Review: Subterraen ‘Rotten Human Kingdom’

French doom metal trio Subterraen might not be ground-breaking in the metaphorical sense, but they may well be in a literal sense. Played at high enough volume, their brand of slow and cacophonous doom metal might very well create new fault-lines in earth’s tectonic plates. It’s also the perfect way of portraying their thematic take on the environmental crisis. Rotten Human Kingdom doesn’t necessarily bring anything vastly new to the doom metal table, but it still provides a feast of all the things that make doom so wonderfully enjoyable.

Subterraen ‘Rotten Human Kingdom’

The opening track Blood For The Blood Gods opens nicely with a Sunn0)))-esque movement of drones, before flowing into lethargic yet visceral sludge parts and Conan style riffing, at times groovy, at times sluggish and punishing. In the final leg, the track breaks down into a terrifyingly atmospheric clean melody and finishes with a very slow post-doom finale, reverberating the kind of depressing melody that Thou would be proud of.

For A Fistful of Silver begins with some galloping drums and a brutal tremolo guitar riff that’s quite abrasive in style, reminding me of Bongripper when they move into speedier territory. The tone is still devastatingly thick and as the track moves into a mid-tempo stomp, it feels like trying to march through crude oil. Unlike the opening track, which moved at a slug’s pace, this seems to move between parts much quicker and feels more focussed in its progressions. The track also constructs tension really well; when a peak is reached around the six-minute mark and the vocals come back in with their furious screams, it feels absolutely massive.

The band are also able to pull some interesting groove into the riffs too, the middle section of For A Fistful of Silver changes tempos with wild abandon, before dropping into a Yob-like clean section. When the feedback started after just a couple of plays of this clean riff, I initially wished that the section had gone on for longer to build the atmosphere a bit more; but I almost immediately took that thought back because holy shit, when the track explodes again it’s cataclysmic. This final movement is like a volcano erupting in slow motion, spraying lava directly into your ears and bouncing off your eardrums like molten balls of pure doom. It goes on for an age, unrelenting even as it begins to slow down, and then finally it returns to that clean riff. For a track of fourteen minutes long, there wasn’t a single moment where I felt disengaged.

like a volcano erupting in slow motion, spraying lava directly into your ears and bouncing off your eardrums like molten balls of pure doom…

Oceans Are Rising is a rather beautiful interlude, melding melancholic classical guitar with a steely timbre, before the final track Wrath Of A Downtrodden Planet enters. Its gargantuan opening riff is made somewhat more saline by the acidic guitar lead that cuts through. The vocals are at their most grim, a layer of crusty filth becoming audible in the space between guitar chords. Inevitably the track cools down into a quieter movement, this time led by a bass line that is clipping so hard in the cabinet speakers, it feels percussive. Again, I’m not sure the band keep things in this quieter form for long enough before returning to doom mode, and the parts that come after this clean break sound remarkably similar in composition to those in the first movement. Unfortunately it leaves things feeling a little tiresome, and there isn’t enough detail to really elevate the riffs either. The vocals and guitar leads only last for a few bars, and no matter how heavy the riff is, when you’re playing it for this long, it needs something ancillary to really lift it up.

When the track enters its final leg there is a feeling of relief from the denseness of the last movement, and to counteract this, we’re given a blend of clean droning melodies overlaid with some echoing voice samples. The track then goes forward into a faster riff again, albeit more melodic than on previous tracks; once more the band can’t seem to hold out for long before changing back into their doom form, although this time they do it with a little more stoner flavour. It’s actually a very strong final leg that flits between slow pummelling beats and some more intricate rhythmic blasts, with a final slow-motion flourish to close out the record.

I definitely enjoyed this album, and as a doom metal record focussed on creating the heaviest, and most oppressing atmosphere, it is excellent. I do think the band could focus on their song-writing a little more; it’s fantastic to be able to put together tracks of 18 minutes in length like Wrath Of A Downtrodden Planet, but they need to be engaging throughout, in the way For A Fistful Of Silver is.

Ultimately though, while there isn’t anything in the riffs or melodies that I haven’t heard before, I doubt Subterraen were trying to reinvent the wheel with this album, and nor should they. There is nothing to admonish about this, and in utilising almost every element of modern doom metal, they’ve created a plethora of sonic landscapes that depict their theme: an apocalyptic demolition of the earth caused by humanity’s disregard for the natural world. It’s the kind of theme that doom metal should be about, doom in the truest sense of the word, and Rotten Human Kingdom is a fine soundtrack to this destruction.

Label: Transcending Obscurity Records
Band Links: Facebook | Bandcamp | Instagram

Scribed by: Will J