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Penance : SpiritualNatural

'SpiritualNatural' is the sound of a doom band maturing, diversifying, and best of all firing on all pistons. It’s part of the ongoing Penance saga, a story begun with the band Dream Death in the late 1980s and continuing through seemingly constant lineup changes to the present, but always with an eye for musical quality. Penance has always been about ignoring the mainstream and playing just what they want and nothing else. Of course, this exacts a high price monetarily and in emotional wear and tear. And hey, we're not talking about private jets in the first place, but rather just enough money to keep playing. But that's what the doom underground has always been about. If you want to be a rich star, play something else.

'SpiritualNatural' continues along the lines of change hinted at by their previous album, 'Alpha & Omega', which was a transitional album between the more straight-on doom of 1999's 'Proving Ground' and something else, something more experimental. Well, 'SpiritualNatural' has it all, and it's their most accomplished album to date. Of course the musicians drive the thing. Drummer and last original member Mike Smail never over or underplays, but is always just right, as is Mary Bielich on bass. They're a superb doom rhythm section. The twin guitar attack of Matt Tuite and Dave Roman is an organic machine honed to jaw-dropping tolerances. Half the time I could only shake my head at the end of a song. Jeez. Frontman Brian "Butch" Balich is a big cut above. First, his lyrics are full of passion and emotion, with just enough metaphor to form the necessary distance to keep you from tearing your own eyes out at the honesty of it all. Any lyrical subject is fair game, from deep introspection to religious belief to child abuse. There's always a sense of the desire to connect in both the lyrics and the music, and chances are if you're reading this then you're a prime candidate for Penance's emotional purge.

The music is still as heavy as we've come to expect from these folks, but there's allot more melody here than on 'Proving Ground', or even older works like 'The Road Less Travelled' for that matter. This easy-on-the-ears listenability happens without sacrificing an ounce of heaviness on the one hand or kissing radio ass on the other. It has a certain contemplative atmosphere laced with confidence. The overall sound is doomy, groovy, and full of riffing brilliance, with lots of delicious tone creating songs that flow together well, sometimes literally linking the tunes with sound and sometimes not. And talk about pushing the envelope! They're including some stuff here that you didn't expect, a few curve balls for the doomed masses. Check out the bagpipes on 'The River Ara' and the east European mandolin (or is that a balalaika?) on 'Iron Curtain Blues'. When was the last time you heard that on a bona-fide doom record? That's right, never. 'All is Vanity' has a weird kind of almost deathy feel to it, while 'Lost my Way' is quintessential doom, representing one of the best songs the band has ever recorded, up there with 'Cloudless'.

Its not often I give props for album artwork, but in this case it fits the package so well that I have to mention it. It's a minimal abstract multicoloured figure that's both weird and beautiful. It puts me in mind of the scarf flying through the trees on the inside sleeve of Pink Floyd's 'Wish You Were Here.' Somehow sad, lonely, and gorgeous. You've got the vinyl edition of that, right? So you know what I'm talking about.

This is the most accomplished Penance yet, played by seasoned music vets who play doom their way. If you're down with that, then its time for Pa Ubu's Doom Party. The only sad note is the departure of original member Terry Weston, who nevertheless appears on a few cuts on his way out. Get this and hear one of America's best doom bands in their prime. I'm already impatient for the next album.

Reviewer's rating: Unrated


Tracklist :
1. Gemini
2.The Innocent
3. The River Ara
4. Regret
5. Casting Long Shadows
6. Longsuffering
7. Lost My Way
8. Iron Curtain Blues
9. All is Vanity
10. SpiritualNatural
11. Starshine/Dawn of a New Day

Duration : Approx. 69 minutes.

Visit the Penance bandpage.

Reviewed on ??-??-???? by Kevin McHugh
Rotten Copper
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