Note: This is Part I of IV of a series of hybrid, album/live performance reviews involving bands who performed at The Middle East Upstairs in Cambridge, Massachusetts on the evening of April 17, 2016.
One must exercise caution when indulging the doom that Makavrah reveal to their audience: the vision they evoke proves to be murkier, its vehicle of disaster less certain, than one might assume initially. This Peterborough, NH quartet’s doom is not a straightforward plodding, ostentatiously inevitable doom but, instead, a descending doom. Before this characterization conjures up the image of a sublime destroyer angel dispatched from the heavens to condemn the earth and its inhabitants, those who listen to Makavrah’s music should be aware of this important twist.
In that twilit headspace opened up by Justin Hofmann’s mesmeric bass lines and Keith Mouradian’s warm, dynamic drumming, the audience’s consciousness creeps toward the suspicion that there is no air available to breathe but only water. As waves of Colin Cassady’s expressive, sonorous guitar rush in accompanied by Mia Govoni’s stunning vocals—by turns intoned and wailed, as though originating from the throat of some disquietous harbinger, distant in time, possessed of the tragic tone of an entire Greek chorus—the ceremonia immergendi makes itself known. Moreover, the building pressure (exerted on that space by Makavrah’s tidal crescendos) and its attendant blackness prove not to be the effect of skull crush depth but the constricting embrace of sinister tentacles drawing the listener down to the ocean floor and the ineffable horror that awaits. As every note traces a sinister spiral downwards, every trace of hope gradually succumbs to a cloud of ink-black dread. By the time one of the band’s psychedelic grooves has established itself, the listener’s fate has already been sealed, and the agents of realization arrive too late to avoid being held in thrall.
Of course, one could dream of far worse imprisonments.
Both lyrically and dynamically, Makavrah capitalize on this intimacy that their doom aesthetic summons forth from the tenebrous depths of the listening experience. Every encounter ushers listeners into secret chambers ensconced in green velvet draperies and occupied by innumerable arcane grimoires only to drive those initiates to their knees and force them to face the draperies’ hidden, reptilian nature and the hideous, inhuman script of those alien tomes. Such is Makavrah’s musical modus operandi: induction followed by intimidation, over and over again. On the band’s self-titled debut record, released on June 9, 2016, this process is borne out in the languorous first verse of “Blasphomet” and the scintillating, heavily-delayed, introductory guitar licks of “Dark Mother”—both of which carry the audience along a path strewn with mysterious and occult imagery to a place where comprehension fails to grasp and human sanity fears to tread. By the same token, “Awakening the Ancients,” through accretion of subdued voices, acquaints the listener with a concourse of conjurers illuminated by an ominous star. As fascination with this scene builds to a critical mass, so do the distortion and amplification of the strings; the drum heads begin to wish they had never been stretched, and Ms. Govoni’s vocals soar into the rift created by the change in atmosphere from intriguing to alarming.
Despite the density of Makavrah’s sound, the mixing on the debut album—recorded by Wes Aldrich at The Carriage House in Dublin, NH and mastered by Brett Goodchild at Saxon Sound Studios in Winnipeg, Manitoba—allows every voice its proper place and leaves room for the dynamic range that various passages of the album’s four songs explore. Part of this good news is that the rhythm section’s energy and presence are ably conserved: the pulsating strings attached to Mr. Hofmann’s bass seem to shimmer menacingly close by, and not a single instance of violence committed against Mr. Mouradian’s kit fades into obscurity. Moreover, Mr. Cassady’s acoustic guitar overdubs carve out a sonic seat for themselves alongside his heavily distorted riffs in, e.g., the wall of sound that makes numerous appearances in “Black Sun.” Ms. Govoni’s performance in the same track proves remarkably fluid as her voice alternately belts into the foreground or recedes into the background with the haunting qualities of a lament. At other times, her voice seems to fill all available sonic space in the mix with a formidable presence more commonly encountered at a live concert.
When Makavrah are, in fact, live in concert, the spectacle they provide strikes one as perfectly complementary to the experience of their recorded sound. Their set at The Middle East Upstairs on April 17, 2016 presented a quartet shrouded in low, greenish light, seemingly relying on sheer aural force to delineate their place on the stage. The band’s presentation allowed no room for ostentatious display, yet, if one leaned in and watched carefully, a great deal seemed to transpire on a more intimate scale during that set, which included “Blasphomet,” a brand new song entitled “Loathing” (see video clip below), and “Awakening the Ancients.” Mr. Cassady, Mr. Hofmann, and Mr. Mouradian appeared devoted to the gnostic practice of eliminating any divide between themselves and their instruments. Ms. Govoni, whose stage persona could be compared to a young Jim Morrison with the demeanor of Chelsea Wolfe, similarly entered into a mystical trance defined by only rhythm and vocal melody. More succinctly, Makavrah were a band transported, though they were, of course, vehicle, driver, and passenger all at once, taking the audience/passenger (or, perhaps, audience/victim tied up in the trunk of the car) along for the ride. The experience was ritual without redemption, circumscribed by a sonic circle of warding that prompted the listener to wonder whether or not its function was to shield against or intern evil (and the audience with it).
As a band, Makavrah leave one with the impression that they are a rising Algol: versatile, awe-inspiring, traversing the doomed sky to make major contributions to the New England doom scene. While no apt comparisons leap to mind, fans of Electric Wizard’s sound and occultism who take a pass on their explicit drug use references will enjoy Makavrah’s music. Put another way, fans of Windhand who want to take their exploration of the arcane to the next level and treat themselves to a very different contralto will be impressed with the doom quartet from Peterborough. Their debut release should find a place in any doom or occult metal fan’s collection. Their incomparable live performance should be a thrilling memory in any heavy music fan’s recollection.
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