In the contemporary metal landscape, there is no dearth of doom bands. So tremendous is the deluge of metal’s slowest genre that it can often be difficult to find anything noteworthy among the dozen or more new doom releases every week. Mimicry and complacency often reign. For this reason, it isn’t often that I will click play on one of the many doom promos that finds its way to my inbox. Something about Madrid quintet Hipoxia’s latest opus Si Devs Esset Occidendvs Erit -Monvmentvm ab Khaos I- caught my attention, though, and I have been able to listen to little else besides this album since.
What makes Hipoxia so noteworthy in a bloated genre of imitators? In my humble opinion, most modern doom bands lack the actual portentous quality for which the genre takes its name. Sure, most bands that play doom have the plodding pace, the riff, and the occult lyrics. Few, however, are able to capture that existential dread and terrifying mysticism of the very first note of the very first song of the very first doom album penned by none other than Black Sabbath, instead foregoing the gloom and specter in favor of a drug-addled haze and trance-inducing tone, losing all of the bite and malice in the process. On S.D.E.O.E., Hipoxia have not forgotten the faces of their fathers, channeling the ethos of early Black Sabbath but re-imagining that ghostly malevolence into a modern and multifaceted experiment in terrifying doom metal.
Across three long tracks, the shortest of which clocks in at nearly seven minutes, Hipoxia demonstrate their conviction and intent to uphold the older, better way, though they do so with surprising flair and panache. Although the tone across all three tracks is singularly grim, the band displays a remarkable sense of self and nuance, able to incorporate a number of diverse elements into one monumental and perverse construct. This quality is perhaps best displayed in first track “Nothing” that leads in with a measured but aggressive percussive attack that tapers into an heavily distorted, smoke-billowing doom riff that can only be defined as sinister in the way it rears and reverberates around you like a hungry predator. After a few minutes of inundating, acrid atmosphere, vocalist E. cries out from within the swirling fog in an echoing, plaintive tone that seems to beg for freedom from the black chasm of noxious layers of drone and dual guitar snarling. This plaintive tone though is soon lost in the malice as E. transitions into a menacing, growling glower that extols the virtues of annihilation into nothingness. The drums, meanwhile, maintain a steady, evenhanded march toward annihilation that perfectly fits the structure of the song. The entire track is impossibly dense, swallowing the light within its vast expanses of reverberating notes and cavernous production. This track is the keystone of this release, showing the band’s skill at subtly changing riffs and drum patterns while maintaining a generally glacial pace and obsidian tone. It is a chimerical beast that remains ever terrifying.
The following two tracks after “Nothing” perpetuate the sable tone and chthonic atmosphere, while continuing to demonstrate this band’s serpentine deftness. Where “Nothing” was measured and ponderous, “Oblivion” is mercurial and dramatic, morphing from a rapid, pummeling drum rhythm into an extended wave of cascading noise and minimal percussion that creates a diseased tension with a perfect catch-and-release when the cyclical pummeling begins again at the end of the long track. The drumming is perfectly complemented by a riff that somehow morphs from galloping to vacuous while maintaining a devastating quality. Where “Nothing” was direct and confrontational, “New Aeon of Destruction” is sinuous and illusive, relying more on a surprising juxtaposition between spoken word and sneering snarls than an outright barrage of riffs and drums. When the drums do arc toward a deafening crescendo, threatening to collapse the entire cavern in a rain of a percussive stalactites, the band instead abandons that tack entirely in the next moment, employing a surprising sleight of hand to drop you into yet another unexpected corner of eldritch horror that’s more open and empty but no less crushing than the monumental riffs of the preceding two songs.
All of this would be for naught if the actual performances were unimpressive, but Hipoxia are more than capable of capitalizing on the talents of each individual member to forge a horrifying sum total. Although the efforts of each individual performer could be described as minimalist, this should not be mistaken for carelessness. Every note and cymbal strike is in its proper place and only strengthens the whole rather than distracting from it. J.K.’s and A.’s guitar tone is perfect for the atmosphere they wish to create; every song bristles with malicious intent and drips with an inky, offensive tone. K.’s and O.S.’s drums and bass combine into an absurdly heavy bottom-end that keeps every track grounded like a behemoth, sepulchral backbone. Within all this din but never superseding it, vocalist E. belches noxious fumes like the throat of some damned dragon, becoming yet one more essential part of the horrifying cacophony.
All of this talent renders S.D.E.O.E. a thick, surprisingly deep record that leaves me hypnotized and anxious after each listen. Despite its length, it never feels monotonous, a compliment I can pay very few doom records in 2016. In truth, I can find no fault in it other than the fact that the final track is only slightly weaker than the prior two. Hipoxia are creepy in the way that only the upper echelons of funeral and death-doom bands can be, easily taking a place alongside the likes of Khanate, Thergothon, and Catacombs while remaining catchy in a way that even more hard-rocking, less-atmosphere oriented bands like even the excellent Vainaja fail to be. S.D.E.O.E. is frankly everything I want in a doom album, and if you’re looking for an entry point into the genre, look no further.
4.5 out of 5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell
Si Devs Esset Occidendvs Erit -Monvmentvm ab Khaos I- is out now via American Line Productions. You can pick up the album over at Bandcamp. While you’re at it, swing by Facebook and tell Hipoxia, “Hola!”