I once spent a summer excavation season digging in a swamp on the east coast of NZ. We woke at 6:30 am, listened to a lecture in Maori on the marae we were staying on, and went over the our respective holes, pulling out sodden logs, woven ropes and other artifacts from the sodden peat. The archaeologist sharing my hole broke the ground water (thanks for that, Ryan), and I spent the majority of my days shovelling peat in a shin-deep pool of stagnant water. At lunchtime the insects attacked us, crawling over our sandwiches and into our ears and nostrils. By the end of the dig I had accidentally eaten three bugs and could no longer wash away the peat layer that stained my skin.
Despite all this, the swamp had an ethereal kind of beauty, most visible as the sun set and the evening cooled, and the stagnant pools reflected flecks of colour from the overhanging trees. A desolute kind of peace permeated the area, and it seemed a fitting burial place for the bodies we unearthed on the site.
In the Devil’s Days – the sophmore full-length album from NZ’s The House of Capricorn – remind me of that swamp. Cynical, but calming, the music at times approaches the desolation of doom, but remains firmly planted in the punchy, sludge-crusted precipice of swampy stoner rock. The album explores a journey into Hell to meet the Lord of Flies, and the occult themes are prominent in every song. If you’ve ever spent any time studying antipodean literature or music, you’d immediately recognize the dark pessimism and black humor that permeate much of our culture.
The album is a dynamic mix of droning, swampy tracks mixed with faster-paced stoner rock like “To Carry the Lantern,” and “In the Devil’s Days”. The short acoustic “Canto IV” hints at the sorrow to come. “Pawns” is a great example of a song that, although slow, demonstrates the talent of each musician. On In the Devil’s Days, I get a sense of doom reinterpreted in a uniquely kiwi context – these songs evoke images of a youth spent in small town NZ, getting stoned at the back of the school field and dreaming of escape.
For me, the standout tracks are the opener, “All Hail to the Netherworld”, with its dirty, Volbeat style riffs and crooning vocals, and “Veils”, which showcases the House of Capricorn’s attention to melody and place. “To Carry the Lantern” is another favorite, dark and rich with thick, distorted bass.
The House of Capricorn have been prominent in the local scene for many years, and their sound has matured from the stoner carbon-copies of their earliest recordings. This is a good album, but would take a bit more work to make it great. I’d love to hear less of the slower, drowning tracks and more songs like “To Carry the Lantern” and “All Hail to the Netherworld”. I’d like to hear Marko Pavlovic’s vocals improve even further. I’d love to feel that antipodean disillusion ooze from every riff.
It’s great to hear the improvements with every House of Capricorn album and know that it’s only a matter of time before they write the album that gains then international recognition. You can check out The House of Capricorn Myspace page or visit their Facebook Page.
And, because this is still one of my favorite tracks from the House of Capricorn, here’s “The Rivers and the Rain”, from their Rivers and the Rain EP.