I’ve never entirely understood why mid-to-high tempo metal gets classed as doom if it’s tuned low enough. To me, doom should be slow and oppressive, it should sap you of your energy, not provide it. But in the end, it’s just a label, the application of which I’m apparently going to have to deal with. It’s this maybe-inaccurate-maybe-not descriptor that gets tossed at San Francisco based trio Castle’s sophomore release Blacklands, an album on which they ask a similar question of classic doom metal that a band like Torche applies to stoner metal: why can’t it be a bit poppy and catchy?
It’s a brand of metal not unlike a modern update of the Black Sabbath tunes you’re likely to hear on the radio, though it’s never as huge and ominous as that band. It’s a more streamlined approach with lots of 70s and 80s hard rock influence; at times the riffs sounding like someone is playing a Poison record at 60% speed. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, at least not to my mind, but at times it feels just a little bit clumsy and incongruous. If I knew more (i.e. anything) about music theory I might be able to explain myself a little better, but it’s like the chords don’t match the tone. Like awkward “ironic” metal covers of cheesy pop songs. More often than not, though, the riffing is catchy as hell and will get your head bobbing.
On top of the riffing, the record is carried mostly by the somber vocals of bassist Elizabeth Blackwell, who delivers a respectable if unremarkable performance, and occasionally guitarist Mat Davis will step in to add a little more aggressive grit to the mix. The vocals are probably one of my bigger issues with the album. They’re not bad, but they’re mostly uninteresting. The band needs either more creativity in the vocal lines themselves or more expressiveness in the vocals. As it is it sounds like Blackwell is kind of sleeping through her delivery, which could work great on songs that weren’t otherwise striving for energy. Here, the mix is just a little too dissonant and it ends up being a bit distracting at times.
There are some memorable moments scattered throughout the record, but maybe the most damning thing I can say about this record is that even though I listened to this more than any other record over the last 10 days or so, I managed to forget I even had it and needed to write this review. And at a mere 35 minutes, it still managed to fall into the trap of repeating itself a little bit too much, which is doubly hurtful because they’re pulling so much from the music of the late 60s and 70s that we’ve all heard, digested, and seen rehashed before. It’s like leftovers you didn’t heat up long enough – there are just too many cold spots that spoil the whole experience.