Love From With The Dead by With The DeadRelease date: September 22, 2017
Label: Rise Above Records
I’ve been having a bit of a holiday from heavy metal this year. I’ve bought or listened to very few metal albums of late, but recently I have been thinking of jumping back in and have been looking for the right release to come along and tempt me. So when I saw that With The Dead had a new album I thought it was time to get some doom in my room and snatched it up asap. Surely a safe pair of hands With The Dead are made up of British doom metal royalty, with Lee Dorrian (Cathedral) and Tim Bagshaw (Electric Wizard / Ramesses) along with new guys bassist Leo Smee and drummer Alex Thomas. They originally also featured ex Electric Wizard and Ramesses drummer Mark Greening, but he’s out on his ear again, a drummer who’s split with more bands than Spinal Tap have split with drummers. I’ll leave the details to the chat rooms and concentrate on what this new iteration sounds like.
Now, the elephant in the room with any band fronted by Dorrian (or as we’re dealing with doom, should that be the ‘mammoth in the weeds’?) is that his vocals are very much musical Marmite. To be frank, he can’t sing – not in the way your granddad meant when he heard Mick Jagger “he’s no Sinatra is he?”, but in the, couldn’t carry a tune in a lead-lined bucket variety. I have never warmed to them in the way fans of Cathedral et al have, in the similar fashion that fans of Mark E Smith enjoy his mangled slurrings, fans of Dorrian appear to wear as a badge of pride their ability to listen to his flat, tone deaf barking.
Why then, you may rightly ask, have I volunteered to review his new album then? Well because I love doom metal and these guys should know what they’re doing, and in the spirit of adventure and the quest for understanding. So can I see my way to appreciation and even love of With The Dead? Appreciate yes, but love, no – and it isn’t just the vocals that prevent me doing so.
On a basic level you get what you would expect from With The Dead – a tremendously dense and filthy guitar sound familiar to Electric Wizard fans, the crawling pace and punishing riffs and a deeply misanthropic world view. I do have to commend the production Jaime Gomez Arellano has pulled off, it’s pretty much state of the art for what I want doom to sound like; a huge, fuzzy bottom end, really solid drumming with just flashes of percussion adding drama and enough room for some trebly, pained, guitar ornamentation. Witness the impressive Powerslave-esque guitar stylings on ‘Egyptian Tomb’ amidst the grinding riff – fantastic stuff. Unfortunately there’s not enough music with this much class or invention across the album.
There are moments where the guys stretch themselves as on ‘Watching the Ward Go By’, an eerie epic with a sparse pulse of guitar, beeping medical equipment, distant voices and then a spoken word part as a dying man (of course) leads into an angry raging end. It is somewhat let down by Dorrian’s limited range – it needs a vocalist who can really sing/scream to fully express the misery and fury. Still, at least they’re trying to do something interesting.
The other highlights tend to be where either Dorrian’s vocals are swamped in effects or where the band attempt something a little avant garde – all of which brings them close to sounding like To Mega Therion era Celtic Frost, but without the pacy chugging death metal assault or the more fully realised baroque ambitions.
Parts of ‘Cocaine Phantoms’ are great and I love the final effects heavy end to ‘CV1’ (a lament to Dorrian’s home city of Coventry), which sounds like killer robots having a nervous breakdown in a sawmill (I would be happy to smile and nod whilst musicians vainly tried to explain to me how this was achieved).
Fans of the band and their previous works will no doubt find something to enjoy on Love From With The Dead, but personally I would hope for more from musicians as revered as these. Dorrian’s vocals present an almost insurmountable problem when engaging with the songs, but even if you can then you’d expect something better than second rate Celtic Frost for your troubles.