Once in a while, I encounter something, an album for instance, that is nothing more and nothing less that simply a good piece of art. I’m talking about something that does all it needs to do and is exactly what it sets out to be from start to finish, about something that has no major flaws in its execution of its ideas. Those ideas may not be anything that I haven’t seen before, but the piece of art in question is so good that its lack of innovation doesn’t bother me that much, or even at all. Below‘s latest offering, Upon a Pale Horse is what I’m talking about.
It certainly helps that the genre Below so lovingly pay tribute to on this release, that of traditional doom metal in the vein of Candlemass, Saint Vitus, Witchfinder General and Trouble, among many others, is a genre that I would, with no hesitation, name as one of my favorite genres to listen to. What helps more is the fact that the guys in Below are terrifically skilled musicians and also very knowledgeable about traditional doom and each of its tropes that set it apart from other metal genres. However, instead of deconstructing or subverting those tropes, Below play them with utmost sincerity, taking each building block of traditional doom and ramping up the intensity to eleven.
It’s that very sincerity and love for this genre on display on Upon a Pale Horse that makes me love it so much. The other major release in traditional doom metal this year was Pallbearer‘s Heartless, and while I enjoyed that album very much as well, and found its merging of trad doom with progressive rock in the style of 70’s Pink Floyd very interesting and promising, it didn’t make me as excited for „the next one” as Upon a Pale Horse did. If anything, this album made me happy. Happy that a purely trad doom album could be released nowadays and that it can be this good.
There are no real stand out tracks on this album, because all of them are equally good. That brings me to my one and only problem with this album: its songwriting is formulaic. It’s not formulaic enough to ruin the album, but it’s noticeable when listenng to it for the second time. Nevertheless, the sheer quality of the intrumentation, the heavy, yet catchy riffs, the stong rhythm section, the powerful and soaring vocals more than make up for that. This is one of the most re-listenable albums I’ve heard all year. The title track’s epic length makes it my personal favorite, since I have a weakness for long songs, but I totally see myself listening to any song on this album again.
All in all, Below‘s Upon a Pale Horse is one of the best things I’ve heard this year. Even if it doesn’t hold any surprises for experienced listeners, it does everything so well and so passionately, that I can’t help but fall in love with it.
You can listen to this awesome album here.