Those who’ve followed Colloquial Sound Recordings, or the work of its American founder Damian Master, may have been surprised when a release from his doom project Alluring dropped earlier this year. The bleak funeral doom that comprised the self-titled release had not been heard since 2013 demo The Room, but while the project had been dormant long enough for fans to be forgiven for thinking it was unlikely to return, the new self-titled release marked a surprise but welcome return for Master’s solo doom venture. Comprising a stark and desolate form of doom with an emphasis on a palpable atmosphere bred by transfixing melodies, the release is as devastating as it is unique.
This originality aids in Alluring standing out amongst the crowded doom scene, but Master cares little for labels. “Any sort of ‘unique’ or ‘experimental’ tag that gets applied to Alluring because it exists outside of the standard accepted definition of what this thing is – it’s not by my design,” he clarifies. “I just make the music that I want to hear. All of those tags and words have no meaning to me. It’s nice if they mean something to you, or if you feel that I exist on some different frequency from the norm, but I just make the music. I leave all else to anyone with the ears to hear and the heart and head to interpret. Whatever someone labels it as, as long as they’ve invested the time and energy into digesting the music, whatever it means to them – that’s valid. I won’t take that away or tell them they’re wrong.”
The influence of funeral doom on Alluring does not stop at the instrumentation. The overarching themes apparent throughout the release seldom stray far from the established miserable rhetoric. “I did want to stick to the traditional themes and tropes of funeral doom, even though many of my other projects veer from what is traditional content,” Master acknowledges. “The themes are as you would expect: mourning, despair, misery, and the darkness surrounding the human condition. You could wrap that up in a single package and say “depression,” but it reaches slightly beyond that. Like most of my work, it deals with reconciling life on this earth, and the pain and strangeness we live every day – and the hope for something better or perfected beyond this world. A new life, a new creation, a restoration of a soul corrupted by a fallen world.”
Essential to the power of Alluring is a relentlessly heavy edge that seemingly borrows from death metal in its intensity, but Master admits that death metal is his least favourite style of metal. “I hate the technical death metal masturbatory stuff. The stuff that’s so musically complicated just for the sake of being complicated. It’s just gross to me,” he exclaims. It seems most clear, then, that the focus of Alluring is not only a forceful heaviness but a profound atmosphere found in the most enchanting of doom metal. ”Doom metal is a huge influence,” he says. “I love how soulful it can be. I love how the guitars often speak where the words cannot, or don’t. I love the atmosphere. Atmosphere is my favourite thing in music. I love to listen to something, and just be transported somewhere mentally.”
“Atmosphere is everything,” Master continues. “When we use this word in the context of underground metal, it has a really distinct and unique meaning. It’s not something easily explained.” This emphasis on atmosphere stems from Master’s aspiration to craft a mix of Nortt and Asunder (“no one did it better than Asunder, they’re a perfect band”) and is present throughout the four tracks that comprise the self-titled album. “Atmosphere in music has to come naturally, it cannot be forced,” he says. “Atmosphere isn’t busy musically or technical fretboard wizardry. So, in the context of this topic, atmosphere is the most difficult thing to impart because it’s not what you do, it’s what you don’t do – it’s the breath between the breaths.”
In a sense, as Master admits, this atmospheric focus is what sets Alluring apart from traditional doom bands. “It’s almost this alienating thing for some people,” he explains. “They just want to see the meat of something, they want to see the bones and structure right away. I like that too, at times, but for this project I wanted the listener to be forced to engage with the music in a way that isn’t as immediate. If it struck you immediately, then that’s awesome! However, there are things and sounds buried deep in the mix that are there to be unpacked across multiple listens. I encourage people to put on a nice pair of headphones and get lost in the songs. There is more to be discovered in time.”
Rather than restricting himself to one genre, Master often drifts from sub-genre to sub-genre. Though he seems to have a passion for breeding captivating but dark atmospheres with Alluring’s funeral doom, he admits that it “is one of those sub-genres that I’ll latch onto for a period. When the mood strikes to listen to funeral doom, nothing else will suffice. It can be so enveloping and suffocating. It can be beautiful and crushing at the same time.” Each of his projects take on a different name, but he would argue that “they are all really under one umbrella.” Though he has experimented with ambient and industrial, mainly with Locust Leg, the majority of his work falls into the categories of punk and metal. “Even though the styles across the many projects seem quite different, and they are to an extent, I view all the subgenres and styles within metal and punk to be ‘kissing cousins’, if you will,” says Master. “They are not that different, they’re just different interpretations of the same basic idea. I am not one of those guys who puts out a metal record, then a reggae record, then a jazz record, then a d-beat punk record. I get tagged as ‘prolific’, but [my projects] are all just interpretations on a micro-stylistic level – it’s all leaves on the same tree.”
Master may see his releases this way, but what’s clear to long-term listeners is that Alluring stands out amongst the bunch for its speed, or lack thereof, alone. A Pregnant Light, perhaps the project Master is most known for, may be mostly mid-tempo, but most of his experience, in bands like Aksumite and Prison Suicide, favours a punk-inspired inclination for quick tracks with short lengths. “One thing that intrigued me as an artist about this project was tempo,” he says. “Fast music feels reckless and wild. It feels like freedom. With Alluring, I really wanted to dig into the other side of things and slow things down. I wanted to let the music breathe. I wanted there to be negative space and tension. In writing these songs I felt incredibly refreshed and inspired, even though I was in a dark place while writing them. I had gone through, and to an extent still am going through, a dark period of my life and found myself drawn to that emotion – the dirge. I wanted to explore something that was monolithic and slow moving yet maintained melody and power.”
