Review: Black Totem ‘II: Shapeshifting’

Anyone who knows me and/or has read my Shaman reviews will know of my love for death rock, therefore there was no chance I was going to pass up the opportunity to review Black Totem‘s latest II: Shapeshifting. The band are from Turku in Finland and composed of Spit Poison (lead vocals, lyrics, bedpan guitar), Wera Wolf (bass, vocals), Sam Hate (lead guitar, backing vocals and Tony Cash (battery, backing vocals). This album is the follow-up to 2015’s Self-Titled debut as well as the I Brought You Back and I Will Haunt You EPs.

Black Totem 'II: Shapeshifting'

The cover art immediately harks back to 1980s horror films, the kind you’d have found in the horror section of your local Blockbuster Video which you may have sneaked off to when your parent’s backs were turned. More specifically it brought to mind the Friday The 13th Series.

We kick off with opener Begone Vampire and early Misfits/Samhain immediately comes to mind. The vocals recall Glenn Danzig’s baritone Elvis howl and the music is a lot more raucous than I was expecting. A bracing way to open the album.

The Devil takes a bluesier tone with layers of doom metal ala early Danzig, reminding me a little of Mother, while the chorus has a catchiness worthy of underrated German duo The Picturebooks. The late, great neurologist Oliver Sachs in his book Musicophilia wrote of earworms that ‘are a clear sign of the overwhelming, and at times, helpless, sensitivity of our brains to music’ and that definitely applies to this track. When live gigs eventually resume you can guarantee that audience participation en masse will feature for this one.

Black Totem have an arsenal of styles at their disposal which they manage to combine together effortlessly…

1990’s is next and has a grungier vibe, parts of which remind me of classic Soundgarden and their ilk. Throw in shades of Joe Wood era TSOL (the Change Today album in particular) and you have another belter of a track. Black Tempo Gloves has shades of not only the aforementioned Misfits (the’woahs’ are a dead giveaway), but also a rockabilly Cramps feel too. It’s almost like Lux Interior never left us.

Ghostly moans associated with a Vincent Price or Christopher Lee movie start Bloodstained Owl while the music reminds me of Italy’s Lunar Swamp and their self-described ‘shamanic doom blues’. This leads us nicely into the second half of the album and Ghoul Of Crow Swamp, a post-punk styled number that would push buttons for fans of the likes of The Scientists. Its murkiness recalls that band, while there are also touches of Am Rep styled noise-rock and Henry Rollins vocal intonations. A curious yet effective mix.

Dead Meat breezes along at a fairly brisk pace at 2:35 minutes long, it has a garage-rock rawness ala The Murder City Devils sans Hammond organ. Backyard Corpse Blues reminds one a little of Celtic Frost at their doomiest and is pretty crushing, one for metalheads to savour. Welcome Lucifer is another dark sounding number, like its predecessor it has a metallic sheen and sees them yet again tapping into the first wave of black metal with a distinct Venom influence, crossed with Wailin Storms brand of doomy swamp rock. Speaking of Wailin Storms, closing number Warlock recalls that excellent band in spades and brings a sense of satisfying finality to the record.

I’ll be upfront, this was a fantastic release. Black Totem have an arsenal of styles at their disposal which they manage to combine together effortlessly, while never at any stage feeling laboured, self-conscious or predictable. Musical originality in the current age is a rare treat and difficult to attain, but Black Totem prove it is possible.

Label: Svart Records
Band Links: Facebook | Bandcamp | Instagram

Scribed by: Reza Mills