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EPITAPH - Claws (12" LP)

Italy | Doom
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More than 30 years after the birth of Epitaph, the Italian Doom masters from Verona unleash their new full-length album "Claws" via High Roller Records. In the eighties and nineties, Italy spawned a big black mass of great doomy bands, as the underground flourished with illustrous names such as Death SS, Black Hole, Sacrilege, Zess or Abysmal Grief... Epitaph were an integral part of this glorious movement, having close bonds with other legendary acts, namely Black Hole and Sacrilege.
Original drummer Mauro Tollini fills us in with the early days of the band's long history: "Looking in perspective, you might say that Verona - our hometown - produced a small scene of darker sounding bands, around the mid-80s. If you were into early Death SS and the various Paul Chain projects, the sombre prog rock bands like Biglietto per l'Inferno, and of course the earliest international doom or proto-doom bands, then you were part of that cadre of so often misunderstood heavy metal outcasts. At the epicentre of that stood Epitpah, who would prove a longer lasting act while all the other projects dwindled and waned, or changed their course. Going against the grain, Epitaph scoured Italy, forcefully grabbing respect from an audience then disputed between glamsters, thrashers and - later - grunge fans. Our voyage got frozen in the middle of the nineties, only to be revived - more than ten years later - by some of the original members plus some like-minded individuals who gathered together to unearth the project from its dusty sepulchre. For many years, we've been stricken by the horrible 'Curse of Bad Timing'! Ebbs and flows in rock music, and a few painful split-ups had slowed and almost halted the band until recent times. Still, now that we're in full throttle once again, we don't dwell too much in the past!"
With "Crawling Out Of The Crypt" Epitaph had made a new start. Mauro explains: "That record was mostly made up of old compositions and ideas. At that time, we felt more than a little disconcerted by the hollywoodian and videogamish turn metal had taken of late, so it was a sort of morbid pleasure to slap our blatantly old musical style back in the scene."
And what a great exercise it indeed was. The brand new studio album of Epitaph is entitled "Claws" and Mauro has this to say about it: ""Claws" is our little warped, insidious creature. It's the first release of ours to be ascribed to the current line-up, in its scope and not just in execution. It's a harder and perhaps more demanding listen. It also got more blues-tinged. The underground has merits to spare, but we think it values cozy predictability a bit too much, so we wished to challenge that. In most respects it's genuinely an Epitaph album though. We're not giving up on riffs, melodies and a pinch of the horrific! It also sports illustrations for each track, thus continuing the grisly gallery we had started with the 'debut album'."
There are only five tracks on the album, although they are very long. Is it easier for Epitaph to write longer songs instead of shorter ones? "True," states Mauro. "These songs turned out to be quite long. But there's no fixed rule or method about it. Sometimes we favor straightforwardness, sometimes we feel the need to finely chisel our songs out. In fact, there's at least a couple of tunes we could have split in two very distinct tracks, just as easily. We preferred to keep those together, in accordance to their lyrics and general mood."
After all, would it be fair to say that "Claws" is kind of an "experimental" Doom Metal album, a "progressive" Doom Metal album? "We'll take this as a compliment," replies Mauro. "In truth, we never put our minds to purposefully experiment, while composing the album. We just kept twisting and shaping until we were fully satisfied with it. So, perhaps we did 'progress', taking a step forward. Certainly, it's not 'progressive metal' in the sense of the word as it got popularized during the nineties! For a genre filling a supposedly small niche, Doom lends itself to a vast array of musical interpretations. We did shows in doom metal festivals along with bands that sounded very different from us, yet the crowd cheered up everyone, as long as real quality was involved. So, we're to persevere in distilling our Dark Sound, until we're firmly perched unto the Pinnacle of Doom!"
The main riff in "Waco The King" has a certain Tony Iommi feel about it, very dark, very heavy, quite rocky... "That's undeniably true," says Mauro. "We grew up in the eighties, listening to the generally reviled incarnations of Black Sabbath of that time, as well as to their older classics (we're glad to hear that the late period of Sabbath history is finally getting more recognition!). Their sharper riffing surely influenced the band, and has stuck since then."
With just over eleven minutes "Wicked Lady" is the longest track on the album, and the most haunting as well, sombre horror Doom Metal in its finest form... "Sure, that's a terribly long tune," confesses Mauro. "But we think it builds its tension nicely, every part being perfused in a sort of increasingly rotten passion; so it's not as dull and aimless as your regular overlong track! Also, it's a song we're still able to perform live to its full effect, which is always our highest priority."
According to Mauro, after the release of "Claws" Epitaph will be out on the road: "We're embarking on a lengthy European tour with our label-mates and Unbending Allies, Procession, in November 2017. Unfortunately, due to harsh logistics and personal needs, we'll have to skip the German dates this time. We'll try so hard to amend this in 2018!"
Matthias Mader

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