Morag Tong
Last Knell of Om

Named after a faction from the popular Elder Scrolls video game series which I’m not very familiar with, English doom overloads Morag Tong follow-up their EP debut Through Clouded Time by dropping a lysergic, wandering slab of doom with hazy tones, psychedelic melody and a plummeting sludgy aggression seeping into their unholy pounding.  Faint whiffs of early High on Fire, strong hints of OM, Sleep, Stonehelm, the UK Sloth’s Voice of God, Serpent Venom and the first two highly underrated records from psyche titans Mammatus enter my mind when listening to MT’s sticky resin bong rock.  Last Knell of Om is the band’s first LP and it’s a heady, hypnotic trip of limber yet lumbering heavy rock granite and though HEAVY, does this boulder manage to dredge bottom or float while maintaining its gross tonnage?

Instrumental opener “Transmission” feels like it takes the groove of the Mammatus classic “The Righteous Path through the Forest of Old” and slightly flips it, especially James Atha’s psyche blues bass line which propels this song forward through the rolling hypno-drumming with its heightened sense of groove, heavily layered twin guitar psyche-outs and gusting washes of atmospheric noise.  It’s an intro piece that nicely builds the mood but will surely test the patience of those not in-tune with the style.  The laid-back, well-measured punches are also reminiscent of Colour Haze though that vibe quickly evaporates when “New Growth” embraces a suffocating, claustrophobic dual riff bludgeon courtesy of guitarists Alex Clarke and Lewis Crane.  This quicksand suction is apparent from the downward bass pull and drummer/vocalist Adam Asquith’s quaking, surprisingly busy snare fills, lending the music a superb sense of gravity.  Eventually Atha steps out into the lead role with his walking bass groove branching off from the jangly, melodic guitar figures that ply slide licks and superb texture work to the jammy madness.  Asquith’s voice is a direct channeling of Pike, Lemmy and even Al Cisneros much later on when the music whips into braincell burnt, 70s slomo riff swagger.  As the song winds down it reverts to the primordial ooze of its opening swing but surprisingly lurches into a grimy, forceful power chord volley that sends the tune out on a different, nastier note.  It might not change your mind if this isn’t your sound to begin with but dogged, sludged-out doomheads like the asshole writing this review found plenty to enjoy once I let the music sink in.

“We Answer” leads in with the kind of melodic Maryland chord arrangements that Wino’s utilized throughout Spirit Caravan.  Rippling, watery and inviting like a sunken city full of possible treasure, the locked on rhythmic grooves and jazzy little drum flourishes constantly interject subtle change-ups to the structure.  Melancholic leads overtake the rhythm guitar’s aquatic minor key inflections as pained, howling vocals cut eyeholes into the fog for guidance.  In almost 6 eternal minutes the tune finally climaxes into a crushing double-up riff given tenfold the heft thanks to those burpy, belchy bass lines that fight for equal airtime with the guitars in hopes of claiming bragging rights.  Wave after wave of the entirety of the band’s amplifiers feeding back ushers “To Soil” into a mystical, psychedelic trance with those warm post-rock shadings, somewhat a hearkening back to Isis’ Oceanic era and that behemoth’s balance of delicacy and power.  The vocals get increasingly pissed off and sludgy as the song goes along, although the main riff doesn’t change much…really it doesn’t change at all, instead it wavers between twinkling desperation and sodden doom.  As much as I like what’s going on with this track and the melodic elements, it could desperately use a third arrangement, layer or another extra texture of some kind.  The same can be said of the short, riff-y groove piece “Ruminations” which piles a killer opening hook to the sky but can’t seem to take it higher than its launch point.  12+ minute closer “Ephemera—Stare through the Deep” drinks deep from a cup of quiet, contemplative bass and spoken word drone, calling to mind vast Om tunes like “Thebes” or even something from the Pink Floyd canon.  Once the quiet dissipates an elephantine riff goes toe to toe with a pounding, acrobatic percussive groove that leaves Asquith plenty of room to sneak numerous extra beats and strikes in his performance.  The thundering psyche riffs and noise damaged guitar stingers that follow have the impact the last two tunes were missing, giving the record a strong finish to match its beginning.

Last Knell of Om is a solid flagship offering.  The album’s midsection feels pretty undercooked; the cuts therein stitched together from haphazard songwriting that yields a pair of tunes that are largely incomplete.  It takes away from a lot of the early momentum which was very strong and nearly shipwrecks the record on the Siren’s rocks.  Thankfully some damn fine atmosphere, excellent drumming and a handful of big, big riffs helps to level things out.  Definitely not bad by any means, in need of fine-tuning for certain, but hopefully Morag Tong can hone their songwriting further on future outings and keep any mid-album blues from waterlogging the listener.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jay S
February 13th, 2019

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