Dorrian. Bagshaw. Greening. There’s an aura to it when you just put those three names side by side. There’s a certain viscosity, a sense of imposed abandonment, a quaking sense of dread, an air of anticipation and an ease of relation to their collective uncertainty that Rises Above, like a volcano throbbing gently through years of inactivity, a release always impending.
Those names alone have already told us half of what we all desperately wanted to know about this, the trio’s debut release together as With The Dead – an entirely new entity and a new chapter in the forever evolving history of doom metal. Tim Bagshaw handles guitars and bass, bringing with him a raft of historical devastation gained through a twenty year career with the likes of the crushing Ramesses and the brilliantly morbid Serpentine Path. Lee Dorrian sits calmly behind the mic, like a vulture sniffing the air for dead meat, fresh from the now disbanded legend of Cathedral, not to mention Rise Above Records themselves, Septic Tank and those ferocious early incarnations of Napalm Death. And who else could be named behind the kit but Mark Greening, Bagshaw’s one-time sparring partner in Ramesses and the original drummer of the terrifyingly-distorted 11 Paranoias. Now, finally, with these knights of the doom realm together in one band, how will their music seem? What will the future bring? Will it be the ‘in’ thing?
You all can sense there’s an elephant in the room, and it’s shaped like an Electric Wizard. You know the story so far… Greening and Bagshaw were founder members, made glorious heavy history as Wizards, then fell out with Oborn. Dorrian signed the Wizard, then fell out with Oborn. Greening re-Wizard-ed, then fell out with Oborn… You already know all of this, but does it really matter to With The Dead? Well, yes it does. Electric Wizard, Mark Greening and Tim Bagshaw all carry strands of the same doom-DNA and Lee Dorrian can’t fail to have both influenced and been influenced by the one-time kings of the post-Sabbath new order. So can you review a With The Dead debut without mentioning Electric Wizard? No, I don’t believe you can and I don’t believe you should. The proof is there in those riffs thicker than pudding, those deranged passages of class-A atmosphere and those wild, uncomfortable yearnings for something truly evil to come along and swallow you. Those are traits of this music, of this entire scene and of all of those aforementioned bands. Don’t expect the doom wagon’s wheels to be reinvented just because a few bolts have come loose along the way.
But hey, enough of politics, down to the music we sink… Where else could we begin than with the traditional witch-crackling samples, the steel-grinding feedback and an absolute sledgehammer of a riff straight out of the Bagshaw rulebook on the all-too immediate oblivion of Crown Of Burning Stars. Like Gaz Jennings, Victor Griffin, Dave Chandler and Tom G Warrior before him, there’s a droning weight to Bagshaw’s playing that simply dominates this entire record. The darkness he forged with Ramesses and Serpentine Path – more grisly in form than the early Wizard material – he has again brought with him to With The Dead in a major way, but there’s more than just raw, gnarly riffs on offer on this new menu of seismic destruction.
The Cross bumps and bounces along like a WWII naval bomb, stumbling between Bagshaw’s lumbering riff (which nods subtly to Cathedral’s ‘Utopian Blaster’) and Greening’s heavy-handed thump. As ever, the sticksman is generally either a notch ahead or behind the groove, or somehow switching between the two as Bagshaw swirls around him, giving him an unpredictable edge that adds real sharpness to each of the six WTD songs on offer. Greening is well and truly back on whatever form he was claimed to have lost in Electric Wizard Mk. 659, sounding imposing, venomous and powerful, yet agile, adept and sophisticated all at once. His war toms at the conclusion of The Cross leave this rager of a track smouldering in the ashes of desolation.
If ever a crow perched on the bars of a broken gate on a misty morning upon the moors could talk (those racist ones from ‘Dumbo’ aside) you just know it would sound just like the sneering, matter-of-fact grimace of Lee Dorrian. Lee sounds truly re-energised, up for it and angry, yet also eerily calculated and deliberate on the likes of Nephthys, which bears much more than a passing nod in its “Come! Come! Come to the Sabbat” chorus to the occult-laden 1970 Black Widow classic of the same title. With The Dead’s ode to the Egyptian goddess-like protector of the dead begins as a sinister, rolling wrecking ball, plundering its way through graveyards of swirling riffery and thudding drums. But where it ends up is all the more remarkable as Bagshaw rolls out his most astonishing and sweetly seductive solo of the album. It’s a feat of true beauty in an otherwise brown sea of hollow abandon.
With such a distinctive gravel to his throat, you’re always going to relate Lee Dorrian’s output to the vast legacy of Cathedral, but mightier still cuts like the harrowing Living With The Dead break through into a new plane which showcase what one of doom’s most recognisable voices can actually do …if you can put that shirt of his on the Midnight Mountain video out of your head for a few minutes, that is. Living With The Dead is a kaleidoscope of suffocatingly hypnotic pastures that Bagshaw and Greening step through, as if on tiptoes at times, before Dorrian roars them back into life and back under the bridge they all came from.
I Am Your Virus is the grooviest, most head-nodding cut on WTD and the one I would argue is closest to a post-Cathedral continuation of verse-chorus-verse doom. Though with Bagshaw’s rumbling bass and caustic riffs undercutting Dorrian’s bloodied wails, I Am Your Virus has got added dimensions and levels of electronic distortion that Gaz Jennings wouldn’t have chosen to feed into the mix, whilst the overall groove still yet manages to doff the cap to Lord Iommi.
The near-nine minute closer Screams From My Own Grave is every bit as terrifying as its title would suggest. Building slowly from Greening’s tom-rattling start, it stands out in musical terms as the closest thing to a horror flick that I’ve encountered; you can practically smell the soil in the broken fingernails as the fists of the zombies rise from the ground. Its enduring suffering subsides into a languishing pile of steaming debris; fractured bones, chords, rhythms and broken amps litter the pathway to a distant beyond as Dorrian tries to stand but is continually felled by Greening’s hammer blows and Bagshaw’s crackling venom. It sounds like Cliché City I know, but as the screams rain down upon the turf and the amps mangle beyond all repair, I do actually feel like I’m with the dead listening to this marathon of dishevelled misery.
With no live With The Dead shows scheduled at the time of writing, who knows what the future will hold. Will WTD prove to even be a band at all, or another one-off studio project between esteemed veteran colleagues of Thee Heavy? Will they potentially debut live, as rumoured, at the Dorrian-curated Rituals For The Blind Dead at Roadburn 2016? Who knows. What is certain however, is that this is a true Frankenstein’s monster of a debut from three wise men of the round table of doom. If you want new wave reinvention or psychological rearrangement, go listen to Deafhaven or buy a Yob record. With The Dead DOES sound like Serpentine Path, it does sound like Ramesses, it does sound like Cathedral and, yes, it does sound like Electric Wizard and Black Sabbath. But yet it also sounds like something an awful lot more powerful and refreshingly more relevant than those collective fragments: it sounds like Lee Dorrian, Tim Bagshaw and Mark Greening. And if that doesn’t sound heavy enough, true enough or “doom” enough for you, then you must be truly living With The Dead.
Scribed by: Pete Green