oom metal is aptly-named, as it's often a foregone conclusion. The race to out-Sabbath Sabbath ends in extremities: the lowest tunings, the slowest riffs, the greatest sense of dread. This is not to say that exploration isn't possible. The lumberings of UK's Esoteric leave galaxy-wide footprints, kicking up cosmic dust. NY's Khanate sounded like a dying man staggering around with weights chained to his feet. But in doom, generally, the end is the beginning; the point is to draw it out as long as possible.
Which leads to much dragging—of tempos, knuckles, testicles. Doom is normally the province of bearded men with vintage amps. Bloody Panda, however, deploy Yoshiko Ohara not so much as a vocalist, but as a weapon. Her approach recalls Diamanda Galas or Jarboe—full-ranged, shockingly emotive. Ohara's entrance on Pheromone is initially off-putting. It's dramatic and off-key, as if an opera singer wandered into a metal band rehearsal. However, as Pheromone progresses, it becomes clear that Ohara is very much in control. Like Björk, she hits pitches when needed, but otherwise mines the notes between notes. These microtones make voices unique; with a startling array of moans, groans, and howls, Ohara is a host of singers inside one body.
The band's instrumentalists are likewise multifaceted. Weight is doom metal's M.O., and Bloody Panda have the requisite plodding beats and throbbing tones; bassist Bryan Camphire doesn't play lines so much as spaces. But the corollary of weight is balance, which is where the band excels. Like Ohara, it's searching for something, albeit very slowly. Thus, songs morph through many feels and tones. Dan Weiss' measured, nuanced drumming suggests a more mature and concise Brann Dailor. Blake McDowell's organ seeps thickly through the yawning void between low end and Ohara. The greatest color comes from Josh Rothenberger's guitar, which often rolls back distortion for plaintive, delicate figures. In his hands, Interpol tumble into their abyssal New York, languishing forever in that subway.
"Fever" and "Ice" comprise Pheromone's latter half (the album is four long tracks). The titles are perfect; "Fever" swoons through a funeral march, a sickly organ dirge, and a fierce closing with tumbling drums and jagged riffs. Ohara's ghostly tones hover above, a choir of one. "Ice" is a delirious fortress of solitude, as if Superman III ran with its drunken Man of Steel thread. In chilly chambers of reverb, boulders of percussion fall around Ohara's anguished screams. Bass and drums grumble and shift underneath like tectonic plates.
Despite its physicality, the album retains inscrutability. Half the printed lyrics are in Japanese; photographs of catacumbal urns and padlocked doors hint at unpleasant secrets. Likewise, Stephen Kasner's inside cover art suggests Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures exploded and spread out in billowing waves of human hair. The back cover, however, has a headless, stony statue; the contrast befits the record.