The end of days has long been fecund inspiration for metal bands, right back to the culture’s earliest days. Whether it’s Biblical Armageddon or nuclear war, various acts have used the imagery of the apocalypse to better realise the sheer, unbridled power of their sounds, and provide stark warning to the rest of society: continue thus, and we shall all perish.
2020 felt pretty apocalyptic for a lot of people, and while Green Druid’s latest album was mostly written before the Covid-19 pandemic, it certainly feels very timely. The Colorado band’s second record At the Maw of Ruin finds them spreading out creatively, building on the epic doom of their debut Ashen Blood and incorporating new influences to expand their sound. Coming out of Denver’s critically acclaimed metal scene, this particularly tight-lipped band don’t often talk about their music, letting it talk for itself, but with At The Maw… they have describing the recording as “cathartic” and hope listeners get a similar sensation from the music.
The band’s new, heavier palette is evident from the very first track. ‘The Forest Dark’ starts as a grinding, fearful slice of doom metal, before evolving into something more. Vocalist Chris McLaughlin switches between a more traditional Ozzy-esque wail, and a snarling black metal screech while the songs gradually expands from an Electric Wizard styled groove to an almost post-rock soundscape. It’s telling that no songs on the album come in at less than 8 minutes; this is music that grows and envelopes the listener like some Lovecraftian nightmare. ‘Haunted Memories’ is possibly the best example of this. An eerie, psychedelic track that feels like you’re being beckoned down a wooded path into a place where reality starts to fall away like crumbling masonry.
The apocalyptic feel to the album is evident in the lyrics as well as the ferocity of the music. ‘A Throne Abandoned’ is a kind of black hearted eco-anthem, as it describes a world where what is left of man rusts away after “nature took what was rightfully hers”, and all that remains is a “verdant terror”. ‘End of Man’, a track that verges on Celtic Frost blackened-thrash at points, takes a more metaphysical approach, eschewing the human tendency to think of itself as the centre of the universe and looking forward to a time when “the fragile egos of man will come to an end”. Green Druid are writing from the perspective of a world where we’re already gone and asking what good (if any) we were for in the first place.
The band throw the listener something of a curveball on final track ‘Threads’. A cover of Bristol trip-hoppers Portishead, they turn the slinky groove of the original into a bristling slice of doom blues, the song’s lyrics of questioning and uncertainty an appropriate ending to an album which is searching for meaning.
While ‘At the Maw of Ruin’ can sometimes feel overpoweringly downbeat, even by the standards of doom metal, the music has such an emotional weight to it that you can’t help be go along with it, eventually attaining the kind of catharsis we can assume the band felt when writing it. One of the standout doom albums of last year.
At the Maw of Ruin is out now via Earache and can be ordered here.
Words: Dan Cadwallader