"some music was meant to stay underground..."

Stomach Earth - "Stomach Earth" (CD)

Stomach Earth - "Stomach Earth" CD cover image

"Stomach Earth" track listing:

1. Void Angel Ritual (6:31)
2. Watchers (6:24)
3. Haunted by the Living (6:47)
4. Prolong the Death Watch (5:38)
5. The One They Fear (7:28)
6. Reaching the Threshold (10:16)
7. Claimed (6:58)

Reviewed by on July 24, 2013

"This album is cruel, tainting the world with its joyless expressions, like an eternal wake."

The Red Chord guitarist Mike "Gunface" McKenzie has been using the past number of years to work on a death/doom solo project. Going by the name of Stomach Earth, this band is all McKenzie; he plays every instrument and performs vocals on this eponymous debut. While The Red Chord basks in technical madness, Stomach Earth is cerebral with its music. McKenzie creates tense, unnerving sounds with its death/doom, and it’s not pleasant. This album is cruel, tainting the world with its joyless expressions, like an eternal wake. That’s one of the factors that makes this first effort from Stomach Earth a required listen.

This is easily the heaviest material McKenzie has ever been a part of, and he handles it with a steady hand. The tempos almost never pick up beyond a stand still, and when they do, it’s not much relief. There are melodic guitar passages incorporated into a few songs, though they aren’t much of a reprieve. Points come across where it seems like too much to take in, but a listener will continue along, entranced by the force and volume of the sounds being expressed.

McKenzie, to his credit, lets the songs develop without forcefully pushing them. There is no cutting songs short, as they average six to seven minutes each. This lets McKenzie play around with moods and pacing, as he does, for example, on “Void Angel Ritual.” A melodic guitar, which bookends the song, is an unassuming start that only gets harrowing once the noise is turned up on all the instruments. He does a good job not only with the guitar, but keeping a rhythm going with the angry drumming and filthy bass tones.

The occasional flourish of keys gives a symphonic edge to parts of “Claimed” and “Reaching The Threshold.” It’s an understated quality, but it grabs a tight hold whenever it is used. McKenzie has been known to get intricate with his guitar playing as a part of The Red Chord, but here, his leads soar lifelessly above the decrepit soundscapes. “The One They Fear” has a vivid solo that has a striking melody supporting it, though that’s not a usual occurrence on the album. His lead playing is less flashy and more foreboding.

It can be a challenge, especially for a band releasing a debut album, to evoke a visceral response. People are unfamiliar with the music, being exposed to it for the first time, and may need some warming up to get the proper reaction. Stomach Earth is immediate, like a jab to the throat that pops a major vein. As the album lurches ahead, the blood begins to suffocate the listener until they are left staring blankly at the aftermath of 50 minutes of ruthless music.

The wait for this Stomach Earth album was unbearable for fans of McKenzie and The Red Chord, and they are handed an unfriendly doom machine. Some may stamp this as “funeral doom,” though it’s not as heavy-handed or lengthy as the typical band in the genre. Death/doom fits Stomach Earth much better, with McKenzie shining on this album. The success or failure of this effort fell on his feet alone, and he took the challenge and made a great record. Whether The Red Chord records again or not, McKenzie should make time for Stomach Earth going forward.

Highs: Harsh and uncompromising death/doom, heavy as hell, brief lead guitar and keys add flair to the music

Lows: The few melodic moments are brushed aside pretty quickly.

Bottom line: It's been years in the making, but Stomach Earth is a unsettling display of the cruelness that comes from death and doom metal clashing against each other.

Rated 4.0 out of 5 skulls
4.0 out of 5 skulls


Key
Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)