When entering blindly into an album, the descriptions we use to categorize the music we hear aren't always good enough. Specifically, when we talk about doom metal, we neglect to mention that there are two radically different approaches to doom, a forked road that may take us to the promised land, but may also take us directly to hell. On the one hand, we have the doom bands that treat doom as the icing on the cake, spending most of their time playing a hybrid of traditional and stoner metal, merely a bit slower than usual. And then there are the doom purists, who plod along, twisting a one riff song into a seven minute excursion into the depths of repetitive torture.
Stone Magnum is not of the latter ilk. They are a doom band in the mold of late-era Candlemass, settling into mid-tempo grooves, and integrating enough melody to make the songs more than simple dirges. And like tradition has dictated, the record starts off with a number that is more of a traditional metal song than a doom number, with a pulsing riff and a reach towards a melodic chorus, which isn't quite fully realized, but comes close enough to give the song some charm. “Fallen Priest” is no masterpiece, but it's a solid enough track to invite you to delve further into the record.
“Locksmith Of Misery” ups the doom quotient, using sparingly few riffs to fill its eight minutes, which is a long time to sit through a vocal performance that is painful to listen to. Whatever bleak joy could be wrought from the riffs, which are admittedly good, the song is irrevocably ruined by the approach singer Dean Tavernier takes. They don't improve on “Savior In Black”, which takes on the old doom trope of switching gears at the halfway point, going from downbeat dirge to ripping traditional metal, which was a wise direction indeed.
“Pictures Of Your Life” is the best song on the record, because it sounds like a pastiche of various Trouble songs. That band is a perfect comparison, as it's Trouble's reinvention as a heavier-than-hell straight-ahead metal band that Stone Magnum should pay mind to. The fusion of stoner, doom, and traditional metal into a hybrid beast of crushing guitars was revolutionary at the time, and still remains the best use of a band of this ilk. When Stone Magnum channels that spirit, as they return to in “Rolling Storm”, they come close to replicating those glory days. An entire record in that vein would be a force to be reckoned with.
The biggest problem I have with the album isn't anything to do with the album, but with the band itself. From the fuzzed out guitars, to the strained vocals, the sounds I'm hearing aren't what they should be. The guitars lack the clarity that makes up true heaviness, the ability to hear the gain break down as the notes ring, and the vocals, while sticking in the mold Ozzy created forty years ago, sometimes fail the basic task of making the lyrics intelligible. I'm not advocating a slick and polished artifice take its place, but the record does itself no favors by dooming (if you pardon the pun) the songs to not live up to the compositions' potential.
Overall, “Stone Magnum” is a record that I can hear promise in, but can't honestly give high marks to. There's enough in the songwriting to make me think the band can grow into something better, but the way it's presented on this record, I'm worried the band won't know the proper way to showcase that growth if it happens. And perhaps ironically, the biggest takeaway I have after listening to “Stone Magnum” is that they are a doom band that's better at not playing doom. When they're a traditional metal band, they're actually good. If they focus on that, they have a future.