Sanctus Bellum Gallops Down Treacherous New Path on Sophomore Album
For a year supposedly prophesied by the ancient Mayans to herald the end of all existence, 2012 has been disappointingly doom-and-gloom free thus far. No ominous comets, no Biblical plagues -- not even a triple-digit heat wave yet.
Luckily, local doom/classic metal band Sanctus Bellum is ready to inject a little existential dread into our fine city's musical fabric before we all perish from an overabundance of optimism.
Sanctus' second LP, The Shining Path, dropped Tuesday with a heavy thud, chock full of early Sabbath-style riffage, twin NWOBHM guitar leads and haunted, howling vocals. The album is altogether chunkier and more challenging than the group's 2010 debut, Return to Dust, a fact that bassist and co-founded Ben Yaker chalks up to the smart addition of live guitarist Maurice Eggenschwiler to the recording mix.
The pairing of Eggenschwiler with six-stringer Jan Kimmel has not only doubled the thickness of Sanctus Bellum's deep, dank sound, but also catalyzed the group's creative chemistry.
"He and Jan can really play off of each other, and there are harmonies everywhere now," Yaker says. "I think, in a way, they kind of compete with each other in terms of the leads that they're trying to pull off. We wind up trading off solos, and it's made the songs actually a lot longer."
Sheer length has proved key to the evolution of the band's sound. Not just the track lengths, either, which do tend to stretch on like the collected works of H.P. Lovecraft. Just as crucial has been the increased length of time that Sanctus Bellum has spent getting inside one another's skin, as well as the lengthier gestation period of the songs that make up The Shining Path.
"We had more time with this record to let the songs kind of flesh out, you know?" Yaker says. "For the first record, we had the lineup working together for about four months or so before we went in and recorded it. It was the first six songs we wrote.
"The new songs, we've written over two years," he adds. "A lot of them we've been playing live for a long time, so we've been able to let them evolve that way. They've all been a lot more intricate."
That intricacy keeps The Shining Path from droning on or slipping into hypnotic repetition. The second track, "Vessel," gallops, then wallops. "Dumb Luck Divinity" features dueling guitar leads that bring to mind the possibility of Glenn Tipton joining Tony Iommi in Black Sabbath.
When the band rears back on songs like "Ephaniah," the album's closer, the charge is often led by Yaker's nimble bass playing. And no matter how high the guitars soar or how low to the ground they scrape, vocalist Justin Waggoner's Layne Staley-esque wail keeps even the most fantastic lyrics grounded in horrific reality.