This is the debut full-length from these Oakland purveyors of bilious, crawling, detuned doom, though they released a fairly well-regarded split with Stormcrow last year. Since then, the trio has added vocalist Nathan Misterek (Graves at Sea) who, according to their bio, “adds an element of occult grimness previously absent from Laudanum’s noise-doom wasteland.” That said, Misterek’s razorblade-throated doom-metal squawk might be a deal-breaker for listeners coming from an experimental music background rather than a metal one, but Laudanum nevertheless occupy a fairly compelling little niche that is well-worth investigating.
Laudanum’s “twist” is that they delve quite heavily into electronics and atmospherics for a doom metal band. All four of the band members are credited with electronics, but the core of the band nevertheless seems to be the simple, yet fairly strange, guitar work of Judd Hawk and the punishing, slow-motion drumming of his wife Becky. Unfortunately, the electronics and traditional metal instrumentation do not coexist seamlessly, as songs like “Invoke” and “Wooden Horse” fall quite unambiguously in the doom metal genre, while the band’s more avant-garde leanings tend to be compartmentalized into separate tracks. “In Obscura”, for example, is one of the more unsettling moments, melding creepily harmonized and looped female vocals with Greg Wilkinson’s menacing bass swells, but the album’s highlight is probably the sinister ambient build-up of the epic closing track, “Apotheosis”.
Laudanum is definitely an unusual and often crushingly heavy band, but I don’t think they’ve quite gotten it together yet. For the most part, they occupy a forlorn no-man’s land between song-based metal and post-industrial experimentation. While certainly malevolent and intense, their songs are a bit too slow-building, oddly structured, and hook-less to be especially memorable and the vocals seem to be largely an afterthought (which they may well have been, as I believe Misterek joined rather late into the recording process). That said, if they get a bit less amorphous and amp up the violence of the electronic presence, their next release could turn quite a few heads. 6/10 -- Anthony D'Amico (21 October, 2009)