Monday, March 14, 2016

Doom - Killing Field

Forgotten Pioneers

The tech thrash boom in the late 80s produced a ton of well-regarded, legendary bands that all pushed the boundaries of metal to brand new lands and territories. And indeed, I highly respect and love many of these groups myself. But when discussing these legendary bands, Doom is unfortunately a frequent omission. There's no doubt that their geographical location is the reason that the three piece is overlooked in the west, but they were among first thrash bands to break new ground in the technical and progressive fields. Their debut album, No More Pain, is mostly a thrash affair with some technical moments and weird things that would hint at what they would do next. Just under a year later in 1988, Doom released Killing Field which had the band take a radical new direction.

At this point, it is imperative to mention that not only was Doom among the first progressive metal groups, they are also one of the first metal bands to use fretless bass which is naturally a key component of their sound. Steve DiGiorgio is probably the most famous fretless bass player in metal, but Koh Morota's work in Killing Field eclipses Sadus's Illusions (in terms of technicality) which was released in the same year. What Morota did with his bass in Doom was totally nuts and certainly way ahead of its time.

Describing what Killing Field really sounds like is a difficult endeavour, but words like "insane," "progressive," and "avant-garde" are on the right track. What the band really does best is weird you out. I don't mean weird in the sense of genrehops or anything like that, but their music sounds like thoughts of a madman. The spiraling basslines and fretless tone coupled with the bizarre dissonant chords evoke very surreal, twisty imagery. The constant time signature shifting, complex rhythms, and bizarre structures also help drive home the twisted labyrinth feel. It's extremely crazy, unpredictable stuff especially for the time it was released.

Killing Field is arguably more progressive metal than it is thrash. The very opening of the album is quite an abrupt jolt to realm of progressive metal with the odd time signatures and bizarre rhythms. In addition, the band structures their song in very strange ways. Instead of obvious verse chorus structures, the band will instead cycle through different sections often adding in ornaments to shake things up. From a technical standpoint, the EP is highly accomplished and handily beats most other bands from this time period. Fujita's guitarwork is quite unique, and he employs a lot of strange chords and highly dissonant, shredding solos. Hirokawa is also quite accomplished behind the kit and dishes out complicated patterns and proggy rhythms. But truthfully, the member that sticks out the most to is the madman behind the bass. Koh Morota very much deserves the title of "bass god" and is possibly the most underrated bassist in all of metal. The basswork on this album is stunningly complex and only rivaled by the likes of Doug Keyser from Watchtower or other bassists of that caliber. This is already pretty bizarre by today's factors, but imagine hearing this in 1988. Totally insane.

Another interesting feature of Doom is the relative lack of lyrics. My copy of the CD doesn't actually have a booklet, but I can tell that the amount of vocal lines are very small (it's true for all of their works). Fujita doesn't really sing (well they are a thrash band after all); he sort of yells/snarls/barks into the mic. Despite many of the same lyrics being repeated, his voice is used very rhythmically to accent the strange patterns present in the music. It's rather interesting to hear this kind of thing in a prog band since most of the other tech thrash bands had actual singers. Doom also mangles the English language, but that's hardly anything to care about unless you happen to be an English major or something.

It's worth noting that I have the 2007 remaster which comes with 4 extra bonus tracks. I have not heard the original, but this remaster is extremely well done. The bass is very prominent in the mix and Morota's fretless tone sounds wonderful. The four bonus tracks do obviously stick out a bit from the first five, but they are all excellent and worth hearing. Tracks 6 and 7 are originally from an older compilation with X Japan, Jurassic Jade, and a few other notable Japanese thrash bands from that time period. They both are more thrash in character, but still retain plenty of prog elements. You End.Get Up! You contains some extremely clever time signature switching in the pre-chorus. Will Never End is some really bizarre dance-esque track with weird usage of bass slaps and guitar effects. Honestly, it's almost impossible for me to describe, but it's pretty upbeat/dancey in feeling and has some weird reverbing vocals. Strange stuff. Parasite is actually a cover of the famous Kiss song believe it or not. The band spruces it up with a some more technical instrumental work and even finds a way to throw in a progressive section in it. It's pretty cool.

Doom is a band I've known about for a while, but finally getting my hands on their material is extremely rewarding. I know that Japan had produced a lot of thrash bands in the late 80s (Gargoyle is one I'm a big fan of), but Doom's stuff is among the most unique I have ever heard. The closest reference point is probably Voivod (it's highly unlikely either band were aware of each other at the time), but even that's not quite accurate especially not with Koh Morota. Maybe someone with better ears than me can figure out some of the band's influences, but the stuff they cooked up was absolutely insane. They are criminally underrated and deserve to be recognized as one of the pioneering acts of progressive metal and technical thrash. It's such a shame that their genius is hard to find and relatively unknown.

Rating: 95/100

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