Nottingham’s Master Charger have been knocking around for a little while now. Their infancy was productive, with four releases in their first three years following their conception in 2009. Five years and a slight line up reshuffle later, they have returned with their latest offering, Eroding Empires. An hour long jaunt into the world of stoner rock/doom metal, the band clearly hasn’t been resting on their laurels during this absence.
Kicking off with “Damn Me Forever”, this track gives an indication of what’s to come over the next 60 minutes. Heavy, crushing riffs are the order of the day, with each song possessing moments that are sure to get your head banging. Anchored by straightforward but tasteful drumming, the songs are perfectly complimented by JHP’s slightly abrasive vocal delivery and the stripped down, no frills production style. There’s nothing overly intricate about much of the instrumental work (guitar solos aside), and nor should there be. This is doom after all. The relative lack of complexity works in the albums favour, with the true strength in the song writing craft on display. That’s not to say the band is unskilled, as that is clearly not the case. It’s more a compliment of the bands recognition that serving the song is more important than individual displays of brilliance.
Although every song is rooted in the stoner/doom mould, there are nice little touches here and there that give many tracks a distinctive flavour. The verses in the aforementioned opener “Damn Me Forever” feature slide guitar played over an almost dance like drum beat, making it one of the most interesting instrumental passages on the album. It gives the song a bit of a southern rock groove, a vibe visited on a few other songs, such as “Wither” and “Turn the Tides”. The latter is a slow, lurching number with a powerful, Iommi-esque riff at its core. Unfortunately, at a little over seven minutes, it overstays its welcome slightly, one of the few moments where the album feels like it’s dragging. Other nods to Sabbath’s riff-master include the mid section to “Death Trails”, which also utilises some neat wah effects in the verses, and “Blessed Be…”, which clearly draws inspiration from “Children of the Grave”. It’s perhaps a little too close for comfort, but the brilliant vocal hook in the chorus and superb solo show it’s more than just Sabbath-lite. Plus, if Mr. Mustaine can get a pass from borrowing from that particular heavy metal classic, then so can Master Charger.
Elsewhere, “Derailed” and “Where I Belong…” see the band venture into more rock-orientated territory. Two of the more accessible songs here, the riffs have more emphasis on groove that are sure to get the foot stomping and the head bobbing. The latter also incorporates dual guitars in the main riff, whilst “Break of Dawn” makes effective use of reverb on the vocals and keyboards to separate it from the pack. Album centrepiece “In Hell’s Grip” is a towering eight and a half minute epic. It’s the only track that really doesn’t conform to any sort of conventional structure, jumping from one idea to the next. For the most part it works well, the only real stumbling block a slightly jarring, chugging transition that follows a mid paced battering ram of a riff. The second half of the song is where it really comes to life though, with brilliant use of acoustic guitars to build atmosphere, culminating in yet another great solo.
It’s a testament to the band that the album seems to fly by. It certainly doesn’t feel like an hour long venture. There are one or two missteps, but for the most part the record holds up. Master Charger aren’t really breaking any new ground, but what they do, they do well and with 100% conviction. You could do far worse than to give this album a spin, and it is certainly a worthwhile investment for any fan of the doom/stoner genre.
Highlights: “Damn Me Forever”, “Blessed Be…”