The whole female fronted doom/occult rock format has reached saturation point in recent years, with it becoming more and more difficult to isolate the more credible bands with some actual decent songwriting talent amidst the scores of pretenders. Birmingham’s Alunah have been kicking around on the doom scene since 2008, but up until now have escaped my radar. Third album Awakening the Forest follows on from their 2010 debut, Call of Avernus, and the apparently very well received sophomore effort, White Hoarhound (2012). Well I certainly have some catching up to do if their previous albums can reach anywhere near the colossal quality of Awakening the Forest. Alunah craft a fresh and distinctly modern sound that pays healthy respects to the forefathers of doom, from the bluesy hues of early Black Sabbath to the crushing riffage of Cathedral. Throw in some contemporary doom, psychedelic rock and stoner influences and you have the basic blueprint for the weighty sound Alunah creates.
Alunah’s hazy, stoned-out psychedelic combo forms a masterful slab of earthy modern doom, rich in songwriting dynamics and featuring some of the downright catchiest vocal hooks and melodies I’ve had the pleasure of hearing on a heavy album this year. Soph Day is not merely a decorative, pleasant ornament for the band to play behind. She takes control of each song, her smoky pipes offering an engaging blend of emotion, grit and soulfulness. Importantly, the rest of the band are no slouches in the instrumental or songwriting departments either. They collectively lay down a powerful and diverse platform, led by the fuzzy heavy riffs and melodic leads of both Soph Day and fellow guitarist Dave Day. Meanwhile the strong rhythm section of Dan Burchmore (bass) and Jake Mason (drums) deliver a powerhouse mix of inventive playing and dependable anchorage. Delivered within hefty time capsules, each song forms a distinctive part of the greater journey of epic, doomy blissfulness. The songs travel at a relaxed pace while never becoming too plodding, offering enough interesting musical ideas, hooky songwriting and subtle dynamic shifts to comfortably carry the weighty song lengths and plodding tempos. Alunah’s earthy jams and playful musicianship lends the album plenty of character, avoiding self-indulgent meandering and staying grounded within the context of the songs.
The overall tone might sway on the side of melancholy, but Awakening the Forest is far from being a depressive or oppressive doom experience. In fact the overall accessibility of the material, which thankfully doesn’t diminish the ample heaviness on display, should find a broad audience while still satiating the tastes of doom aficionados. Opener “Bricket Wood Coven” seduces from the get-go, casting an enchanting spell through its crushingly heavy slow riffs, bluesy swagger and compelling vocal melodies. Around the five minute mark some killer laidback jamming ensues before climaxing in a satisfyingly heavy manner. “Heavy Bough”, by comparison with the opener and much of the remainder of the album, is quite an uptempo heavy rocker loaded with strong riffs, groovy basslines and a highly addictive chorus that you’ll likely be humming for days. Meanwhile, the darker languid dirge of the title track features some beguiling guitar melodies that are beautifully thickened and accentuated by the weighty bass and another fine vocal performance.
Awakening the Forest maintains its memorable high songwriting standard from start to finish, culminating in the patient, heart wrenching balladry of epic closer, “The Summerland”. Aside from the obvious strengths in songwriting and craftsmanship, Awakening the Forest is also very well equipped on the production front. The guitars sound huge, clear and crunchy; the bass adds a thick cushion of sonic heft, while the organic sounding drums are punchy but unobtrusive. Bookended by mammoth releases from Pallbearer and YOB, 2014 has been more of a case of quality over quantity on the doom front. You can now add Awakening the Forest to the shortlist of standout doom albums to drop this year, with Alunah delivering a top notch album of hefty sonic fuzz and irresistible hooks that deserves to be heard.[Visit the band's website]