The Doom Stone. Just how metal a name is that? A relic from the 12th century, it currently resides in the basement of York Minster and depicts an especially vivid scene of damnation, sinners being boiled alive by demons and thrust into the mouth of hell. Why this hasn’t been the inspiration for more works is unknown, but it feels apt that someone possessing the vision of TenHornedBeast, a.k.a. Christopher Walton (ex-ENDVRA), has taken on the task. The result is a sombre and truly miserable exploration of the relic through his earthy approach to dark ambient, eschewing any elaborate ornamentation or trickery and instead focusing on creating a grim, lightless world that whoever carved that stone would feel right at home with.
The aptly-titled This Is The First Death sets the tone, a buzzing drone and rising, eerie resonances warping the senses. There is drama here, a flair for the morose and the gothic, but Walton gives it an air of dignity. There is an oddly regal aspect to how he constructs his sound, subtly sprinkling light whistling notes and clatters of unearthly percussion throughout, and it honestly does feel a little claustrophobic, the sounds filling the emptiness of the cold crypt its influence has existed in for centuries with sulphur and smoke. There is very little empty space in Walton’s sonic worldview; it feels like to do that would be to take things out of his control, and he is evidently working too hard to let things run away from him.
There’s something painterly to how Walton builds up Into The Mouth Of Hell, at first adding broad, gothic strokes of cello drone and chamber music atmospherics to a blank canvas, before adding the detail and violence. Percussive crashes come down like collapsing walls, streaks of feedback are stabbed through the fuzz, sometimes with deliberation and at other times with some demented intuition. As the drones, noise, and chaos pile atop each other, it extinguishes any trace of the blank, peaceful emptiness it started with. It’s disconcerting but effective, and it might be the album’s most vivid composition.
a solemn funerary dirge for the condemned…
As the two shortest tracks on offer, it’s tempting to lump Upon Their Heads Names Of Blasphemy and Black Furnace together, but while the same dread atmosphere pervades both, they take dissimilar paths to get there. In the former case, the use of empty space is finally given a part to play, bursts of low strings and clattering, metallic percussion rising and creating disorder before slipping back into silence for a few moments, then repeating the process again; the latter composition fills up all empty air but it’s less aggressive in its approach. There’s no dissonance or din, just a steady creeping tension that never lets up.
This Is The Second Death, presumably an audio depiction of the final settling of the damned into eternal suffering, has a telling sense of finality. While it doesn’t offer much new in terms of technique, it’s oddly beautiful. Heavy with resignation, it plays out like a solemn funerary dirge for the condemned, hums and dread drones resonating in the darkness while desolate winds sweep across the bones of the dead. It’s a fitting end for an album that not only captures the essence of the Doom Stone, but also that of the medieval mindset that birthed it.
There’s something hopeless but reverential here, the sense that hell awaits us all and that humanity is better off resigning themselves to that fact. Not a cheery thought but TenHornedBeast has never been about smiles and sunshine, and this is him at his gloomy best.
Label: Cold Spring Records
Scribed by: Dave Bowes