as veer madly between them. Like a musical missing link, Mindrot bridged the evolutionary gap between post-punk Goth Rock and post-thrash Death/Doom, with 'Dawning' as the perfect exemplar of their particular style.
It is undoubtedly a classic album, both in the way it represents disparate elements of what was – at the time – a rapidly diversifying and developing period in extreme music and in the sheer excellence of its execution. There is not a track on it that falls short of perfection; musically, compositionally, atmospherically, the sparse yet fantastically-ornamented song structures are delivered with a controlled fury, devoid of waste or filler, by a group of hugely-proficient musicians working together with genuine synergy.
That starts with Evan Kilbourne's drumming, effortlessly adding flourishes and fills to everything from tribal beats to driving thrashes. Matt Fisher's bass auments that, adding a layer of cavernous and funky, echo-heavy Gothic style. Twin guitars, or sometimes guitar and keyboard, in the capable hands of John Flood and Dan Kaufman, weave the melody and rhythm between and around those percussive elements, complementing rather than dominating them. Above that mesmerisingly complete tapestry, Adrian Leroux's vocals run an astonishing gamut from gentle tunefulness to savagely hoarse screaming. It is no surprise, listening to how exceptionally the musicianship integrates, that the band could not survive the later departure of Flood and Kilbourne.
At this point, though, they were at their creative peak, and this album shows it, right from the opening few bars of the atmospheric introduction to the Bauhaus-vibed instrumental 'Dawning' setting the scene. Both 'Withersoul' and 'Forlorn' are brighter, cleaner reworkings of tracks from the 'Forlorn' EP, given extra polish through the clarity of mix – both tracks, with their softer interludes and brutally aggressive Death moments, marry up something of the feel of compatriots Neurosis with the UK's Paradise Lost, as does the largely-frantic 'Internal Isolation'. On the other side of the coin, 'Anguish', 'Burden' and 'Across Vast Oceans' conjure up purest 'The Nephilim'-era Fields Of The Nephilim: apart from the – of all things – David Bowie-like vocal crooning conclusion to 'Anguish'. And, by way of linkage and emphasis, occasional bleak, spoken-word samples trail through the album.
It would be a mistake to assume that the comparisons above mean that 'Dawning' is in any way derivative. 'Sounds like' does not necessarily imply 'clone of', and Mindrot very much had their own identity: a cold, bitter and sometimes cruel take on the frailty of humankind. It's blazoned on the album cover: an image of worn and faded angels adorning a tired bas-relief that sums up the inevitable, slow decay of all things. It's very gothic, and very doomed.
And there, of course, is the third reason why this album is a classic. It's just as eloquent, and laconically elegant, at articulating both of those motifs today as it was when it was first released. Like so many victims of the word of mouth-only anonymity of pre-internet times, though, Mindrot's career was a trajectory into cult obscurity, largely overlooked by those who might have embraced it. Fortunately, they have left this behind as a weatherbeaten but defiant legacy and there are still copies out there at reasonable prices...
Click HERE to discuss this review on the doom-metal forum.
6. Internal Isolation
7. Across Vast Oceans
Duration : Approx. 53 minutes
Visit the Mindrot bandpage.