Norway’s Karavan are a fairly new addition to the doom scene, as they formed in 2019 and put out their debut full length back in mid-June. Doom is one of those genres that spans a wide range of harsh and clean sounds, but considering this trio named their debut Unholy Mountain it’s pretty clear that their intentions are to fall somewhere between that spectrum. That’s exactly what they do throughout seven track effort, offering abrasive and chunkier grooves alongside some softer psychedelic leaning moments. It definitely owes a lot to bands like Sleep and Electric Wizard, and while Karavan hasn’t fully differentiated themselves just yet they have built a solid foundation that will still appeal to fans of the genre.
Opening track “Throne” presents listeners with a spacey, psychedelic melody for its first forty seconds or so before the guitar, bass, and drums come roaring in with crunchier grooves. One thing that Karavan nails early on is the production, as the guitar and bass have a good amount of low end rumble and that crunchier tone that is sure to immediately draw in doom fans. The drums pop out in a good way too, with each thump of the bass drum and hit of the snare drum having some weight behind them and adding to the overall impact. Stylistically there’s a lot of Sleep and Electric Wizard in Unholy Mountain, especially with the emphasis on heavy grooves and the way that the songs ebb and flow. But Karavan is also pulling in some of the more psychedelic explorations of bands like Yob and even some of the faster sludge comparable to someone like Sourvein, which gives them a more balanced feel than Black Sabbath clone number one thousand. Highlights like “Chase the Dragon” showcase the band at their best, as they fuse together gnarly, abrasive grooves with psychedelic breaks that have more of a desert rock and hypnotic vibe to them. But even with some standout riffs that will have listeners bobbing their head along as they get pummeled by the distortion, there is room for further expansion. As you get to around the halfway point of Unholy Mountain the songs start to run together a bit, and the last two don’t quite justify their longer lengths. There’s nothing overtly bad or out of place, but the second half finds me spacing out a bit more as I jam along to the instrumentation rather than focusing on specific moments and that does hold back Karavan’s debut from true greatness.
The instrumentals may have some sludge elements, especially when it comes to the guitar tone, but the vocals are where most of these influences seep in. Karavan’s singer has a raspy scream that sounds like he’s shredding his vocal cords with every word, and that reminds me more of bands like Sourvein or Weedeater. It’s an approach that fits what the band is going for with their gnarlier, aggressive grooves and adds some extra grit and grime to the album. There isn’t a ton of variety to the pitch and approach throughout Unholy Mountain, but Karavan is smart with their placement and gives plenty of space for instrumental jams in between each appearance of the vocals.
Considering that they’re only a few years old, Karavan’s debut is impressive even if it doesn’t fully stand out from the pack yet. The crunchy grooves and impact is there, and when you add in the grimier vocals and tonality that does make them appealing for fans of everything doom/sludge. But sometimes they tread a little too closely to the Sleep and Electric Wizard foundations, and I’d like to see them explore the psychedelic side a bit more or even shake things up with some faster sludge tempos a bit more frequently. If any of the bands mentioned throughout this review are of interest definitely give Karavan a shot but expect greater things still to come. Unholy Mountain is available from Evil Noise Recordings and Vinyltroll Records.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg