** 1/2 on *****
Mark Anderson played bass on a couple of Manilla Road's later album - their comeback, Atlantis Rising and its follow-up, Spiral Castle. But Sanctus Infernum, where he presides as guitarist and presumably main composer, is a rather different entity from that epic metal juggernaut. Sanctus Infernum plays what sounds to me like more or less straight traditional doom metal with some death metal influences, largely in the vocal department but also in the form of an overall darker sound than the usual trad doom fare.
I hesitate to use the term death/doom, to be honest, because that subgenre is usually associated with death metal bands with darker riffs and doomy interludes, like Autopsy or Asphyx. Here, the music is firmly rooted in the mid-tempo thud of doom with the death element being a matter of arrangement sensibilities and of course the grunted vocals. These are a little monotonous, which gets boring at times - but is also rather effective on the nightmarish, incantatory 'The Journey Back', easily the best song here with its varied passages and some downright hypnotic verses, low, sludgy and grinding.
The album opener, 'Flesh Without Sin', is the not most auspicious start to things, featuring a jerky, groove-metal reminiscent riff with growled out vocals after a brief intro - but the secondary riff is more of an old school chug. Things pick up from there and there's a nice atmospheric guitar solo to wrap things up, but this song is never going to be my favourite. 'God Unto Myself' immediately drew me back in however, with a groovy, doomy opening melody and a crawling verse riff that builds into a more slamming passage. The song doesn't quite break out of its own groove or hold any surprises, but it builds nicely and boasts another melodic, eerie solo. But if things are beginning to seem a bit underwhelming at this point, the aforementioned standout track, 'The Journey Back' kicks in with a weird backmasked declamation over halting acoustic chords followed by some of the best riffs and melodies on the album and some very twisted, dark lyrics delivered with conviction.
'Facing the Black' continues in the vein of songs that could easily have fit on a Candlemass-style album with different vocals. 'Suffer' takes the pace a few notches higher with another chugging riff, followed by another album highlight, 'Waking The Dead', which features an implacable, subtly surging riff that oozes with sludgy disdain, underpinned by a simple but effective rhythm section groove. The rest of the album - 'What Calm Is Without Storm' and the epic 'Let It Be So' each have their moments.
But overall, this album achieves its impact through a consistency of tone, through the cumulative impact of heavy, trudging riffs and plaintive solo breaks. The rhythm section is solid but uninspired and the vocals, while by no means a style that I find unsuitable, are not especially interesting. In sum, I'd have to say that Sanctus Infernum have a somewhat unique approach to the death/doom confluence, leaning musically more to the trad doom side. This is by no means a bad album, there are times when I have enjoyed it a great deal, but the band doesn't create enough memorable melodies or riffs to compensate for the workmanlike nature of most of the individual components.