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Camel of Doom : Terrestrial

Camel Of Doom's talent and persistence pay off in a big way, with this definitive work.

Well, I could just take Kris's suggestion and score this one '15/10. Best. Album. EVAH!' Job done, that was easy. Although I could somehow see that, on its own, inviting a hint of suspicion that favouritism towards staff might be involved, so...maybe we'll expand a little more.

Chance introduced me to Camel Of Doom, when the mighty 'Psychodramas: Breaking the Knots of Twisted Synapse' unexpectedly passed my way from another reviewer's desk, and immediately brought a combination of many things which hold enormous musical appeal to my ears. Chance also introduced me to Kris, some years later, when he volunteered to join the reviewing team here. But you can most certainly blame any Camel-based zealousness on my part on the former event, rather than the latter.

There have been changes afoot since that third full-lengther: most notably that the band proper doubled in size, with the addition of permanent bassist and co-songwriter Simon Whittle, while Lychgate's Tom Vallely handled drums for the recording sessions. Musically, where 'Psychodramas' was a thematic concept album, 'Terrestrial' (despite a couple of possible inferences in the track titles) neither continues that cycle, nor treads the concept path: instead, it deals in long self-contained songs - and a few short interludes - taking inspiration from various different sources (including volcanoes, Dune, black holes, recreational drugs and spiritualism).

As before, the pre-release path runs through Priory Recording Studios, where Greg Chandler's renowned skills behind the mixing desk come into play; unlike before, the release path runs straight to label, with Solitude Productions launching a fully-packaged CD version, wrapped in Daniele Lupidi's artwork, on day one. The cover design, if anyone's wondering, appositely shows the four terrestrial (ie Rock-based) planets of the Solar System...

Camel Of Doom, it's fair to say, has seen quite a lot of evolution and progress over its many years, whilst still remaining recognisably true to its roots - dealing out heavy Stoner riffing sprinkled with some sludgy and Death/Doom moments, gruff vocal bellows, Space-Rock synths and more experimental progressive/atmospheric interludes. 'Terrestrial' refines that further: there's still plenty of sound and fury to be found, with similarly massive tones to the portentously crashing backbone guitar and spleenfully-vented vocals, but it sets aside some of the sustainedly raw and angry feel of 'Psychodramas' in favour of ranging more widely in both subject and approach. Clearly, that owes something to the near-inevitable consequences of shifting from solo work to being a band. But it's also partly down to a more substantial and integrated mix - not that there was anything wrong with the percussion section when it was all solo, but having two excellent musicians contributing bass and drums gives them more presence, more variety and more of an input to the soundstage. Partly, it's where the second half of the album goes off exploring more of a loosely Psych-influenced vibe, for example, taking on a galloping Eastern-sounding beat for 'Singularity', or tripping out on Prog-Rock leads in 'Sleeper Must Awaken'. And partly, it's the additional downtuning giving a more consistent weight and anchor to proceedings: even the opening tracks (particularly 'Cycles'), which do more or less continue the 'Psychodramas' sound, do it with a smoother, less angular, heaviness.

Add all that up, and you have what could best be described as a more mature sound, expressed through more polished compositions - though it's still a very long way from any sort of anodyne sterility that 'polished' can imply. On the contrary, the level of attention and detail feeding into all of the instruments means there are plenty of layers and hooks to capture one's interest. Kris told us in interview that he prefers not to work alone: the clear synergy between the band members displayed on 'Terrestrial' entirely supports that, even as it also respects Camel Of Doom's core principles. For anyone not already familiar with those, it almost seems lazy to mention Esoteric (given Kris's time with them), but they do spring to mind as the most obvious comparison for innovating that sort of lengthy, complex, deeply-layered, tempo-shifting and Psych/Prog/Space-influenced Doom. Not really sound-wise, but journey-wise, both bands have the knack of drawing the listener further in with each raucously inventive and restlessly unfolding piece, and in doing so both have established distinctive and recognisable identities.

By turns organic, immersive, crushing, majestic and downright exhilarating, 'Terrestrial' pretty much nails a perfect balance and flow. It's a source of mild personal regret that the sometime saxophone found on various releases doesn't make an appearance here - but it would be a stretch to view that as worth any actual complaint. Simply, this is exactly what classic psychedelic Stoner/Doom should sound like: the culmination of 13+ years of talent, persistence, improvement and hard graft has absolutely earned its place on a major Doom label, and it deserves to be a real breakthrough point for the band.And while I'm not going quite as high as the opening paragraph, for my money it's a completely top-notch album and emphatically the first to make my 'best of 2016' contenders list...

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Reviewer's rating: 10/10


Tracklist :
1. Cycles (The Anguish of Anger)
2. A Circle Has No End
3. Pyroclastic Flow
4. Singularity
5. Nine Eternities
6. Euphoric Slumber
7. Sleeper Must Awaken
8. Extending Life, Expanding Consciousness

Duration : Approx. 64 minutes

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Reviewed on 2016-02-07 by Mike Liassides
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