(Self-released, digital download)
In recent years, many underground genres have sneaked into the charts and found a comfortable place in pop culture. Metal, for one, has gone for the ride. Yet Burlington's fuzz kings, Vultures of Cult, have stayed back and built their own vehicle with their latest release, Bitter Gloom on a Golden Dawn. They've independently written, recorded and generated their own album artwork. It's proof that a genuine underground still exists and, in this case, it's right in our backyard. VOC have thoughtfully crafted seven songs of precisely drilled doom metal with psychedelic intrigue.
Being a band for 11 years allows for plenty of growth and experimentation. Bitter Gloom is a fitting continuum of VOC's previous album, Fathoms. This time, they return with a concept album that addresses a largely abandoned human inquiry: wonderment about the natural world through mysticism. In Bitter Gloom, VOC reference the 19th-century British occultists Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and find solace in magical order.
Opening track "Darkness Breeds the Brightest Light" introduces drummer Keenan Bouchard without preamble. The shortest track on the album, it quickly lays a foundation for the remaining six. Guitarists and vocalists Stephen Sharp and Justin Gonyea allow the songs to speak before they do, and the vocals throughout the recording are calculated — at times chanting or singing, at others, gut-wrenching screams. For example, "Bitter Gloom" rises as if from ashes with meditative vocal toil. The song wends and drags before opening up into a full-tilt journey.
Vultures of Cult are exceptionally skilled at building a song through layers and repetition. In the eight-minute "Framing the Hell Panel," the song retains cohesion through melody even as it ventures into the dark unknown. It also highlights Bouchard's huge drum tones and stand-alone ability. He and bassist Logan Bouchard lay a solid foundation throughout Bitter Gloom. Prudently arranged, interlocking grooves and dovetailing parts stamp all these tracks.
"Flesh Is a Trap" is a gripping highlight that drones as one continuous breakdown, suggesting, "Weep for the Earth below, forward we go / Jaded and tame, into the age of our own demise." In this case, the vocalists choose war cries to make their point.
Title track "Golden Dawn" channels the sonic obscurities popularized by ambient-metal vets Neurosis. Another album highlight, "Death Is Just a Door" begins with clean guitars as the bass and drums navigate through a spiral of guitar solos, finally arriving at a slow and heavy end.
"A Place Both Wonderful and Strange" is a two-minute soundscape interlude. Although difficult to decipher, it has an almost cinematic stature, like something cult movie director Harmony Korine might utilize.
Bitter Gloom on a Golden Dawn embraces poise and direction. It's well written and offers a refreshing element of space within each composition. The album feels like VOC's most pensive release to date, even if presented as a concept album.
Catch the band live at the Monkey House on Tuesday, March 24, with Cult Leader and Old Wounds. Digital copies of Bitter Gloom on a Golden Dawn can be found at vulturesofcult.bandcamp.com; limited physical copies available.