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Summoning the Mad God: The Rise Of SA Doom

Mad God unleash their excellent, Lovecraftian debut, slowly pushing South African doom further into the spotlight.

4 Jul 2017 / Opinion / written by Duncan Park

The South African doom scene is arguably reaching something of a creative zenith. The number of doom (or stoner, or psychedelic, or some other title deployed to navigate this vast and complex realm of modern metal music) bands is growing rapidly, and their popularity is blossoming at an impressive rate.

Ruff Majik and Black Math have gained an impressive following of dedicated fans with their individual brands of dirty, psychedelic, doom-tinged garage rock, while more “metal” doom filth-mongers like Corax continue to accrue acolytes at an appropriately doom-worthy molasses thick pace.

Doom has always been something of a musical outlier, which is strange considering it is so firmly rooted in metal music’s origins – the unmistakable Tony Iommi influenced riffery first pioneered by Black Sabbath. Blistering bluesy riffs and meditations on devils, darkness and dementia. Fuck. Yeah.

That being said, with its obvious blues roots and an emphasis on groove, song writing and riffs, doom is a metal genre that may be more easily enjoyed by audiences uninitiated in the culture and sounds of metal.

Mad God is a Johannesburg-based doom band that has been around since 2014 and during those years they’ve sporadically gigged and released a split EP with Goat Throne entitled “Unholy Rituals”.

On the split EP you could hear them building on the sounds of UK doom overlords Electric Wizard, and Japan’s Church of Misery. This is to say that they played dark, disturbing psychedelic doom. Guitars tuned down to bowel-loosening depths, sprawling solos, Lovecraftian lyrical references, swamp boogie freak outs and B-movie horror samples.

On their debut full-length, “Tales of a Sightless City”, the sound Mad God established on “Unholy Rituals” remains pretty much intact and everything that made the split so exciting is here.

There has however been a noticeable improvement in the production. Mad God’s singer and  guitarist, Tim Harbour, produced, mixed and mastered the album and explains, “The process definitely took more time than our previous EP. I have always been after a live sound with Mad God so this album was no exception. I like things to feel natural and even leave some mistakes in to give it that human feel. In general the recording process’s aim was to produce an album that felt alive, but big, with decent production value and I think we achieved that.”

Indeed, the songs are now endowed with a much heavier low-end, a beautifully rounded out, warm bass sound, and a richer, thicker guitar tone. The cymbals ring out beautifully and the drums are crystal clear, while the performance is executed with greater precision than on “Unholy Rituals”. The vocals are clearer, and truly soar through the mix. Also, the shrieks and screams add a nice vocal dynamic.

Kicking the record off, we have ‘Limerence’ and it’s an absolute monster. Crushingly heavy riffs, beautifully hypnotic verses which transition fluidly and guide you to the story’s grim conclusion, followed by some upbeat swamp rock and a cheeky solo to end it all off on a high note. It draws you in, cradles you in its melody, threatens with its ominous tone, and has an undeniably sexual grind to it. Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. Embrace it.

Following this we launch into a more classic doom-sounding riff, announcing ‘Green Guardian’. Keeping with the whole “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll” analogy, if ‘Limerence’ was the sex, then ‘Green Guardian’ is undoubtedly the drugs. Hazy riffs, vocals awash with psychedelic effects, indecipherable samples drifting into the mix… you can smell the stale bong water. Drug fuelled Lovecraft worship at its finest. “ The name ‘Green Guardian’ actually was intended to invoke imagery of marijuana and drug use which is obviously a common theme in doom metal music,” Harbour states. “I like to invoke imagery in my lyrics so rather than being about those themes directly, the song deals with them in a fictional way which I feel is a nice, indirect way to broach some topics and make people think, but also not forcing ideals down people’s throats.”

Feeling good ‘n’ baked after ‘Green Guardian’ the listener is eased into the epic ‘The Cursed One and the First Flame’ – 13 minutes and 45 seconds of slow burning doom. It opens with another collage of samples and an unassuming bassline the likes of which Al Cisneros would be proud. There’s no rush. And by the time that riff drops in at about four-and-a-half minutes, you are well-rewarded for your patience. And then you get to the solos.

Holy fuck. The solos.

In explaining his lead guitar work Harbour expresses that he prefers to improvise than write leads saying, “My solos are almost entirely improvised though there is one lick I use in ‘Cursed One’ that I throw in every time, but it is 90% an improvised solo and all the other solos on the album are one takes or best of two takes and not written in advance.”

‘Nebula Riders’ is probably my favourite track on the record. The riffs are great, and the title is so wonderfully sci-fi and ridiculous. When I listen to doom I want absurd stories about nebula riding space people, and I want the stories to have a sonic backdrop of gargantuan sounding riffs that are harder than the erect lap lizard of Cthulhu himself.

After the aforementioned disturbing journey through space, we arrive at the final track of the album, ‘Entity of Smoke and Blood’. It’s slow, its heavy and it sounds a little sickly. It’s driven by a hard-hitting, simple riff, and the guitar tone is to die for. Amp worship, man. This song kills it. There’s a bunch of screaming, and there’s a beautiful interweaving vocal harmony accompanying the repetitive scream of “entity of smoke and blood”. It’s an unsettlingly stunning ending.

If this is what the future of South African doom metal holds for us, then we’re in for a lovely Lovecraftian treat.

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Listen to “Tales of a Sightless City” below on Deezer.