If there’s one thing that the revival in “retro doom” has done – just like any revival in a style – it has clearly separated the sheep from the goats. Since the uptick in the number of doom bands has started since the 2000s, it has become frighteningly easy to pick out the tired Electric Wizard and Windhand clones from the bands that are putting out the goods. Indiana-based quintet Stone Magnum, for as little fanfare as they’ve received, has been a consistently excellent band who continues to refine their cocktail of epic doom metal and NWOBHM on their latest full-length, Holy Blessings to None.
From the lurching, creeping opening sequence of “As I Burn Your World to Ash” to the pounding rhythm of the closing title track, Holy Blessings to None really is a doooooom album. Not content to stare at their reverb pedals or play around with feedback, the eerie, traditional minor-key progressions used by guitarists Jim Brucks and Dean Tavernier are some of the most foreboding riffs on this side of modern Candlemass but are strikingly original, even when compared to a band like Crypt Sermon, arguably the strongest contemporaries of Stone Magnum in the way of traditional, epic doom metal. As good epic doom metal should have, there’s a genuine atmospheric of the occult and a foreboding to this album that matches the cover art, but there are religious references aplenty, with explorations of hell, despair, and spiritual pain. Nick Hernandez’s lyrics are fantastical but always captured in the first-person perspective, lending even more of a creepy, deeply personal vibe to the affairs.
Yet for all the gloom contained here, Holy Blessings to None still erupts with the energy of an early Maiden or Dio release and has the hooks, harmonies, and solos to back it up. “Where There’s Perpetual Sadness” stomps along with a swinging riff as Hernandez’s vocals soar above the mix, capturing the same feeling in his vocals as Paul Di’Anno on Killers and Johan Längquist’s wailing on Epicus Doomicus Metallicus, and the closing title track is his most dynamic performance on the album’s running time. Opening track “As I Burn Your World to Ash” features a galloping, harmonized riff halfway through that leads into a rapid-fire palm-muted sequence, and “Stone Magnum” is an absolute standout, eschewing the doom tendencies for speed metal rooted in the best of the mid-80s. The songwriting is anything but a one-trick pony, and Stone Magnum are able to adapt to multiple time signatures and tempo changes while never losing the locked-in focus and dread created by the combination of the riffs and the lyrics.
It’s easy to label any album a “sleeper” in these times when dozens of albums are released every week, but in the case of Stone Magnum, I’m blown away at how a band so solid, so convincing, and so unabashedly badass have gotten swept under the rug for nearly the entirety of their career. If you call yourself a fan of traditional metal, and most especially traditional doom metal, don’t open your mouth about anything until you’ve listened to Holy Blessings to None. This deserves far more coverage.
Holy Blessings to None is available as a name-your-price download from Stone Magnum’s Bandcamp page and on CD via R.I.P. Records. For more information on Stone Magnum, visit their official website or Facebook page.