Album of the Week 28-2019: Confessor – Condemned

Prior to hearing ‘Condemned’, technical doom metal was a mix of styles I pretty much considered impossible. There are plenty of doom metal bands that take a strong influence from Fates Warning’s early albums, so progressive doom metal: sure. But the idea of abrupt shifts in rhythms, tempos and time signatures did not blend with the despair-ridden atmosphere of the better doom metal bands in my mind. Enter the debut album of North Carolina’s Confessor. Not only does it manage to make sense of combining all the aforementioned elements, it also sounds significantly more anguished than many of their peers.

First things first: those expecting a more complex version of Solitude Aeturnus’ prog-ish interpretation to the Candlemass sound may not get what they are hoping for. In fact, Confessor does not really sound like any other band. The borderline thrashy riff work brings the better moments of Invocator’s second album to mind and there are traces of what Meshuggah would later attempt, but the voice of Scott Jeffreys immediately blows those comparisons out of the water. His high-pitched, almost spotlessly clean voice sounds more tortured than any growler ever could. His sustained notes sound like Jeffreys is actually exorcising some persistent demons.

The closest comparison would be a considerably slowed-down and less bass-heavy Watchtower, a band Jeffreys briefly fronted, in the sense that Confessor hardly stays in the same gear for too long. Only ‘Eve Of Salvation’ is built upon a relatively steady foundation of Black Sabbath-influenced riff work, while drummer Steve Shelton keeps his rhythms fairly straightforward. By contrast, ‘Prepare Yourself’ contains some of the most twisted, intricate riffing that Brian Shoaf and the late Ivan Colon are subjecting themselves too on the record. The rest is closer to the latter than the former: the riff work is dense, the drumming busy and Jeffreys wails lines that sometimes appear to have little connection to the accompanying music. And yet it works.

While there aren’t really any tracks that strike me as better than the others, a stand-out track is ‘Uncontrolled’, which has a slightly more thrashy vibe than the rest of the album through its (marginally) higher tempo and the gang-shouted backing vocals in its chorus. The title track that follows has a slightly more uptempo and violent vibe than the other tracks as well, mostly due to Shelton punishing his kit like there’s no tomorrow. His bass drums sound dry, but that somehow works well with the riffs. The start-stop riffing of ‘The Stain’ sounds delightfully claustrophobic, while ‘Suffer’ ties the album together very nicely.

In the end, my only two complaints for ‘Condemned’ are minor. Cary Rowells’ bass is hardly audible most of the time; it’s there, but it’s far too trebly for its own good. Also, since the songs don’t have very clear structures – at least not initially – they blend together a little at times. Neither of those factors should discourage anyone from listening to what is truly one of the most unique albums in heavy metal history. It might need a few spins to sink in. The first time, you’ll wonder what the hell you’re listening to. The second time, you might be able to wrap your head around it a little more. From then on, you’ll either get it or you won’t.

Recommended tracks: ‘Uncontrolled’, ‘Suffer’, ‘Prepare Yourself’

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