Saying goodbye to Cathedral was tough. "The Last Spire" left me satisfied, but the blue balls were back shortly thereafter without my doomy mistress to give me riffjobs and a donkey punch of doom. Death Penalty was formed a few years after Cathedral's run had ended by Gaz Jennings-the longtime Cathedral guitarist-who jumpstarted his new project by recruiting ex-members of Serpentcult and Gorath. Death Penalty is a logical continuation of Jennings' work as one of doom's finest couriers that wears proudly the influences of Witchfinder General, Black Sabbath, Pentagram, etc. while implementing some groovy licks that would not sound out of place on a nonexistent Cathedral record. No needless pandering to my needs and wants, though; this self-titled album is its own beast, and a fine one at that.
One thing I always liked about Jennings' guitar work is that his consistent riffs are often branded by his own touch. It's hard putting it down in words, but this feels like it has Jennings' guitar philosophy embossed on its pelt, especially during his solos and lead melodies which conjure up that retrogressive aura. The stout heavy/doom metal riffs are forceful and hefty, delivering a solid arsenal of driving, up-tempo sequences gracing anthems like "Howling at the Throne of Decadence" and rocking Cathedral-esque grooves à la "The Ethereal Mirror" finding shelter on "Into the Ivory Forest" and "Eyes of the Heretic." Nothing gloomy or depressing like "Forest of Equilibrium," I must add; this is mostly energetic stuff, driven by doom-laden sections and bruising heavy metal festivities.
A big source of Death Penalty's identity comes from Michelle Nocon's vocals. Her voice reflects much of the explosive stoutheartedness pouring from the guitar work while bringing color to the overall picture through her wide register. She sounds especially natural matching the crawling riffs of "The One that Dwells," wailing and shouting over the morbid display like a banshee. A stellar chemistry between Nocon and Jennings, but not one too predictable under the conditions. The drum performance and bass work are excellent, amplified in importance by an organic production job whose roots serve to animate and stabilize rather than hinder and synthesize. It's a heavy/doom metal journey that stays true to its origins without phoning it in.
Death Penalty's self-titled record is a brazen slab of doom, big enough to make even the most frustrated Cathedral lamenter feel at least marginally better. The product is low on surprises and delivers the goods in just a handful of ways, but it does so without feebly mimicking its influences or falling into redundancies. I don't even feel like I need to have Death Penalty put a paper bag over its head and tell me it's Cathedral underneath; the semblance that Death Penalty is its own entity shines from the bombing introduction to the final moments of its eight-minute closer. This is solid stuff-heavy/doom metal for the masses to worship. Just don't hang yourself on the artwork.
Death Penalty - Death Penalty