Hour of 13 is a name that has been bubbling within the doom metal underground for a few years now. Formed around 2006 by Chad Davis and Phil Swanson, the North Carolina doomsters have released two previous albums, “Hour Of 13” and “The Ritualist”, both to substantial critical acclaim. Touring musicians were recruited and quickly became permanent fixtures. However, after what appears to have been a fairly tumultuous period, musicians have come and gone and Hour of 13 have ultimately gone full circle, returning to the original duo of Davis and Swanson. Chad Davis plays all of the instruments and acts as the principle songwriter, whilst Phil Swanson handles the vocals.
As someone who has yet to hear the previous two records, I come to this album with fresh ears and, despite not being the biggest doom metal fan on the planet, a real desire to explore what has made the underground get so animated.
It only takes a few moments to get a good idea of where all the excitement has come from because opening track “Deny The Cross” comes roaring out of the speakers with real intent and a classic-era Black Sabbath vibe. The riffs are dense, uncomplicated and uncompromisingly bruising. Throughout its seven minute length, the song maintains a lovely rumbling groove and the Ozzy-esque vocal approach tops things off very nicely indeed.
If anything though, the album gets better the further through it you get. The groove and monstrous riffing remains intact but, in addition, the hooks start to seep out of the woodwork to worm themselves into your subconscious. The influence of 1980’s New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands looms large within the compositions and at times, like during “Rite Of Samhain” for example, the similarities to the likes of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest scream at you. Strangely though, the marriage of the doom metal and classic 80s denim and leather metal works very well indeed and I find myself nodding away for large chunks of the album, particularly on my personal favourite track “Who’s To Blame?”
For an album rooted in the doom genre, it is unsurprising to note that the vast majority of the tracks run for at least six minutes, up to around ten at their peak. What is slightly surprising though is the amount of variety contained within each composition. We’re not talking wild prog-inspired tangents here, but thanks to the incorporation of catchy melodies, subtle changes in pace and even the occasional guitar solo the album avoids becoming one-dimensional and monotonous.
For me, the lyrics are not always a deal clincher, but they must be sufficiently strong so as to avoid undermining the music itself. In the case of Hour Of 13, in line with previous releases, there is a strong focus on the occult, and the black arts in general, an interesting topic that suits the music well.
What also stands this record in good stead is the production. A modern, digitally enhanced finish would have been entirely inappropriate and out of keeping with the overall vibe of the album. As such, the rich, warm analogue sound that has been embraced on “333” is extremely pleasing to hear.
Put all these ingredients together and you have a really super album that may well be a future doom metal classic.