The Best Albums of 2013, #8

001tagSubRosa, More Constant Than the Gods

When I first heard Salt Lake City band SubRosa a couple years ago when they put out their second album No Help For the Mighty Ones, I loved its original approach to doom metal. After all, how many bands put not one, but two violinists front and centre where guitarists would usually be? And not only that, but the way they combined traditional doom with the more expansive, crushing post-metal sounds of Neurosis as well as very strong gothic and folk elements obviously inspired by the vast and unforgiving western landscape. It was a tremendous record, and although I raved about it, it was still easy to sense that it was the tip of the iceberg for them. They were on to something far too good and original not to take it to the next level on the follow-up, and did they ever do that on More Constant Than the Gods. Admittedly, the previous album, for all its sincerity, still felt a little forced in places, the “violins in metal” idea on the precipice of gimmick, the reading of the traditional “House Carpenter” a little too arch. On this record, however, everything coalesces beautifully, to the point where SubRosa make the move from an intriguing curiosity to a true original voice in American metal. This time around the violins of Sarah Pendleton and Kim Pack play an even more central role, at times they creating humming drones that beautifully underscore the slow doom jams by guitarist/singer Rebecca Vernon, bassist Christian Creek, and drummer Andy Patterson. The fact that it’s being done with forceful grace on an acoustic instrument gives it a much more organic, almost tactile feeling than a guitarist hunched over his or her effects pedals. Other times, though, and most crucially, the violins play the role of lead guitars, the duo performing soulful solos and melancholy melodies, and it’s during these moments, as on the standouts “The Usher” and “Ghosts of a Dead Empire” – clocking in at 14 and 11 minutes respectively – where the album reaches majestic heights. As for Vernon, who sings in a style more reminiscent of gothic and indie rock, her more personal lyrics pack an even bigger wallop. It’s not so much a haunting album as a haunted one. Beautifully so.