Time for a tired, clichéd axiom – games are not played on paper.
“With the Dead” is the title of the debut full-length album from the band of the same name, a newly formed consortium born out of the residue of Electric Wizard (Tim Bagshaw, Mark Greening) and the ashes of Cathedral (Lee Dorrian). With those named collected and performing together, the table was set for a gleefully drudge-laden stew that would bubble and smoke and absorb the listener in its palpable, inky blackness.
The pedigree is perfect; the legacy of these musicians in this style is beyond reproach. The presentation, with the band pictured as pale-faced zombie priests, is spot-on. Even the album’s length, six songs with no filler and all roughly between six and eight minutes, is proper. With the Dead does everything right in the run up to hitting play on their eponymous debut. On paper, this was set up to be brilliant.
So then, what happened? This may sound like anathema, particularly to doom metal purists, but the bottom line is that With the Dead didn’t have anything happen in these songs. There’s melody and rhythm and all those requisite parts of music, but there’s little suspense, no hooks, and no surprises.
The band does do some things very well – the vocal execution of Dorrian is well within his idiom, and he speaks the album’s emotions plainly. One of the album’s better strengths is in allowing the listener to feel the song’s atmosphere. “With the Dead” is very much like an Autopsy album in that regard, using plain language and plodding cadences to create a thick feeling of dread and the sensation of being lost, though this band is not to steeped in blood-spattered viscera or literal damnation.
Still, by the time you’ve hacked through “Living With the Dead,” you’re two-thirds of the way through the record and aren’t especially interested in the rest. There’s a unavoidable feeling like the album contains no more secrets, and the pained wailing of Dorrian with the slow, churning
accompaniment of the duo behind him starts to become a slog.
What makes it more disappointing is that there are good ideas encased in this quagmire of doom. The riffs of “Crown of Burning Stars” are well-crafted and fit the music’s idiom, but the pace never entices or excites. It’s the same old down and dirty tar fire that won’t do anything but smolder.
The album is curiously absent of the characteristics of the bands that are Frankensteined together to make up With the Dead. The drug-induced shambling of Electric Wizard always had a certain silver lining of enjoyable psychedelia infused into the edges and corners, while Cathedral was weaved with an attractive strain of black magic that made the songs pop from the their baseline foundations. None of that makes it way to this record.
All the musicians involved in With the Dead have done greater things than this, with more spirit and accomplishment that this album shows. All three are talented in their own right, so there is hope that future endeavors may producer greater results. With that said, the paper blueprint for this one looked better than the finished product, so stay away for now.