Review: Cities Of Mars ‘Cities Of Mars’

Cities Of Mars come via Ripple Music from Gothenberg in Sweden and have been recorded and mixed by Wo Fat’s Ken Stump in Texas. Celebrating seven orbits around the sun as a band, they have pitched their mission statement as telling the continuing tale of a soviet astronaut, who in 1971, whilst on a covert mission, discovers an ancient Martian City. Cue conspiracy theories that reach back to the dawn of humanity, the scope for a varied sonic palette, and general sci-fi themed progressive exploration all welded to ambient, ethereal and crushing doom. If this sounds like a journey that tickles your inner tinfoil hat as well as wets your sonic whistle then strap in, set your phasers to stun, and open your third eye.

Cities Of Mars 'Cities Of Mars'

Musically the band have a nostalgic doom metal throwback but flavour the powerful riffing with delicate moments of folk and earthy, beatnik influences that give the album moments of haunting choral medflies that feel almost monastic in nature, leaning into the spiritual side of the thematic narrative.

Opening with the muted, distance folksy, chanting sounds of Before The Storm, like a pagan ritual calling, there is a moment spent building the grandiose atmosphere as an epic launchpad (pun absolutely intended) for the story that the band are unfolding for 40 plus minutes which ignites with Towering Graves (Osmos) and its funereal menacing walls of powerful mysticism.

Slow and steeped in lofty vocal melody courtesy of all three band members, the track invokes the proclamations of ancient priests warning of doom as the music crashes and rings. There is a faint undercurrent of industrial grime to some of the quieter moments, augmenting the plodding that makes everything seem epic on a prophetic scale, like some ancient warning of evil beamed forward into the souls of the band members.

Speaking of prophecy, The Prophet (Methusalem) comes to advance the story, edgy drums, harmonising vocals, and off kilter time changes make this stop in the journey feel claustrophobic and unsettling. Deceptively heavy, it still retains lashings of melody and progression as Danne Palm (vocalist/synth/guitars) works overtime as he provides sinister guitar work, the swelling androgynous sounding vocals and the ambient electronic flavours that enhance the music.

As the tracks move forward, each one tells the story of the seven cities of this Martian civilisation that seemed to have fallen into tragedy. The band build light and shade, one of the most spectacular being Song Of A Distant Earth (Hathra), a stripped down acoustic, hopeful track that enters around a single guitar and Palm’s pleading, passionate voice. Essentially a tender folk lament in the heart of the album full of woe, it is a call for a brighter day and a stark pause in the band’s power that is a great device to pull the listeners attention if it has begun to wander.

edgy drums, harmonising vocals, and off kilter time changes…

A Dawn Of No Light (Chthon) immediately shakes you out of this with a bouncing, upbeat pounding that sees Johan Aronstedt on drums strike out as he propels the track with deft, yet frenetic tempos and Palm lets loose with a snaking solo. Strangely this track reminded me a little of Blaze Bayley era Iron Maiden in the tone of the downbeat yet galloping melodies.

Musically this sense continues for me as The Dreaming Sky (Anur) brings more intricate vocal interplay, but then veers off into a twisted progressive avenue that sees the band bring down the tone and bring back the shuffling electronics that showcases Christoffer Norén with his deep bass drowning in layers of fuzz. Reflected Skyline (Sarraqum) is another moment of tender acoustic reflection with plaintive vocals before the beautiful sounding final number, The Black Shard (Bahb-Elon) which is easily the highlight of the album with the atmospheric guitar work and epic build into a sprawling, almost operatic number.

Mournful and yet authoritative it caps off Cities Of Mars as the most complex and complete chapter of the journey (not to mention the longest). The band signs off by throwing everything they have in their arsenal at the listener to bring their tale to a close (for now).

There is one thing you can say for the Swedes, they are not lacking in ambition.

Cities Of Mars third and eponymous album is shot through with ambition and has seen the band grow their style and incorporate numerous elements into their sound, elevating them beyond a run of the mill doom band. Cities Of Mars (the album) requires you to immerse yourself in the whole story. The concept is pretentious and convoluted sure, but it gives the band a direction, a vision that sets them apart. Long term you do have to wonder how much mileage they can gain from this, but on the evidence of their latest album, they seem to be only just getting started.

I have lived with this album for quite some time and have gone back and forth on it several times depending on how it has connected with my mood. It is not an album that will grab you every time you put it on, but when in the right frame of mind it hits all the right spots. Cities Of Mars is not a casual listen, it can be very rewarding, make no mistake, but it is not one you can just randomly drop onto and enjoy, which may be the point.

There’s a lot of talent in this band, there’s a lot of great music in this album, particularly if you like the soaring pomp of bands like The Sword, or the harder-hitting sludge of Baroness. It won’t be troubling my end of year list, but that shouldn’t stop you from checking it out if you are a fan of otherworldly, grandiose doom.

Label: Ripple Music
Band Links: Official | Facebook | Bandcamp | Instagram

Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden