Negative Reaction – Under The Ancient Penalty

An album such as Negative Reaction’s ‘Under The Ancient Penalty’ should be intensely familiar to any self-respecting metalhead. As soon as you pop this CD in, your brain had better be immediately flooded with archaic groove that you understand on an utterly primordial level. I dare any metalhead to not immediately trance out while listening to this album, because I’d go as far as to say it really isn’t possible. It’s so there, so engaging, so naturally flowing that it really strikes where all metal albums should.

Negative Reaction play extremely heavy and groove-laden stoner/doom metal with cues taken from artists such as Bongzilla, Sleep and Black Sabbath. Add a tinge of hopeless, depressing atmosphere, and you have a recipe for an utterly entrancing piece of music. Perhaps the best equation would be one part Black Sabbath’s self titled debut with two parts Sleep’s ‘Jerusalem’, packing a definite drone from the latter, but the occasional bluesy break of the former. The music is extremely simple and repetitive and incredibly, crushingly heavy on tracks like ‘Empty’, which genuinely engulf the listener in the drugged-out suffering that this band embodies.

Perhaps what sets Negative Reaction apart from other stoner/doom bands is the extremely dark atmosphere it employs. Apart from merely being more depressing than other artists, Negative Reaction have a genuine vibe of despair and desolation surrounding their music, with riffs drifting into empty canvas propped up only by skeletal drumming. However, the sparseness of the compositions only increases the brutality of the riffing even more, and when those enormous bass grooves swing back into action, the listener knows it with every bone of their body. This is an entirely traditional and guitar-driven record, bringing clearly to mind what some of the first listeners of Black Sabbath must have thought upon hearing the opening chords of their eponymous song. There’s a decisive aura of misery set deep into the music of this album that simply must be heard to be believed.

Unfortunately, Negative Reaction is hampered by one significant flaw: the vocals. In this case, they are a blend between hoarse screaming and semi-clean vocals, and at no angle do they work very well. With a hoarse serpent’s rasp, this might be the perfect stoner/doom album, but as such, the vocals, though thankfully not overbearing, significantly detract from the power of the album as a whole. Luckily, the compositions are generally mostly instrumental (think newer Isis’ de-emphasized vocal-to-instrumental ratios), somewhat minimizing the damage this factor does. Apart from this issue, ‘Under The Ancient Penalty’ is fantastically crushing and miserable on every level. Certainly a great choice for stoner/doom fans, or anyone else who likes to wallow in their own bitterness from time to time.

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~ by noktorn on November 18, 2006.

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