Not a New Beginning
No one will argue that doom metal doesn’t need a facelift. From Sabbath to Pentagram to The Sword, the genre has evolved into a caricature of its past, characterized by slow riffs with as many “devil’s triad” variations as possible and song subjects that tend to include the mythical, the magical and the mysterious. The singer would be wise to mimic Ozzy, and the guitarist would be wise to emulate Tony Iommi, as if there is no reasonable alternative. Chicago’s Mount Salem throws a monkey wrench into the formula with their debut, Endless, by introducing a new element: a female vocalist. Unfortunately, that was the only step forward they took.
The album begins promisingly with “Good Times.” In an explosion of guitars and organs, Mount Salem seems to promise a bigger, more exciting brand of metal. The noise slows down, though, allowing space for Emily Kopplin’s vocals to surprise the listener. The surprise is not so much the gender of the singer (pictures reveal that), but the natural sweetness of her tone. We continue with “The Tower,” another slow number, exactly as one would expect, and this time Kopplin expands her vocal range, reaching for higher and louder notes but remaining closer to a Tanya Donelly than an Amy Lee.
The best thing that can be said about the music is that it does have a dirty, raw feel to it. The overdrive on Kyle Morrison’s guitars feels natural and less affected. There are moments where you can almost see Morrison’s fingers sliding up and down the fretboard; it’s that casual. The soft intro to “Full Moon” is an example of that. The same number features some of the few up-tempo moments on Endless, which appears more obligatory than right for the song.
You are tempted to replace Kopplin’s voice with a J.D. Cronise (The Sword) or a Bobby Liebling (Pentagram), and doing so makes it clear that Mount Salem is toeing the line in the doom metal genre. However, if they embrace the grungy feel and encourage Kopplin to add some Nancy Wilson gruffness to her well-oiled instrument, Mount Salem could stand out.