Since Finnish doom maestros Reverend Bizarre stumbled to a halt after their third album, III: So Long Suckers, bassist and vocalist Sami Albert Hynninen aka Albert Witchfinder has busied himself with numerous projects, including his one man band affair Opium Warlords. Releasing four slabs of brutally stark and heavyweight music, Witchfinder has plumbed the depths of dark psychosis and torn up the conventions of his previously more traditionally doom orientated manifestation.
Unleashed at the beginning of December 2020, Nembutal – Opium Warlords’ fifth album – is a seventy three minute discourse on mental health and free form, multi-dimensional music, described as a ‘joyful vision of death and apocalypse’ that attempts to step out of any such preconceptions by crafting eight tracks of experimentation that seeks to challenge the listener through spoken word, steams of consciousness and progressive forms. Very much front loaded, the album sets out to obliterate expectations from the start.
Opener A Heavy Heart, feels exactly like it is titled. Nearly twenty minutes of funeral like dirge, built around a simple ringing refrain and sombre, almost monotone delivery, the track is minimal but as close to pure doom as the album gets; delivered with no soft balling, no gathering of momentum, just ringing, eloquent clean vocals, downtrodden melody and plodding riffs that seems like a homage to the eponymous Black Sabbath track. This is immediately followed by the eleven minute plus Threshold Of Your Womb which sounds literally like a droning, chiming bell and the mournful intonation ‘We fabricated heaven, to overcome our anxiety of death’.
Third track Destroyer Of Filth brings respite in terms of running time, tempo and structure, but feels like a dramatic reading, like Faust set to music. Duelling spoken word voices, half spoken, half sung passages pass with intense and dark atmosphere, invoking the kind of preaching you’ve seen in horror films in the era of his namesake.
This cacophony builds to breaking and then is washed away with the simple, light beginnings of Sarah Was Nineteen Years Old. The first three minutes of seemingly suffocating calm allows your imagination to think the worst before the narration confirms all your feelings of discomfort. As with every track the instruments, all handled deftly by Witchfinder and carefully crafted to provoke a reaction while forming the bedrock of his artistic expression.
Solar Anus turns the screws with almost blackened vocals over a beautiful light melody that constantly feels on the edge of delivering some true evil, but somehow leaves you all the more unsettled for never allowing it to become fully formed.
multi-layered vocals soaring over riffs as slow as a continental drift…
This mood is lifted strangely by the cheerfully titled Early In The Morning The Body Of The Girl Was Found. This is another spoken word piece voiced in samples by a female protagonist. As sinister as the title is, the music is a light and beautiful contrast that’s some of the most enjoyable on the album in terms of sonic relief.
The lightweight interlude of Perspiring Princess gives way to the crushing Xanadu, another epic length doom piece that helps bookend the album with Witchfinder’s multi-layered vocals soaring over riffs as slow as a continental drift and percussion that smashes like the gradual incoming tide on the rocks of a dark winter shoreline.
Nembutal is clearly a labour of love; this has not been put together lightly, but carefully crafted to question and provoke in a singular vision. It seems to attempt to span all avenues of doom, from the purest original influences to aspects of modern day acts like Pallbearer, and to throw it all up in the air and create something different that stands on its own merit.
Some of it is utterly fantastic and captivating in its execution, the dense atmosphere of light and shade, the morose and the serene that people have come to expect from the man who fronted Reverend Bizarre and yet some of it can be hard to follow for the uninitiated.
The ongoing themes of the spoken word passages asks the listener to completely surrender to the concept, making this no casual listening experience. Some will find this difficult to swallow and Nembutal is not an album for the faint of heart, but fans of old school doom and progressive experimentation will, quite rightly, lap this up.
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden