Penance – Alpha & Omega

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Reviewed: June 2002
Released: 2001, Independent
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Michael De Los Muertos

Penance is from one of the cities on earth I hate most passionately–Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. However, I went into this release with an open mind, figuring even Pittsburgh might have some decent metal. Thankfully my magnanimity was rewarded with a pretty snappy release!

ALPHA & OMEGA is a slab of crusty, vaguely doomy metal that might be called “stoner” for lack of a better term. It’s the kind of downtuned, fuzz-box stuff that bands like Cathedral perfected in the ‘90s. The guitar riffs are as thick and oily as the residue from a dirty crankcase. The vocals of Brian Balich are of the classic Kyuss-derivative variety. Very important in bands of this type, their bassist, Mary Bielich is excellent. Musically, everything on this disc warbles and reverberates in the very low ranges, which is essential to enjoyable doom metal. The third track, “See The Light,” most aptly demonstrates their proficiency in this slow, heavy art, and it’s my favorite track on this album. But granted, the others aren’t too far behind. This CD sits and lingers in your player for a long time like a cloud of thick smoke that won’t dissipate. It has exactly the texture, weight, speed and vaguely-apathetic emotional turmoil that good doomy metal ought to have.

The production on this album is not very good, in my opinion. Yes, I know bands of this type aren’t supposed to have the crystal clear audio polishing that European power metal bands often possess, but neither should Penance come out with the same muddy production as some “ultra elite” black metal release. I think the brooding notes, plodding rhythms and thick riffs could have been brought out even more tortuously with a cleaner-sounding mix. Also, while Mr. Balich is good for this music, he does tend to sound a little repetitive. However, these flaws do not seriously detract from the experience of listening to this album. If you’re a fan of Cathedral (with whom Penance have apparently toured), your cup will runneth over with this. Sometimes it’s so thick you won’t need a cup–a plate would be more appropriate!


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