Castle - Deal Thy Fate

Castle Deal Thy Fate cover
Deal Thy Fate
Ripple Music
Eerily disturbing Southern elements, not to mention scary political developments, have driven me to seek refuge, as well as solace, in all manner of throttling and hauntingly melodic fare; namely, the sly, old boogeyman man commonly known nowadays as “heavy psych” rock, or, perhaps more fitfully, “psychedelic doom” metal. Either way, the San Francisco/Toronto based collaboration (and subject of this here review) loosely evokes the insatiably sinister likes of Christian Mistress, Duel, Lucifer, The Hazytones, Death Penalty, Cauchemar and Orchid, alongside a plethora of others.
Many will confirm such ambiguously overlapping genres’ femme fronted division as particularly Epicurean and pleasing, notably when reigned by the huskily charismatic (dark) lady of the manor, vocalist/bassist Elizabeth Blackwell. Such is the case for the Can-American Castle of “Blacklands” repute (i.e. its agreeably received 2012 sophomore), which, alongside a notorious, black-clad and harshly retributive ex-cop named “Frank” turned bad-ass-rogue, constitute the epitome of what it means, precisely, to be “metal”...
Obvious shoehorn aside, allow me to present thee with the mildly baroque, yet wholly cool, outfit’s fifth full-length, ominously titled “Deal Thy Fate” and released close to a fortnight ago on CD and 12" vinyl under Ripple Music (skippy Californian purveyor of Blackwülf, Fire Down Below and Mothership), as well as crusty limited edition cassette, courtesy of Hoove Child Records, just in time to stoke the flames of All Hallows Eve. Clocking in at a conservative, though conducive, 35,5 minutes, this timely nine-track whirlwind of evilly twisted, piping harmonies and springy, upper mid-tempo grooves portentously benefits from Blackwell’s lean and mean exhalations I liken to confidant, debonair wailing as opposed to, say, acerbic caws or vituperation – namely, the rough n’ tough, genially oppressive kind of activity you’d expect from Stacy Peak of Savage Master (blaster!) or recent heavy metal darling, Mandy Martillo of Satan’s Hallow. No, on the whole, she’s a naturally accessible vocalist whose bacchanalian-seeming flair and festally sordid countenance evoke a wholesome, ingratiating cross between The Oath/Lucifer’s Joanna Sadonis and, believe it or not, Night Viper’s Sofie-Lee Johansson. (Oddly, the Swedish pistol’s Nordic she-devil excoriations have all the trappings of “occult rock”, in spite of the Swedes’ yen for rather rampant and raw, straight-laced “traditional” heavy metal).
Further runaway comparisons extend, undoubtedly, towards Christian Mistress’ Christine Davis, and, to a subtly slighter degree, Katharina Heldt from the (reasonably) MA snubbed Galactic Soldiers, of Germany, whose colorful meanderings elude me like the dying embers of a fading, kaleidoscope dream. Instrumentally, picture a weathered and wise amalgam of Gaz Jennings axed Cathedral and Lucifer with shades of fast, clear-cut and exciting Night Viper riff-ery, the lot of if imbued with a vintage psychedelic rock sheen combining the vividness and grace of Coven and Christian Mistress. Leads wise, guitarist Mat Davis perfunctorily crams in (or “deals”) a multitude of shrill, sleazy solos, from his right knicker-twisting flurry of dexterous five-fingered wizardry on “Skull of the Woods” to his diabolically soulful, Kelly Carmichael-like overtures on “Hexenring”.
Nostalgically speaking, the album’s gripping old school flavor calls for a comparative study between Blackwell, with her late 60s/early 70s styled, hip delivery/inflection, and Janis Joplin (RIP), specially on the gruffly palm-muted and lyrically cabalistic title track; even more so on the succeeding highlight, “Haunted”, an unbridled and festively boogie-ing hip shaker, which bubbles over with such rabid grit and effervescence – dig, with a capital “D”, its thick, grinding triplet based bridge section roughly half through – you could toss me in a rank and mildew-y, rat/centipede infested oubliette and I’d still be merrily spinning me wheels. To a deliriously welcome extent, it reminds me a little of Pearl’s casually slack, if not sly and provocative, waylaid motoring gem from 1968, “Move Over” (sans lounge lizard piano, of course!).
Hell, it’d be insulting to omit mention of Blackwell’s impish, liberating performance on “Red Phantom”, where her snappish and tetchy, arse-kicking demeanor stirs up wicked images of a “white which”, equally magnetic and charming Bobby Liebling (of Pentagram, for those “much too young to know”!). Quirky-ly enough, the songs which are along similar musical lines as Pentagram are the less hectic, mystical ones – in short order, “Hexenring”, “Wait for Dark” (which belongs on 2000’s Sub-Basement alongside the likes of “Bloodlust”” and “Buzzsaw”) and a decidedly Cauchemar-esque, eldritch closer in “Firewind”.
Pardon the excessive correlations, but that’s the thing about Castle: it brings to mind so many other bands without losing its hold on the listener thanks to all the footloose stimulation and neat horror overtones at play... it’s the kind of act the Montreal-based zine Rue Morgue would scream about to the rafters in its monthly “frightening muzak” section. In short, it’s a must for fans of campy horror and pentatonic, Sabbath/Pentagram schooled rock/metal/whatever!
Strangely enough, the first couple of songs adhere to a vigorously caustic, biting, withering disposition susceptible of drawing parallels to not only Sab and the ‘gram but Slayer as well! (speak of the Devil... and he will appear!). The incepting notes of opener “Can’t Escape the Evil” yield a chromatically cranked and cyclical riff pattern, capped by a scalpel-sharp, highly registered lick, which, in addition to sounding lifted from the score of a George Romero zombie flick, uncannily brings to mind a jarring cross between the satanic panic’s "Seasons in the Abyss” (or even “South of Heaven”) and the American “D.C. Doom” lords’ “Relentless”, a quintessentially tuneful and rhapsodic, however belated, 1985 retort to Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid”. Loony, eh?! Then again, possibly not so much...
In fact, the woolly-as-fuck “Skull in the Woods” slides so slickly in place that for a time I considered these tracks one and the same. To wit, right up until the cleanly progressive, folksy “Prelude” and its parent, “Hexenring”, one could readily be forgiven for interpreting Davis’ uncharacteristically fierce, madcap guitar chops as part and parcel of yet just another angst fueled, temper assuaging, classless and posturing pair devoid of sense or due diligence. Quite to the contrary, at times, Castle gives the binding impression of riding a beat-up, derailed handcar through a supernatural, barren graveyard while chased by a bony horde of ungainly, as well as casket-debris and mud caked, skeletal miscreants... pass the popcorn, please!
As inferred, past “Château” adepts, after having scaled the album's first quarter, will find they breathe easier with the advent of “Hexenring”, and so on. (Although for myself, “Skull in the Woods” is the stand-out, most memorable track, if not the most lyrically confusing – at first, I thought the cryptic refrain went something like this: “Scour the woods for beasts of fire!”). Actually, the only other Castle release I heard to completion was the freshly captivating 2011 debut, “In Witch Order”; however, I’ve a pronounced suspicion “Deal Thy Fate” represents the band’s apogee, or apotheosis, depending, which nerd-dom ranking we aspire towards. Only time will tell.
For tonight, f(r)iends, follow my chthonian lead and storm the fog-shrouded, gloomily encrusted Castle!