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Alastor – Onwards and Downwards

Onwards and Downwards
by Gary Hernandez at 07 August 2021, 6:13 PM

I was first turned on to ALASTOR in 2018 from someone’s ‘best of year’ list. That was their first full-length album, “Slave to the Grave,” and it was indeed one of the best Doom Metal albums of 2018. Fast-forward three years and I see in the download pack from my editor ALASTOR’s sophomore album, “Onwards and Downwards.” Forty-six minutes and twenty-seven seconds later I am recovering from an eargasm. I’m pretty sure ALASTOR will be featured prominently on several ‘best of year’ lists again this time around.

“Onwards and Downwards” feels like something of a shift for ALASTOR. This isn’t your blood-soaked barrage of riffs accented with nasal vocals heralding sinister rituals and dark deeds . . . well, okay, maybe it’s some of that, but is also a somber reflection of the state of the world and the mental cliff on which so many are teetering. Guitarist Hampus Sandell says of the album: “If our last album, “Slave to the Grave,” was about death, this record is more about madness. You can look at the whole record as one person’s gradual slip into insanity. An ongoing nightmare without end. It also sums up the state of the world around us as this year has clearly shown.”

From the stunning album covering featuring a robe-clad woman stepping off the edge of lone pillar against a backdrop of earthy brown to the final echoing strains of a Hammond organ in the final seconds of the final track, this album renders deep claw marks in your brain. If the cover art suggests this album is going to be about dull surrender, the opening track, “The Killer in My Skull,” disabuses the listener of that idea fairly quickly. But this isn’t about glorifying the dark nature of humankind, it’s a song that points to the dangers of pharmaceuticals, the precarious nature of the mind, the vacuous depths of the human condition, and what happens when those three dynamics intersect. “My feelings were empty, now they're full,” Robin Arnryd intones, then: I follow the killer in my skull.” Treatment completed.

And then comes, “Dead Things in Jars,” a doomy, weirdly bluesy piece about . . . uh, dead things in jars. Following is one of my favorite tracks on the album, and one featured in the first video, “Deathcult.” Thematically this is more of the traditional occult-focused ALASTOR so many listeners met in 2017; sonically, though, the track is deeply Stoner and even features staccato keyboards. Either way, great track. On vinyl, track three ends the first side.

Side B, beginning with track four, drops down a gear or two and the gravity thickens. How’s that for some mixed metaphors? “Nightmare Trip,” a classic Doom track, is a standout track. With “Pipsvängen” we get some field recording and acoustic guitar. With no vocals, this is essentially the album’s mellow interlude. From what I can surmise “pipsvängen” is a Swedish euphemism for “hell.” The final two tracks, “Onwards and Downwards” and “Lost and Never Found” are quintessential Doom tracks. I should mention that the impressive talents of new drummer Jim Nordström are well showcased in “Lost and Never Found” as are Christoffer Karlsson’s (THE DAHMERS) Hammond organ skills.

Altogether, “Onwards and Downwards” is an excellent second full-length from ALASTOR. They definitely prove they’re in it for the long-haul and show significant evolution and increased depth with this album. I should also say that the match up of ALASTOR on RidingEasy is a good one. One trick to finding great bands is following strong labels. RidingEasy consistently brings to market some great bands, ALASTOR is no exception.

Songwriting: 8
Musicianship: 7
Memorability: 8
Production: 7

4 Star Rating

1.  The Killer in My Skull
2.  Dead Things in Jars
3.  Death Cult
4.  Nightmare Trip
5.  Pipsvängen
6.  Onwards and Downwards
7.  Lost and Never Found
Robin Arnryd – Bass, vocals
Hampus Sandell – Guitars
Johan Björmander – Guitars
Jim Nordström – Drums
Record Label: RidingEasy Records


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Edited 30 January 2023

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