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Gévaudan : Iter

UK band Gévaudan achieve something pretty special with their debut full-length - you only get the one shot at making your first album count, and that's exactly what they've done with this epic Doom Metal feast.

Last time I spoke to Bruce Hamilton (he of the infamous purple flares, and chief songwriter of the band), he still had a fair bit of work to do in composing the band's debut full-length and the take-away comment from that was that "these 14-minute Doom epics don't write themselves". A year on from that, I'm finally holding a copy of the resulting 'Iter', and thinking that although that's literally true, it's often the case that the best ones sound like they did exactly that. Not just as individual pieces, but also in terms of the whole: if you really want quality then both dimensions have to sound natural, unforced, as though they're simply and effortlessly channeling all of the strengths of their creators.

To a slightly lesser extent, that's also something I'd view as the more mature hallmark of an album proper - not that it necessarily has to sound so spontaneous, but that the whole has to have a natural consistency to it which steps up over and above any of the fun, experimentation or development that demos and EPs encourage. And that, too, from my interview with the band was something that they most definitely understood and were aiming for, in the full knowledge that you only ever get one chance to make that debut album, and give it a real, perceptible impact.

Well, full credit to Gévaudan for taking all of those elements on board with 'Iter' (depending on how you want to view it, and containing elements of all of these, a title meaning 'process', 'increment', or 'journey') and delivering them in a polished and complete package that has been allowed time and space to mature in studio terms... as well as some opportunity for honing along the way through their extensive and hard-working live performances. You can hear that polish straightaway, in the gentle idyll that introduces opening track 'Dawntreader', where the delicate yet complementary guitar and bass lines frame soft, quietly crooned vocals in a dreamy dynamic...until the lulling qualities suddenly explode into a contrasting, hard-edged and squalling riff-driven burst of aggression. In some ways it's an absolutely genre-standard type of construction, but it pulls it off with a cool aplomb, a naturally-flowing sequence of light and dark, and a clear, spacious production that lets you pick out all of the details involved.

Well, by and large, I don't think that's a bad summary of the album overall. It's ditched some of the more playful moments of the preceding EPs - you won't find anything like the Killing Joke-y agit-prop ' Message For The Damned', or the Alice Cooper-esque lunatic histrionics of 'The Ninth Circle' to muddy the waters - leaving 'Iter' to keep a consistently disciplined focus on its epic-sounding Doom Metal vibe. In terms of the band's beloved Sabbath, I find it's got more than a hint of 'Heaven And Hell' about it, not least in the underlying imagery, packed as it is with warfare and slaughter between forces of good and evil.

To digress slightly - presentation-wise, it's still a fully DIY release, but at the tidy and professional end of the spectrum in engineering terms and wrapped in cover art expressing a nicely atmospheric life/death motif. Inside the CD booklet, you also get the complete lyrics - and much like basically everything the late, great Dio ever did, they're something of a generic scattergun spread of (pseudo-)historical and sword-and-sorcery images, more aligned to scanning and rhyming than pinning down an actual narrative. None of which matters when you're going to deliver them with the intensity and conviction on display here - not that Adam Pirmohamed sounds that much like Ronnie James tonally (if I had to pick just one comparison for his presentation, it'd probably be Diamond Head's Sean Harris), but he has exactly the same sort of charisma required to bring that larger-than-life fantasy canvas to life. Frankly wouldn't surprise me if he could make singing his weekly shopping list in the bath sound like the Battle of Helm's Deep...though I'm not going to ask for any actual proof of that!

Obviously, even in Epic genres, it's not all about the frontman, however essential it is to be able to muster a decent set of pipes to centre around. Just as well, then, that the instrumental contributions are tight, slick and perfectly -paced and -spaced, ebbing and flowing with an entirely natural and organic feel. Again, much like Sabbath, the bass sits somewhere between providing emphasis to the percussion and presenting as a second guitar line to beef up the melody lines. The drums feed in and out as needed, providing an excellent powerhouse backdrop for the more forceful sections, and dropping discreetly out of the picture altogether as and when the atmospherics are the priority. Overall, it's a very neat and absorbing lesson in the effective use of power-trio mechanics, leaving plenty of room for both the lead guitar and vocal work to layer into.

I'd certainly have to say that there's no doubt that, as a debut album, the maturity and completeness of 'Iter' is a full step beyond any of the previous releases, and Gévaudan have clearly put the work in to make that happen. It's pretty much mission accomplished as far as aiming for that "first album" to make the best possible impact is concerned, but it's also done quite a lot to refine the sound and focus of the band as a whole. They haven't entirely knocked off all the harder edges, nor entirely abandoned the Stoner vibe, but the total picture has become something altogether older, wiser and more rounded. If I was going to offer any criticism at all, it'd be that I don't think second track 'Maelstrom' quite lives up to the rest of the album, partly because its unfortunate enough to follow the sublime opener - it's not exactly boring, but it does come across as borderline repetitively overstretched by comparison. For all the rest of it, though, right here's your new generation of bloodied angels, fast descending: what else can I say but doom on, you neon knights.

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Reviewer's rating: 9/10


Tracklist :
1. Dawntreader
2. Maelstrom
3. The Great Heathen Army
4. Saints Of Blood
5. Duskwalker

Duration : Approx. 54 minutes

Visit the Gévaudan bandpage.

Reviewed on 2020-02-05 by Mike Liassides
Aesthetic Death
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