I was drawn to this album by the enigmatic album cover, and then reeled in by the description of the music – “an ambitious, qualitative blend of thick doom, dreamy instrumentals and layered vocals.”
The press blurb also states that this is “A mix of Pallbearer, Kowloon Walled City, Mastodon, Yob and Alice in Chains”, which is a good starting point for approaching Fear, although it doesn’t tell the whole story. I’d also add to this the experimental doom flourishes of a band like Boris too, as well as the post-metal styling of a band like Isis.
This is an album of real texture and feeling; the songs seem to slowly ripple with life and vibrancy as they unfold at their gradual, unhurried pace. This doesn’t mean that the band only play at slow speeds, of course. Rather, it means that the music has been allowed to develop naturally, without being forced. Skullcave sound like they have gently coaxed this material out from an underground hiding place from the 90s, while concurrently building it up into something shiny and modern in veneer.
This album uses the post-metal build/release mechanic very well. It has a basis in progressive and doom metal, while being aided by post-metal’s willingness to explore and develop over time.
Elements of doom, shoegaze/doomgaze, stoner, and psychedelia all come together on Fear, all enhancing the core of the band’s progressive modus operandi. Skullcave are a talented bunch, and their songs are atypical exemplars of how to play progressive doom that’s influenced by the bands mentioned above, but without particularly sounding too obviously like any of them. Sure, you can hear a bit of any one of them here and there, but the overall result is songs that belong and sound like Skullcave first and foremost, which is no small achievement.
The music is atmospheric and emotive, skilfully weaving mood and feeling into impressive soundscapes of depth and substance. Each track has its own identity, and each one contributes to the holistically-delivered nature of the album as a whole, while very much fulfilling its own needs to be an individual and to flow freely with creativity and ideas.
The vocals are impressive, although decent chunks of the album are purely given over to the music. When it appears, the singing is frequently layered and well-used. Everything from ethereal cleans to harsh shouts make appearances, with a lot of other delivery styles getting a look in too.
Fear is very, very good, and that’s putting it mildly. Make sure you check this out.