Whether all of it is intentionally obvious or not, judging books (or in this case, albums) by their covers can be done with fair accuracy these days. An initial glance at the three-headed creature devouring what’s left of some wayward fool would indicate a good dose of classic Scandinavian black metal is at hand, but that’s not totally the case with Stockholm, Sweden’s Head of the Demon. Their self-titled début through The Ajna Offensive isn’t too challenging or avant-garde of a listen, but it certainly will appeal to a very specific sort of metalhead.
There’s no rush for the wicked; not exactly ‘unknown,’ Thomas Åberg and Konstantin Papavassiliou have progressed through three bands previous to this one (Gods of Grief, A Mind Confused, and Kaamos) with all of them following a different sound from doom to death metal, so an overall feeling of familiarity is very present. Throughout the forty-three minute running time, HotD keeps things on a straightforward, almost foolproof even keel of unhurried Western-leaning doom. There is as much Celtic Frost here as there is Bathory, but surprisingly in some parts, one can hear Americanized sounds not in another galaxy from High on Fire, or Baroness. Where the latter two are concerned, I’m talking about tense, sparsely picked segues enhanced with just a fraction of delay; how they take Arabic and Egyptian sounds and reduce them to the simplest and most bare-boned form possible within a black field of vision; and how they make repetition succeed.
You won’t be fighting a loudness war during these six tracks (with “Wraith from the Unknown” included for your aural pleasure as a bonus with the CD version), and it’s a damn refreshing thing to hear. There are many sections where the guitars are locked in a type of almost power strumming, supported by a clearly separated bass guitar which is tuned high and cleaner than expected. “Phantasmagoria” and “The Man from Foreign Land” highlight a percussive tightness with the vocals, emphasizing each syllable and word to various degrees and keeping the more energetic moments hot, yet quickly cooling into cymbal work and punchy bass.
Head of the Demon comes with a bit of a warning — for individuals who prefer a faster pace, a more eclectic vibe, or crushing doom, you’ll instead find restraint, and meticulous build. It can be interpreted as tedious. It can be seen as too slow getting from point A to point D; the instruments taking up too little space once the rumbling opener “By Titan Hand” settles down. By doing with so little, HotD creates a very spacious mood, yet within the space not everything is clearly plotted. There’s some digging and patience involved, and it’s not an album for either obtaining a quick fix, nor total immersion. A black speck of doom it may be, you can almost tell already their musical expansion has merely cracked its shell.
Standout tracks: “The Key,” “The Man from Foreign Land,” “They Lie in Wait – Riding the Waste”
01) By Titan Hand
02) They Lie in Wait – Riding the Waste
04) The Man from Foreign Land
05) The Key
06) Fifth House of the Mausoleum
07) Wraith from the Unknown (Bonus Track)