Bay Area’s Castle cut through the gloom with awesome second album ‘Blacklands’

It’s pretty gloomy over where I am today. It’s been raining for days, my basement ceiling is leaking as a result, there are nice pockets of fog everywhere, and things just look soggy and depressing. Therefore, it’s a good day for some pick-me-up doom metal, the one metallic sub-genre that truly embodies how this day looks.

These feelings got me jumping back into my recent stash of promos and one that’s really been moving me lately, that being “Blacklands,” the second effort from San Francisco trio Castle. In the past, the band has described its sound as “witch thrash,” a title that made me chuckle at first until I realized just how accurate a distinction it is. While the band isn’t tried-and-true thrash metal per se (there’s an awful lot of doom, psychedelic rock, and power metal to be had), certainly a lot of what they likely absorbed organically from being in the Bay Area influenced what we hear on this great new album. And it’s a really, really good piece of work, a huge step up from their impressive debut, last year’s “Witch Order.”

The band’s songwriting certainly has improved in leaps and bounds, and I love their approach to riffs and guitar lines, because they put their imagination and some dark ingenuity in them. Because of that, you don’t feel like you’re hearing something a million different bands of this ilk have done before, and as their songs progressed, so did my interest. Also, bassist Elizabeth Blackwell’s vocal work is just mesmerizing, and she has a way of painting the whole thing with an evil brush, but dusting over the songs with infectious hooks that make you want to sing along. When guitarist Mat Davis takes over on a couple of occasions (most notably ultra-aggressive “Storm Below the Mountain” and “Curses of the Priest”), the band takes on a more dangerous, threatening vibe.

Castle kind of have a retro vibe to them, but it never feels put on. Instead, it just seems to be what comes out of the band naturally, and forced to come up with a comparison, I’d say the band’s work falls somewhere in between The Devil’s Blood and Christian Mistress. That’s some damn good company, if you ask me, so anyone into those two acts would behoove themselves to get up on “Blacklands.”

There is gallop and thunder early on with opening cut “Ever Hunter,” a straight-forward track that gets the melody and adventure raging straight ahead. From there, it’s on to “Corpse Candles,” a great track that, while a little heavier than what current rock radio formats tend to support, probably could catch on with listeners on the strength of the chorus alone. I keep going back to this one, and I think it’s my favorite track on the album. For now. The title track is the closest rival to “Corpse Candles” as far as infectiousness, and while Blackwell gets a little raspier here with her singing, she never fails to hit her marks and keep you moving through the gloomy darkness. “Venus Pentagram” is shorter and to the point, going back to the more skull-bashing approach that they employ on the Davis-fronted songs, but there’s also a glaze of dreaminess that hangs over everything. “Alcatraz” reminds me a lot of their Bay Area neighbors Hammers of Misfortune, and the first time I heard the cut, I thought it was going to be a sprawling instrumental. But Blackwell cuts through that and delivers a nastier, grittier performance that lets this song rise above the murk. “Dying Breed” ends our journey with, again, another strong skeletal riff, some smoky emissions, and a damn thunderous conclusion that should leave your heart pounding.

Castle’s name deserves to be on the tip of the tongue of every doom metal fan trying to sift through the good stuff and the pretenders. This band is mighty both in sound and mission, and “Blacklands” is one hell of an impressive album from a group that’s still relatively new. I’ve really enjoyed all the time I’ve spent with this album, and chances are excellent that come the end of the year, this is going to be one of the hot contenders for my 2012 top 40 list.

For more on the band, go here: http://heavycastle.com/

To buy “Blacklands,” go here: http://www.van-records.de/products/en/CDs/Castle-Blacklands-digipack-CD.html

For more on the label, go here: http://www.van-records.de/