Castle – “Blacklands” Album Review
Blacklands (Prosthetic Records, 9/11/12), the American label debut of Thrash-infused Doom metal band Castle, is the sound of a band yearning for the days of 70’s and 80’s classic metal. With a sound reminiscent of Black Sabbath, Sleep, and Danzig, the band succeeds at laying down some great riffs and catchy grooves. However, the band’s desire to adhere to 70’s style production is both a blessing and a curse, as the album undoubtedly captures the atmosphere of that classic metal period but leaves the sound lacking an extra punch needed to push it over the top.
Castle are very capable of laying down memorable and heavy riffs. They also do a great job of varying the styles on the album and each track stands on its own. Tracks like “Ever Hunter” and “Curses of the Priest” showcase the guitar work and tempos of classic Thrash, while tracks like “Corpse Candles” bring the tempo down and add some atmosphere to the sound. Another positive aspect of the album is varying of vocal styles on the album between clean vocalist Elizabeth Blackwell and the raspy growl of Mat Davis. Instead of being used as a back and forth “clean/growl” as most other bands would, Castle separate their very different singers to separate tracks which further makes each song stand out.
The real problem with the album isn’t so much the songs but the sound itself. Intentionally making a new album sound like it was recorded back in the day is not a bad thing at all. When done right, such as Ghost’s Opus Eponymous, it definitely brings character as well as power and clarity to the sound. On Blacklands the production definitely allows for some powerful guitar tones which are pushed to the forefront, and that definitely helps drive the riffs home. The biggest problem is the burying of drums, they are very low in the mix. Drummer Al McCartney showcases some nice double bass work and some quick fills that would no doubt add to the power of Blacklands , however the sound is so weak that they are barely audible. Also, the choice to place the vocals so high in the mix is a problem as the voice of Elizabeth Blackwell can at times sound somewhat strained and a little on the weak side, although her voice carries a nice amount of grit that does fit the sound.
Despite the production, Blacklands does deliver memorable songs and heavy riffs. Fans of classic metal will find a lot to like about the album and will appreciate the style and imagery conjured from the sound and lyrics.
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