Given that Alluring’s dismal funeral doom had not been heard for some time, it would seem that Master took this time meticulously crafting the release. In truth, though, Master simply revisited the project when inspiration hit. “I just waited until the emotion and time were right,” he explains. “Creativity is not a faucet. It can’t be turned on and off at will. Or maybe a better illustration would be a soda fountain. People think that I just walk up, and see all these options and flavours of music, and just decide ‘I’ll have this flavour today!’ but that is so far from the truth. As an artist, I have to work every day and chip away at this invisible force you are fighting inside of you, or at least, the force you suspect lives inside you.”
“I didn’t spend five years composing the follow-up,” he explains. “This full-length was written across two, or maybe three, inspired days. I had to wait for the spirit to come. I was just as surprised when it came to me as many were when they saw the new release from Alluring.” Master always plans to continue his projects, but he keeps no schedules. “It’s my job to be a willing and dedicated artist who takes the craft seriously,” he says. “It’s a sacred art to me. It might not be to some people, and that’s fine, but it is a very serious and holy thing to be able to create this music. It’s an honour, privilege, and tremendous responsibility. Whatever I do, I want it to be of the highest quality I can give it.”
A solo project in every sense of the word, Master taught himself to record out of necessity and has recorded an array of releases himself under the Colloquial Sound Recordings banner. “I just want to play guitar,” he admits. “Ideally, if I had the financial means, I would go to a proper studio and work with an engineer on every project.” Using the same equipment for seven years and knowing the minimum required to produce the albums, he admits that any change in fidelity or quality is just him gaining experience in the skill. “It’s just me using what I have, which is very simple and meagre,” he clarifies. “In short, yeah, I record and mix stuff, but it’s only because I can’t afford to pay someone else to do it since I record so often and frequently, so don’t ask me for advice!”
Though it would seem that Alluring has benefitted from Master being able to fully realise his vision alone, he admits that he prefers the group dynamic possible in bands, and he has enjoyed working with others whilst co-producing for local acts. “The vast majority of my output is solo. I really never intended it,” he confesses. “Some of my stuff, like A Pregnant Light, will always be, at its heart, a solo venture for writing songs. Alluring isn’t solo for any reason other than when I am inspired to work and be creative, I don’t want to be at the mercy of other people’s lives or schedules or limitations for the creative process. I very much enjoy the process of a band working on an idea together, but I’m not going to sit around and wait for that perfect dynamic, which is incredibly rare to find anyway, to come along and bring Alluring to life.” Though he would be open to adding more members, Master would rather wait for them to come to him. ”I’m of the theory that if someone is meant to be a part, hopefully, they will present themselves in some way,” he says. “If not, things will continue as they have been. Creation, the act of making music – that is the only obligation I will honour in any situation. It’s very much a ‘many are called, but few are chosen’ type of situation.”
Master even made the album’s artwork himself, a striking cover utilising an image he observed in a history book. “The future, technology and that sort of thing, it has no bearing on me – I don’t care. I am totally obsessed with history,” he explains. “I believe history gives us a frame of reference as to how we are the way we are today, and perhaps, if we interpret it and study it carefully, we can make decisions that make for a better today.” Whilst perusing books on his favourite era of history to study, World War II, Master says he came across the image and it stuck with him for years. “WWII seems so far away, but yet, in the scope of time as a whole, it was really only seconds ago. We live in this age where anyone has access to anything at any time, and things are more extreme than ever. The way to access those things is easy. We can see murder, war, pain and suffering on demand. I’m intrigued partially by WWII because it was sort of the last Great War that wouldn’t be shown on television or viewed on people’s phone screens. It was a major conflict, and for Americans, Pearl Harbor excluded, it was in a far-off place. Americans had some film footage and photographs but this country wasn’t touched like Europe was. Cities were not ravaged and destroyed. The innocent didn’t feel the blade of war like many in Europe did.”
This theme of war seems fitting for the gloomy music of Alluring, but in regards to the particular image chosen for the cover, Master explains that “I have always been captivated and intrigued by horses. They play a very interesting role in history. They appear in a lot of my work, in lyrical references. This era was the dawn of the tank and major air-based warfare, but the horse still played a vital role. A horse is a living thing, but it is almost like a machine. They’re amazing animals and humans have done amazing things with them. The image of those dead animals, it just struck me as much as it would for many if it were a pile of dead bodies. Of course, they are surrounded by destruction and the fallout from war. It just seemed like a perfect way to pay tribute to the emotion of the album. Grief, death, and taking the fight as far as you can. We all will fall, we will all die, some will lead insignificant lives and never be remembered – and some will do great things and be brave. I’d like to think those were brave horses. The image on its own was strong, but it was so raw and had so much power, I felt the need to frame it with something else. The border image is taken from a photo of some woods, with a hole leading to some place unknown, slightly visible in the lower right-hand corner. The natural world alongside the chaos of the human world. Some people have reached out to me saying they really liked the art as well as the music, so that really excited me – I was glad I was able to convey something visually.”
The visuals of the artwork are undoubtedly effective, but it’s the desperate anguish of Alluring’s coarse metal that makes the project’s latest release truly memorable. Master may have put his name to an array of different projects, but Alluring is perhaps the most sorrowful – a menacing form of desolate doom that deserves full commendation for its atmospheric weight and commanding riffs. It’s unknown whether the mood will strike Master again for another Alluring release anytime soon, but the impressive nature of its stately doom will have listeners hoping it does.
Alluring is out now on Colloquial Sound Recordings. Purchase here.
Words: George Parr