Dark Castle

Spirited Migration

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Going "bassless" -- that is, without that four-stringed guitar that has the really long neck -- is an increasingly common phenomenon in rock music. From Local H to the White Stripes and any number of even more powerfully amplified duos like Black Cobra, guitar and drums seem to be more than enough for many new-millennium denizens who seemingly see little value in the electric bass guitar's subtle contributions. However, in the case of Florida's Dark Castle, this decision carries even deeper implications, because their music of choice happens to be a bottom-heavy brand of sludgy doom metal that owes much of its personality to lower frequencies. As things play out on the band's 2009 debut, Spirited Migration, though, it soon becomes evident that this dilemma is nothing that a few super-fuzz pedals and guitar strings tuned down a few steps can't solve. Opening number "Awake in Sleep" sets the tone with a virtual tsunami of molten riffs, thundering drums, and gruesome croaks, all caked in distortion and surging feedback; the ensuing "Into the Past" dips into post-metal slathered in a Southern gothic gravy, reminiscent of Arkansas' Rwake; while the instrumental "Weather the Storm" churns out psychedelics on par with Washington, D.C.'s Dead Meadow. Amidst all of this seismic activity is nestled the strikingly gentle title track, which, though just a 90-second interlude of Spanish-Arabian guitars, leaves one wanting more of its experimentation and textural variety. And although the album's second half bogs down in the mud somewhat (see the rather dull "Flight Beyond" and "Grasping the Awe"), the initially humdrum drones of closer "A Depth Returns" and especially mid-album standout "Growing Slow" eventually unveil some of the most wicked-sounding metal riffs of the year. So too, Spirited Migration must qualify as one of 2009's most pleasant surprises in the doom/sludge field, establishing Dark Castle as a band to watch -- with or without a bass player.

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