Even though Canyon of the Skull has been around for quite some time, since 2006 to be more specific, I’m fairly certain not many people, including myself, have heard from this band. I assume this is mainly due to the fact all their releases to date, two demos and two full-lengths, are produced independently, making it rather hard to get exposure. The history of the band is rather blurry with a prolonged hibernation that lasted several years, ending in 2014 and the line-up evolving from anywhere between one and three members multiple times. At the moment it’s a trio: founder and guitarist Erik Ogershok, bassist Todd Haug and drummer Mike Miczek. Formed in Austin, Texas, but currently based in Chicago, Illinois this instrumental blackened doom metal band is just about now releasing their third full-length called Sins of the Past. Since this release only consists of two songs writing this review is easy peasy you’d say, but that is far from the truth. The two tracks have a combined duration of just under an hour, which, as is usually the case with tracks this long, potentially makes them highly complicated in both composition and execution. As if that isn’t enough of a challenge already this release, like I mentioned earlier, is completely deprived of vocals, adding a whole new challenge to the equation which is keeping things interesting. That is of course because a recurring riff or part is used to keep the track coherent, which is a good thing, but if you keep it going for too long or have it reappear too often the listener is bound to lose focus and thus interest, something well-placed vocal lines can help prevent. To top things off the band’s chosen genre is not easily accessible to begin with, so the guys have their work cut out for themselves. Either way I already can tell without having heard a single note this is not for the faint of heart.
The Ghost Dance opens the ball with a heavy, tight, drum-guided riff at a rather slow pace leaving little to the imagination where it comes to the type of music Canyon of the Skull plays. Regardless your preference the pace and the setup of the rhythm will cause your head to mandatory nod to it. The song is build up around recurring lingering guitar riffs that vary in length and that are accompanied by background-filling bass lines and drum lines that both complement and defy the hereby set boundaries. Of course the guitar is not just used as a guiding instrument, there’s plenty of moments in which they shine just as there are similar moments for bass and drums. Some three-quarters into the song the drums and the drums alone turn up the speed, swirling around the backbone of the song. Despite the fact this is a rather unexpected and unlikely genre-defying intermezzo this remarkably enough does not instantaneously change the atmosphere and feel of the song. On the contrary, it actually sounds quite fitting. All in all this extended piece of music is a rather fascinating experience with more than enough features to be discovered. At one or two moments I got the feeling the recurring riff overstayed its welcome a tiny bit, but that is only a minor remark to an otherwise very entertaining first half, which set expectations for the second half rather high.
And I was not disappointed there, the guys certainly met the expectations with part two, a 34-minute behemoth of a song called The Sun Dance. Though being a bit more loosely in its setup, this song also builds on recurring riffs framed with a host of interesting loops and lines. Coincidental or not, the three-quarters mark seems to be the designated point of change, because, just like in The Ghost Dance, here too there’s an intermezzo that in essence doesn’t seem to fit. This time the rather weighty music dies out to switch to guitar-light which turns out to be the start of a build-up towards a piece in which the drum lines seem to determine the pace, which in reality does not alter at all. And this one too sounds quite fitting.
So Sins of the Past is a great album that holds many more or less hidden musical embellishments within its song structures without making things too complicated or incoherent. It offers two lengthy pieces of art that have a slight but distinct different setup built around a heavily set backbone and are both peppered with lots of musical interventions that will continuously claim your full and undivided attention. This varies from guitars suddenly braking loose from their rhythm chains to the bass rebelliously humming its way into the spotlights and the drums that constantly try to defy the rhythm. Whereas The Ghost Dance is more tightly composed, The Sun Dance displays more variation and frivolity, which gives each song its own charm and identity, though they never stray far from the musical roots they are grafted on, safe from one or two moments. For fans of the genre this of course is a definite no-brainer, but I am convinced there’s a wide variety of metal fans out there that will also enjoy this release a lot.