It's not often that an album hits me with the kind of force that No Help For The Might Ones did. I had never heard their previous work and decided to check them out after seeing repeated tweets concerning the release of the album from label Profound Lore. Even before I hit the one minute mark in opener "Borrowed Time, Borrowed Eyes" I knew I was in for a glorious listening experience. The remaining 58 minutes did nothing to change that impression. Subrosa deliver what is generally considered a doom record but the addition of electric violins bowed by Sarah Pendleton and Kim Pack inject an element that allows No Help to transcend the typical genre restrictions. The almost horn-like tones of the violins weave their way in and out of the mix providing added depth to the already deep doom guitars of vocalist/guitarist Rebecca Vernon and bassist Dave "The Deuce" Jones. The result is a wall of sound that wraps around the listener in multiple layers of warmth. Ironically, this doesn't lead to claustrophobic feeling. Quite the opposite. The deep texture creates and expansiveness that feels as if it encompasses all of creation.
"Borrowed Time, Borrowed Eyes" starts with a tone and riff reminiscent of Electric Wizard until the violins start in. It holds that heavy riff but the violins up the depressive factor with sorrowful overtones. It sets the mood for the entire album. Dark and heavy, triumphant and introspective. Instruments drop in and out as necessary and build upon each other in a series of peaks and valleys. Each song has a vocal passage that grabs hold and leaves and impression that lingers on the brain. Here, it's "How long must my journey go?"
"Beneath The Crown" features mournful violins over a two note drone which falls out as the vocals drift in and builds to a thunderous roar as the the band joins back in. The skittering violins and harsh male vocals make this the most violent sounding song on the album.
"Stonecarver" is the 11+ minute centrepiece of the album. The long intro consists of a serious plodding doom riff over some foreign language spoken word and spidery picked violin work. It continues to build and build til the 4:38 mark when it bursts into the triumphant "chorus". I catch myself randomly singing the "I've separated myself from the..." mantra. Could be my favourite vocal passage of the album. Also at this mark is when you can hear the heavy Kyuss influence. The fuzz tone is spot on. The song segues back into an introspective feeling mood helped by yet more brain lingering lyrics. The song ends with a HUGE sounding, harsh, repeated "there's no help for the mighty ones, now!" aided by more male background vocals. Epic.
"The Inheritance" is the song that means most to me. It's about a concern for the environment. The mood of the song is adequately mournful. Vernon sums it up best when she sings, "We're in the shadow of a dying world." The tinkling wind-up toy outro reminds me of childhood innocence and that it is the children and grandchildren of our generation that will pay for our ignorance.
"Attack on Golden Mountain" is a srsly doomy track mixed with an orchestral angle and choral vocals. There is an Americana feel as well. The violins sound almost like a soundtrack to the main story influencing the mood. The 9 minute length allows it to build, climax and come back down not once, but twice. Who needs short songs?
"Whipporwill" is another track that reminds me of Electic Wizard. As with most of the songs on No Help, it features soaring vocal harmonies that bring a tear to my eye regardless of if the message is sorrowful or forward-thinking. Great songs can do that.
"House Carpenter" is a captivating accapella version of a traditional Celtic folk song. It's a tragic tale of morality beautifully sung.
"Dark Country" encapsulates all the elements present on the record. Huge doom riffs, haunting vocals, part skittery part mournful violins puncuated by the thunderous drums of Zachary Hatsis and droning bass.
No Help For The Mighty Ones is an epic (dare I say, post-doom?) journey to the deepest parts of the soul. The multi-textured layers carry the listener through peaks and valleys of the highest highs and the most sullen lows. Thoughtful compostition and hypnotic use of repitition mesh with the interplay of the myriad stringed instruments. All punctuated by dynamic percussion and powerful female vocals. This has created a truly unique experience. Subrosa have carved themselves their own niche in the stoner/doom universe. While not the only band to utilize female vocals and classic strings in a heavy context, they have created a sound that is incomparable. It may be early, but 2011 will have a hard time topping No Help For The Mighty Ones.