Released in 2013, SubRosa’s third album More Constant than the Gods is just about everything you’d want and expect from a follow-up to their frequently bludgeoning, emotionally merciless No Help from the Mighty Ones: more power, more beauty, more variety, more everything. Whereas No Help was punishingly heavy for long stretches, with islands of pretty reprieve (especially in its second half), More Constant finds a cozy middle path between thunderous doom, gloomy folk and epic melodies, with long winding songs full of darksome moods of varying degrees of heaviness.
The opening song, “The Usher” is a strong introduction to this more varied style, beginning very quietly with a few sparse notes of guitar and aching violin weaving a thin, desolate tissue of sound behind a stripped-down vocal duet, which crumbles before a blisteringly savage guitar riff and an artillery battery of drums. After stomping everything in its path like a lumbering giant, the song shifts toward a more soaring, melodic doom metal sound and a quiet poetic interlude featuring lyrics and singing that can comfortably stand next to the greats of the second British folk revival. Not content to linger, the song picks up for a grand finale, with guitar, ornate violins and singing sounding out in dreadful unison.
Throughout the album, dissonant sludge riffs, exquisitely arranged violin and vocal melodies, and moments of searing emotion live side by side, roped together with strong song craft and eerily resonant lyrics. Perhaps the best example is “Cosey Mo”, which manages to be both crushingly sad and oddly uplifting , with lyrics that provoke both creeping horror and sympathy for its seemingly inhuman subject, without really defining what exactly he (or it) is. Generally, the lyrics on More Constant are more abstract and metaphysical than those of the earlier albums, less overtly political or conventionally psychological. The singing of guitarist Rebecca Vernon and violinist Sarah Pendleton has improved—together, their performance is equal parts aggression and elegance, always a little sad, somber and resigned.
If SubRosa has one limitation, it’s the doom genre itself, which might occasionally soar through the clouds but always brings things back to earth, back to the grave. This is not a problem of course—this is why we listen to doom and sludge in the first place—it’s just that SubRosa are already so good at what they do that you want to see them cut loose with a rollicking stoner rock riff, push things beyond the emotional rules of the genre simply because they can. But it doesn’t matter because their music–deeply resonant, emotionally taxing and thunderous–is an end in itself.
01 – The Usher
02 – Ghosts Of A Dead Empire
03 – Cosey Mo
04 – Fat Of The Ram
05 – Affliction
06 – No Safe Harbor