By: Matt Butler
Spelljammer | website | facebook | bandcamp |
Released on October 2, 2015 via RidingEasy Records
Kapok holds a special childhood memory for me. It is the impossibly fluffy product of the seed from the tree of the same name, in case you didn’t know. And it was used to fill the ancient, well-used mattresses and pillows we used to use at school camp lodges. You could sink into it, its gel-like texture enveloping you, like lying on an ergonomically dubious water balloon. It was so comfortable. But its softness and pliability belied the fact it was heavy as hell. If you got whacked in the face by a kapok pillow, you sure knew about it. Which brings me to Spelljammer‘s new album, which could be the kapok mattress of the doom world.
It is released on RidingEasy Records – the label whose owner seems to have in his possession every possible pressing of Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality, if his Instagram feed is anything to go on – so you can rest assured that it is suitably fuzz-laden. And the trio is Swedish, drawing inevitable comparisons to their compatriots and label-mates Monolord.
The comparisons are valid: Spelljammer have that same warm vibe as Monolord – maybe even more so, given that their bass hums in the background, rather than acts as a Lemmy-style second guitar as Mika Hakki’s does in Monolord. It is Niklas Olsson’s bass that softens the edges somewhat, the low-end vibrations making the listener feel almost unable to move – as if they have taken a teensy bit too much cough medicine – for much of the album.
There isn’t much new here for the dedicated fan of psychedelic doom – the label is ploughing its furrow narrow yet deep to warrant a high yield of similar crops, it would seem – but Ancient of Days is an ideal entry-level slice of soporific goodness. And it is worlds away – literally, as far as lyrical content goes – and a hell of a lot heavier and more satisfying than Spelljammer’s debut, Inches From the Sun.
To this end, they are fond of a quiet breakdown to give their monstrous songs some dynamics. Take the 10-minute opener ‘Meadow’, which has a riff so thick you could eat it and a gentle guitar solo in the midst, which is a welcome eye in the heavy, heavy storm before the guitar lumbers back in. Then as if things couldn’t get any treacle-like, for the final three minutes the band morph into a brooding riff which is like having kapok matresses slowly and methodically stacked one by one on top of you.
After the short acoustic ‘Laelia’ – more of an interlude than an actual song – ‘From Slumber’ gives us a blues-inflected sombre number, which has a heavy yet soaring chorus riff but ends all too quickly. ‘The Pathfinder’ is harsher than what has followed and is the only song of the five on here that drags a little. But when it’s over, it’s time for the snake song to softly batter us into submission. Or, more accurately, it’s time for ‘Borlung’ – named after a snake god – to lower us into a velvet-lined hole. It begins with a guitar playing a simple, clean riff over a single metronomic bass note. The cleanliness doesn’t last. Within seconds the fuzz, volume, thickness and fuzz (did I mention fuzz?) are all turned up and hey presto, the audience is transformed into a head-nodding morass. The riff goes from groovy to crushing towards the end, with Olsson (he was solely the vocalist for their debut, but does two jobs well here) gamely attempting to hit the high notes, then, like a shorebreak wave on a stormy beach, the song crashes and recedes to silence.
And we’re left lying on our soft kapok mattress wanting more.