Doom metal (and its half-siblings, post-metal and sludge) suffers from the same problem its distant cousin grindcore does: it’s very easy to create (play something slow with some twinkly parts for diversity’s sake for the former, something fast and dissonant for the latter) but thusly means it’s even harder to do well. Many people seem to forget that last part, though, and will write off an ambient sludge band as a bunch of meandering beardos too wrapped up in pretentiousness to know what good music sounds like. And though stereotypes exist for a reason (owning a delay pedal and a copy of Mogwai’s Mogwai Young Team doesn’t automatically make your band awesome), it shortchanges those who don’t simply adhere to generalizations and create worthwhile music that makes apparent the reasons people are so devoted to the genre in the first place. And thus is the burden of moody, introspective Swedes Kongh, a band daring to make a sludgy doom record with post-rock influences in a time when Neur-Isis bands own a lot of real estate in the metal underground. Though a casual listen may make you want to lump them into big dynamics/plodding riffs lot and move on, the band actually have a fair bit of the nuance required to pull off good slow-burning metal on their latest, Shadows of the Shapless. Though the record does eventually wear out its welcome, it also displays that Kongh have more than a skin-deep understanding of what they’re doing, thus setting themselves apart from their meandering beardo peers.

The band’s influences are clear — they’re particularly fond of fellow countrymen Cult of Luna — but the fact that they do something with them instead of just regurgitating illustrates uniqueness. Though the eleven and a half minute opener “Unholy Water” thunders along like Oceanic-era Isis, Kongh’s almost perverse need to take their time makes it different, slowly unraveling and bolstering the track’s main riff until it emerge’s fully formed around a minute and a half in. The band then sits on it for a while, savoring what it just earned, before stopping and reassembling it again. But Kongh’s instinct of knowing when to start and stop and how long to ride a riff is brilliantly self-aware. After deconstructing “Essence Asunder” into a slow, sludgy crawl, the band stops short of blasting back into motion when the song rolls to a halt — the move most bands that sound like Kongh would make — and instead suddenly drops out altogether, leaving nothing but a sparse, lonely riff that chimes on for about a minute before the band slowly brings the proceedings back to a boil. But even then, they’re not hitting the post-metal “gosh, this is pretty” notes: their greatest attribute is that they don’t let their genre-biting dalliances muck up their heaviness. When Kongh are heavy, they’re filthy and complex; when they’re soft, they’re actually just taking a breather, usually at a time when the listener is also ready to.

Of course, like many of their peers, their sense of self-editing is a little slight, and Shadows of the Shapeless’ title track/closer starts great and ends brilliantly, but the ten minutes in the middle takes too much time to make its point, mistaking “long” for epic. And it’s a shame, too, considering that the band use most of the rest of the record to show how well they avoid making that mistake. Their deliberateness is as admirable as it is necessary, the difference between a friend that tells long stories because they throw random details at you and a friend that emphasizes all the necessary points, whether it takes two or twenty minutes to do so. Even if they are prone to a wandering focus every now and again, they’re better defined by what they do right than do wrong. Nobody’s perfect, I suppose. Except Neurosis, and when firing on all cylinders, Kongh are closer to them than a dismissive metalhead may care to admit.

(3 out of 5 horns)


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