Chapel Hill, North Carolina’s Bitter Resolve have been ploughing their furrow of dynamic doom for a little while, releasing their debut LP ‘Bows and Arrows Against the Lightning’ in 2011, followed up by this pretty accomplished release.
They are a bit of a parallel to the broadly similar sounding The Obsessed, in the fact that they are based near a punk and indie stronghold, Chapel Hill being the homestead of a lot of stars especially during the 1980s and 90s. The Obsessed similarly grew up on the fringes of the Dischord scene in Washington DC, many of the punks eventually cottoning on to how great their pure Sabbath-worship could be, and adopting them as their own. However a long time has elapsed since those early doom-allergic days, and the sound of mid-paced fuzz guitars is everywhere, ‘doom’’s gone mainstream.
It’s an irony that while the Obsessed had an outsider cool because they were simply one of the few bands doing what they did, now that doom’s everywhere, it’s harder to stand out, even if you are true to what you do. So what do Bitter Resolve have to offer that distances them from the pack? Their sound is perhaps best described as ‘gloomily resolute,’ their name is a good fit too, the band having a feel of trudging forwards, sometimes hopefully, sometimes stepping sideways for a second, sometimes just resigned to fate. Their relatively straightforward fuzz guitar (R. Corey Dial), drums (Lauren Fitzpatrick) and loud, proud bass (Robert Walsh) is counterpointed by the most ‘resolute’ aspect, the more monotone than average sung vocals, also delivered by Walsh. They do not have enough variety to really be called melody lines, sounding more like pleas in the form of mantras. Think Mike of Yob’s more one-dimensional moments, but slightly less fervent. It’s no doubt a deliberate ‘aesthetic’, and is tried and tested in the genre, but the effect of this fairly excessively homogenous delivery is alienating, not altogether pleasant, but also strangely effective, conjuring up a broken but not beaten, almost defiant feeling, quite appropriate to the times we’re living in. The repeated lyric in ‘Mercury at Dusk,’ a pretty epic Kashmir relative, “Never straight but always forward,” seems to sum up their general vibe.
The album’s a very classy, smoothly executed affair, not to say that it’s got too much polish, it’s got just the right sort of warm production you’d want and expect, and a great deal of fine interplay and dynamics. It sits in the ‘psychedelic’ camp, helped by the mantra-like vocals, some slightly disorientating Melvinsy rhythmic shifts, and occasional effects injections, as well as generally hazy vibe, but really, everyone sounds in total control here, the band is beautifully integrated, to describe it a little mechanically.
The songs are all very listenable, there is a lot of interesting and fun music to be had here. It’s just (can you tell I’m flailing a bit here), I don’t know, it just sounds almost ‘casual,’ not smug and pointless like the Sword often sounds, as it goes through its mechanical motions, but just kind of polite. And music should never be polite! As a result, compared to something like Yob or Pallbearer, it doesn’t really shake your boots enough sonically or emotionally to be very memorable, it just feels like having a relaxing bath. I dunno, maybe there’s a really important need for such a dip into some just-so doom, for its perversely therapeutic qualities, in these grim times!
They saved the best for last, closing track ‘Eternal Ship’ hits some emotional highs in the beautiful chorus, with some yearning creeping into the vocals, and some epic playing as the track unfolds. But then it’s over, and you think, OK, that was nice! As a result, I’m a bit unsure how to finish this review, it isn’t great, it’s not bad at all, it’s just there! Please buy it if you want an excellent, musically sophisticated doom album that doesn’t quite get out of third gear, but does the job very well.
Label: Self Released
Scribed by: James Parker