At first spin, I was ready to brand Maligno as just another Black Sabbath clone and leave it at that. Thankfully, I did my real job as a music critic and absorbed the entire scope of the band's self-titled debut, savoring each and every nuance. The more I delve into this album, the more I find Maligno could be on to something pretty special with their style of retro-doom. Yes, this Monterrey, Mexico-based outfit does owe a lot to the first few Black Sabbath albums; frontman Luis Barjau definitely wants to take the throne of the Prince of Darkness, Ozzy Osbourne himself. Meanwhile, his bandmates favor the bubbling-lava riffs of trudging gloom and doom that Sabbath's early paranoia produced. Such homages to one of metal's true greats might seem a bit tired after this many decades, but thankfully Maligno actually inject some unique ideas into their style. For a ten-song debut, this album is remarkably strong and stands near (though behind) recent works bands such as the Sword or Witchcraft have penned. Basically, listeners will get who this paying tribute to right away, but Maligno has a habit of slipping in subtle jabs of modern tactics into the mix. It makes for a deja-vu roadtrip through Sabbath's glory days, the disorientation coming from the fact that isn't really Sabbath. This is Maligno, and they know how to churn out quality doom.
Take the shambling amp-worship of "Devildrive" for example. The song has plenty of ballsy-groove, and things are kept short and simplistic. As decent as "Devildrive" is, it has a mild taint of mere test-drive to it, and listeners would be right to expect the best is yet to come. "Insano" cuts a wide swath through the masses of metal pretenders with a vicious riff worthy of the Sword and some mighty vocals. The band really nails the concept of furious, galloping, mid-tempo doom on this one. To make things even better, Luis' already unusual howls are alternated with what is best described as a dull roar. This adds a element of surprise and is definitely something that Sabbath never did. The exquisite "Lies" has massive guitar wanking, tons of funk, and blazing melodies.
Maligno captures realistic, choking paranoia on this track, the band's tight musical prowess combined with dramatic lyrics to evoke feelings of genuine unease. Just wait till you get to a passage of soaring howls, deep bellows, and sinister whispers all at once, and tell me you don't feel like a victim of schizophrenia. "Walk on Shadows" falls into your inner ear on the patter of rain and graceful clean guitars, before morphing with fluid ease into an explosive doom rocker. The epic kick-drums and pulsing chords will pump your blood like a pacemaker, and before you get a second's rest the song launches into expansive, cosmic stoner-rock territory. The desert sandstorm that is "At Last" slowly builds into a shredding-whirlwind of uptempo doom. The leads are blistering and the vocals are barely sane incantations of some sort. This is one of my favorites on the album, and comes highly recommended. "Buried Alive" piles on patient riff after patient riff, collapsing their listener under a heap of chugging retro-doom. An utterly tripped-out guitar solo mid-song will fry some minds, and I have a feeling this one could slowly cement itself as a Maligno hit indeed. "Slowburn" steps up to bat next, attacking with a song somewhere between the Sword's inherent kick-ass rocking and Sleep's drugged-up majesty. "The Never in Ice" strikes with dissonant notes and chilly ambient hum that adds a whole new dimension to Maligno's sound. Just before things get too unusual, sledgehammer, fist-pumping doom boxes your ears. The slick "Macabra" doesn't even bother to feature words; this elephantine instrumental features nothing but wicked guitar leads, gargantuan riffs, and thundering percussion. All of it leads right into closing song "Beyond the Eye," which starts with a psychedelic traditional doom aura not unlike Big Elf but soon gets much more sinister. It is like an acid trip that starts out pretty light but suddenly goes straight to Hell. If you don't believe me, check out the headbanging bridge with its banshee wails and dark, manic riffing. Excellent stuff!
All-in-all this is a very solid debut album. It seems like over the last year or so every genre of doom has seen a resurrection of classic values, and Maligno are no exception to this rule. The band takes the very best of classic, early Black Sabbath, and adds their own taste of the macabre to everything. The end result is not unlike a changed friend; you've known them forever, but something about him is new, and it just doesn't sit right. Unnerving, paranoid, and downright downtrodden, Maligno have created a fresh take on metal's earliest template. Three-and-a-half out of five stars.
4. Walk on Shadows
5. At Last
6. Buried Alive
8. The Never in Ice
10. Beyond the Eye
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