Birmingham’s Opium Lord have had a kind of fast-track experience since forming just a few years ago. Their first EP (the fancily-titled The Calendrical Cycle – Prologue: The Healer (reviewed here), released by Thirty Days Of Night/Witch Hunter Records) sold out quickly, and it has since been revealed to be the prologue for a two part album, the first of which is The Calendrical Cycle: Eye Of Earth which comes to us via Candlelight Records (CD) and Dry Cough Records (Vinyl). This kind of ambition (and the prerequisite hard work) has seen the band headline tours in the UK and make various trips to Europe and most recently, North America with firm friends Primitive Man. More importantly, it’s highlighted them as a band to watch.
The main reason for the band’s success however is that their music is excellent. The Healer seemed to strike a chord because it dared to vary from the Pentagram and Sabbath-leaning doom of many UK doom bands, taking just the menacing tone at the genre’s core and adding a level of sophistication to their take on sludge – not unlike a dopesick Alice In Chains jamming with Soundgarden and Johnny Morrow. The result was a band that was tight and tuneful, whilst also being incredibly heavy and bleak. Efficient too – Eye Of Earth runs a slim 7 songs and 33 minutes long which is mercifully shorter than your average doom record in 2015.
And let’s get this out of the way: Eye Of Earth only builds on Opium Lord’s early promise, and is more unrelentingly bleak and heavy than The Healer EP. Opening track Challenger wastes no time laying down the album’s foundation of toxic, sludgy riffs and a soaring, distant lead guitar that soon becomes the band’s signature throughout the seven songs, acting as a recurring coda, and a counter-point to the downtuned guitars and thunderous drums. As I’ve mentioned, comparisons to Iron Monkey are inevitable, most notably in singer Nathan Coyle’s more abrasive vocal delivery, although his voice also has a low, guttural and outright bilious quality which rears its ugly head when the band slow things down in Pink Mass, Black Libraries, and the fantastic Crystals. The closing duo, Ghost Singer and Krocodil finish the album off in a suitably horrendous fashion, with the latter being a particularly harrowing journey through its subject matter, sounding broken and dejected, the musical equivalent of pins and needles
Just as Bast created a compelling debut (2014’s Spectres – reviewed here) by mashing up doom and black metal, Opium Lord have crafted an incredibly cohesive and eery album by merging the sheer heft and despair of doom with the contorted melodies and tumultuous rhythms of sludge. By some strange alchemy, Opium Lord have managed to create a sound of their own in the very crowded (and increasingly uninspiring) field of doom-sludge. If Eye Of Earth is indeed part one of some wider narrative, it will be interesting to see how the Calendrical Cycle unfolds, but as debut albums go, you’d be hard pressed to find a finer example this year.
Scribed by: Tom McKibbin