Cities of Mars - “The Horologist” [Album Review]

- Apr 06, 2019 at 03:11PM
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Horology is the study of the measurement of time. How fitting, then, that Swedish psych-doom trio Cities of Mars have named their second album The Horologist (grab a copy on Bandcamp here). Fitting, because it turns every listener into a horologist for its 45-minute run-time.

That’s not to say it’s bad. The only actual bad quality of the album is the vocals. Bassist Danne Palm sings in a weird bellowed hybrid of growls and clean singing to the songs. Clean or growl – choose one. Or choose not to sing. Let the music speak for itself. But the vocal style currently being employed needs to go if Cities of Mars ever want to hit the heights of their heroes, Mastodon or Monolord.

Focusing on the music itself separate from the vocals, they’re a much more interesting prospect. Their compositions easily evoke the kind of psychedelic sci-fi of old B-movies: the intro to “The Last Electric Dream,” for example, could easily have been lifted from Barbarella. Elsewhere, “Necronograph” opens the album with the kind of synths Vangelis conjured for Blade Runner. Being a concept band predicated on the idea of a human civilisation living on Mars, this evocation of cult sci-fi in their music fits right in.

As you read on, why not slap that play button and stream The Horologist?

As with their previous albums, which build up the story of the Martian-human civilisation, heavy riffs abound, albeit with a cleaner sound overall. There’s an enjoyable emphasis on Palm’s bass – notably during “Trenches of Bahb-Elon,” which also shows off Christoffer Norén’s excellent ear for a psychedelic guitar melody. The same goes for the lengthy instrumental introduction of “Inner Sanctum Outer Space.” The riffs of “The Floating Museum” are as heavy and fuzzy-at-the-edges as you could want on a modern doom record. The trio have made their name with such bludgeoning grandiosity – like a scaled-down YOB – but incorporate enough psychedelic flourishes to make their music an interesting listen, if not truly unique. It’s just a shame that the vocals drag the whole thing down.

The one song that redeems Palm’s vocals is “Work Song.” It starts with a plaintive acoustic-guitar melody, and the whole trio sings in a mellow, mournful harmony to deliver lyrics that plead for mercy from the troubles that plague the central characters of the album. When the pounding drums kick in, and the guitar takes on a menacing distorted tone, Palm’s vocals revert to the same style as the rest of the album – but it works. It segues into closer “Lines in the Dark,” which opens with the most monstrous, YOB-esque riffs on the album: a fittingly big sound for the record’s conclusion.

A recent press shot of Cities of Mars, the Gothenburg, Sweden-based trio.

In sum, the music is great. There’s plenty of room in the world for psychedelic doom metal like this, especially when it’s wrapped around the narrative of a human empire on Mars. But the vocals are such a mess that the whole album becomes so tedious an exercise as to almost completely negate any redeeming qualities.

The Horologist Track Listing:

01. Necronograph
02. Trenches of Bahb-Elon
03. Inner Sanctum Outer Space
04. Hydrahead
05. The Last Electric Dream
06. The Floating Museum
07. Work Song
08. Lines in the Dark

Run Time: 45 minutes
Release Date: April 5, 2019
Record Label: Ripple Music
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