SummaryTowards the surreal
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It’s almost tempting to believe that any obscure doom/death metal release from its heyday turns out to be a lost classic, but there’s a lot of good stuff out there that isn’t talked about as much. The Netherlands somehow gave birth to lots of doom/death metal albums (the first one being released as early as 1989, even) and Castle were yet another band that delivered the goods.
If you had asked Castle‘s band members what they were trying to achieve, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d inform you about their broad amount of influences and how they tried to mix everything together. Indeed, labeling Castle is extremely tricky – they are nowhere as gloomy as anything from the Peaceville Three, nor do they summon chaos and relentless aggression as much as that of any grittier variant of doom/death metal could. Instead, Castle are all about mood changes, nuances and note-worthy additional features. On one hand, this makes the band sound spectacular, peculiar and original. The riffs are never set in stone; “Exposed” almost recalls early Cathedral thanks to its Sabbath-esque sludge, while “Travelling” goes off with a bang by the time that Celtic Frost-inspired hammering fragment presents itself. Moody pianos in “The 7th Empire” give the track an additional sense of drama to it, whereas “The Emperor’s Children” marches towards divine and colossal once those hazy keys appear. Even the guitar solos range from rock sounding guitar solos to melodic shredding and highlights the lead guitarist’s flexibility. On the other hand, taking too many risks is never a good idea and there are times when compositions appear somewhat confused and directionless. “Alter Reality” is one of the longer, doom-laden tunes on the record, but spends most of its time conjuring trippy moods and highlights the lead guitarist’s flashy guitar playing, even if memorable hooks sound out of sight. “Bridge of Snow” kicks off with an early 70’s Black Sabbath riff, yet it sounds like a leftover that the band just had to put on the album for no good reason whatsoever, as it doesn’t progress as well as it should, even if I enjoy the last minute where the lead guitarist goes loose and plays his butt off. “The Emperor’s Children” is a short, yet doom-flavored track and once those melodic riffs and atmospheric keys match halfway through, the result sounds fairly epic – unfortunately, the song ends rather abruptly and I wish that it didn’t.
It’s the triptych near the end when shows how to inject a lot of bizarre ingredients into their doom with success and I wish the entire album was as good, but alas. “Exposed” almost recalls early Cathedral, yet the overall result is something far more surreal, thanks to its inspiring keys and atmospheric lead work. “Travelling” sounds more vibrant and with a Celtic Frost-inspired hammering riff that appears between the free-spirited clean guitar passages this approach was nothing extraordinary in 1994, yet you’d never mistake this track for an simplistic Celtic Frost-inspired piece of, say, Divine Eve. Finally, “Castle” finishes off in more of a “proper” doom setting, where damnation-like doom riffs meet with unexpected outburst of death metal vigor and even the guitar leads become more ominous, making it the most aggressive and evil track on the record.
As you might have noticed, I’ve yet to mention the vocals and that’s because they don’t stand out much. The hoarse and one dimensional death metal growls of Eric are interestingly enough the most common aspect of Castle – quite odd, given how plenty of early doom/death metal albums featured distinctive vocals. Still, the eccentric songwriting approach certainly makes this an interesting album and while I wouldn’t put it in the forgotten classic category, it’s certainly worth hearing.
Release date: 1994
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