There’s a certain Catch 22 that comes with being a reviewer: You rely on promo sheets to give you at least a rough idea of what to expect for a release, only to find that the material at hand has very little to do with the accompanying hype. Any promo write-up needs to be taken with a grain (fine, a pillar) of salt –– after all, the point of promotion is to cast something in a positive light –– but sometimes, nothing can quite prepare you for what you’ll endure. In the case of the UK-based sludge/doom outfit Pensevor, their debut Klothod is a head-scratcher; a few songs show shreds of potential, but the album as a whole has too many negative points to make it noteworthy.
It’s a given that sludge metal is a raw genre, and any band who claims that genre should have a production ethos that matches the unfiltered fury of combining hardcore with doom metal. Klothod is primitive on the production side but misses the mark in having any real weight: The drums are distant and thin-sounding; the one guitar, while grimy and distorted, doesn’t nearly have the girth and fullness needed for this kind of sound, and the mix as a whole feels like a rushed rehearsal session rather than a soundly constructed album. As a result, even the better-written material here is taken down a few notches by a mixing job that is ill-fitted.
The songwriting arc brings up its own issues as well. Klothod‘s second half does have some head-nodding goodness — “Dungeoness” rolls with a drone-like rhythm and a hypnotic riff and closer “Lowest of the Low” veers into more melodic and psychedelic territory with washy, pummeling chords –– but as a whole, these songs feel far longer than they should and fail to maintain any real momentum. “Silvine” starts out with an intriguing guitar line over a calm tom-tom pattern, but its mysterious vibe is stopped with a spoken word part and an arbitrary transition into a heavier section. The song gets particularly heinous at 4:00 when the first attempt at more extreme screamed vocals goes horribly awry and only drones on toward its ending from there. “No Hope for Dying,” despite an excellent title, slogs along with a yawn-inducing stop-start riff as the half-yelled/half-sung vocals rotate around the repetition of the phrase “This Armageddon has begun.” One of the biggest letdowns, though, is “I Despair,” which starts out with a moody and excellent chord progression, only to go absolutely nowhere and repeat itself ad nauseum as additional sounds layer on top. It could have been a great actual song, had time been taken to develop it, but it instead feels like a pointless interlude that lasts seven and a half minutes.
Klothod goes all over the place, and I get the creeping suspicion that the outfit are still figuring out what musical direction they want to pursue. The vocals are a gruff, Celtic Frost-esque yell at times and alternate with more chant-like singing, but regardless of what they’re doing, they don’t quite fit the songs and are distracting at best. The guitars alternate between more angular noise rock tendencies and washy, dreary doom riffs and never really seem to do either one convincingly, and the rhythm section’s remainder may as well not even be mentioned since the drums are badly mixed and the bass merely follows the root notes of the guitar.
Note to self: “Good in a live environment” is code for “bad on record.” I realize I’ve left little positive impressions on Pensevor’s debut, and despite my opening sentences, I’m not at all sizing it up against expectations set by the promo write-up –– I’ve always tried to evaluate albums exactly as I hear them –– but simply, Klothod is not a recommended album and has few redeemable qualities.