A complex villain is often more compelling than the hero they’re up against. In order to fulfill their narrative, a villain must break the mold of those who came before them. They must be unpredictable in their actions and their motives. They must always keep the audience guessing. And if they show a little humanity here and there, perhaps they can even draw empathy. The same can be said, and pardon the stretch here, for doom metal. As a genre that is seeing a surge in fandom and critical acclaim alike, doom metal is in danger of falling into a strictly molded pattern of lengthy songs that perhaps change a few chords and tempos here and there. Luckily, several bands are making compelling cases — with the help of some outside influences — that doom is a genre worth remaining faithful to. Finland’s Hooded Menace stand tall among them.
The band’s fourth full-length, Darkness Drips Forth, comes packaged as a doom record with four heaving and sludgy tracks all averaging in around 10 minutes. It’s during the first couple listens or so that the album’s macabre soul shines through. Known in the past for tracks that hardly ran longer than seven minutes, Hooded Menace use their newfound space wisely to keep listeners guessing. Chord progressions and time signatures shift unexpectedly; ideas are introduced and tossed away as quickly as newer ones can enter. Lasse Pykkö’s solos are reanimated from a past life in early ’90s melodic death metal, breaking through the underlying sludge cast in torchlight and filled with dark intentions. Drum beats and heart rates quicken alike as every corner is turned and new looming shadows come into sight.
As these new avenues are explored, certain behaviors and moods can be uncovered in Hooded Menace’s music. Pykkö’s solos sound downright vindictive at times, especially halfway through the album’s opener, “Blood for the Burning Oath / Dungeons of the Disembodied”, when the first bolt of lighting crashes among the swamp. The song then shifts into an interlude with creeping rhythm and bass riffs (laid down by Teemu Hannonen and Markus Makonnen, respectively) that serve as a way for the menace to return briefly into the night before striking again when least expected. The final third of “Elysium of Dripping Death” finds Pykkö lamenting at a slower pace, as the band performs some of the best doom material this year. The most striking and surprising moment on the album is found in the closer, “Beyond Deserted Flesh”. Halfway through, all the momentum halts to the sound of a filtered riff and a ticking clock, keeping the listener hanging by a thread before tossing them into the maw of the beast, where Pykkö’s guttural vocals and dual harmony riffs with Hannonen chew them up for good.
Darkness Drips Forth makes for such a compelling doom album because it’s more than just another doom album. Its highlight is the beginning of the B-side, a track called “Ashen with Solemn Decay”, where the band finds the most commitment to its constant shifts. Pykkö’s leading riff arpeggiates as his monstrous voice drags itself alongside, while Pekka Koskelo’s drum work is just as consistent as it is throughout the album, following along fearlessly and always readying itself for the inevitable changeup. The album doesn’t exhaust its ideas, nor does it find comfort in its fleeting calm. Darkness Drips Forth ends with a ticking clock as if to remind you to always keep glancing over your shoulder: Time will soon come again to greet this multi-faceted, malignant, and mysterious beast.
Essential Tracks: “Ashen in Solemn Decay”, “Beyond Deserted Flesh”