King Dead
Woe & Judgment

Stroudsburg, PA doom champions King Dead are another band that recently won me over in the live-setting; clogging my arteries with their twin bass carnage and slicing my gut wide open with a broken feedback bottle as the band gleefully watched my innards spill out on the club floor.  The instrumental trio excels on the long jam and unfolds their songs like a gang of drugged to the nines film composers who rely on organic sounds rather than the keys of Goblin or Tangerine Dream (though they’d oddly be in good company sandwiched between the two at a concert hall).  After the heady, ungodly heavy 2014 Self-Titled which was released only digitally, 2016’s Woe and Judgment sets its dilated eyes on vinyl…the perfect format for an album crammed with planet gobbling, subterranean drum/bass dirges that hobble in drunken, repetitive cycles which spread into arrays of angular, high frequency melodies, funeral synth drones and a throbbing drum pulse.

“The Firmament of Heaven Opened, and The Flood Waters were Upon Them” sounds akin to an Ennio Morricone/John Carpenter score projected from beyond the grave.  Twanging bass licks take on the guise of country n’ western guitars, pouring on the heartbreak atop a sinuous foundation of grueling, ambient sludge focused on minimalistic patterns that milk every note for maximum creep factor.  Steve Truglio’s sparse pounding occasionally works in a violent snare fill; hopping like a skinned rabbit across the kit into thunderous tom strikes brought from way back behind the drummer’s head.  I’d like to say there’s not much going on, but that’s not the case.  There is indeed plenty of action happening with a climactic second half surge tearing body and mind asunder thanks to some heightened pacing tension, dramatic cymbal crashes and roaming grooves layering a hook deep within the mountainous madness.

Wil McG and Kevin Vanderhoof’s juxtaposition of sustained note fugues and bottomless forward movement renders “A Monument to Decline” an easy favorite; the songwriting conjuring up images of a bullethole riddled, ol’ tyme American church where the only worshippers are the lingering spirits of the dead.  Your eyes can’t see them, yet you’ll feel their presences all around you…watching, waiting and hopeful of getting a chance to reach into your heart with an icy hand…freezing the beating organ dead with one firm squeeze.  The pulsating, flesh on flesh smack of the drumming has a similar eloquence and Richter scale reading to Jason Roeder’s mighty bashing while a collage of synths, low-end gristle, gothic country pluck and feedback combat for complete soul control.  King Dead holds back as a unit when they need to build the atmosphere then crest their sound into sky-high climaxes where sonic grandiosity wears the ruling crown.  They ain’t King Dead for nothing (see the red carpet catharsis at 7:00 for proof).

At 20 minutes n’ change closer “The Coward, The Thieving Liar” is the kind of sprawling monsterwork that I hoped would end the album.  Beginning with a distorted, FX sprayed sample turning into a static radio garble beneath feedback and a funeral procession drum beat, the three-piece takes their good ol’ time crafting a mood here.  Much akin to Cavity (sonically not exactly stylistically) feedback is used as the unheralded 4th instrument, screeching at your throat like a dive-bombing eagle as a slavering bass line chips away single notes and trippy High Noon licks wail in honor of the full moon.  Bent blues riffing is more apparent this time around and the shifty shuffle beats are more prominent, lending the melancholy an unusual old school rock feel that’s about as straight as King Dead plays it on the album…though oblique textures, weird noise and circus freak atrocities still lurk around every corner.  Massive percussive swells usher in some Sabbath-y riff shoves around the 13 minute waypoint where the bulldozing groove places itself somewhere in the realm of Sleep (circa Holy Mountain), OM and Mills of God.  It just might be heavier than all three of those bands combined.

Woe & Judgment is a damn good album, demanding your full attention span opposed to a cursory onceover.  What really cements my interest is the fact that it lives up to the live show which was something that completely overtook my mind and had me in for the long haul.  These guys were mesmerizing, threatening, relentlessly heavy and serene in one single breath.  When seeing a band like this lay down a set you just have to hang on for the ride and let the music pull you into its heathen sway.  You’re either gonna get sucked in or you ain’t.  King Dead sucked me in and never let me go for the duration of their 45 minutes of onstage time and this album retains everything that won my ears over at the Smiling Moose that hot summer night.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jay S
October 26th, 2016

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