Graded on a Curve: Magnetic Eye Records, Day of Doom Live

In November of 2019, to mark the 10th anniversary of Magnetic Eye Records, an event was held in celebration at Saint Vitus Bar in Brooklyn. Nine bands played back-to-back, and the four headlining sets by Elephant Tree, Domkraft, Summoner, and Horsehunter were recorded in commemoration of the event. The four albums, all titled Day of Doom Live, are available separately on vinyl in limited color editions (dark green, ocean blue, purple and dark brown, respectively) and “worldwide classic black,” plus on compact disc individually and together in a 4CD hardcover artbook. It’s all out December 11, forebodingly sludgy across the board, and with elements of distinctiveness throughout.

The name Day of Doom sets up a rather clear expectation, and alongside it, the risk that the sounds will sink into genericism as the bands gradually become indecipherable from each other. Anybody who endured a multiband all-ages hardcore matinee will tell you that piling up nine consecutive acts of the same style on the same bill is a gamble, even if the occasion is a celebratory one.

But thankfully, Magnetic Eye’s output has established a high standard of quality across their existence, so that Day of Doom’s four headliners kept matters consistently interesting while not straying far from the brand of metal that is the label’s specialty. That the bands call four different countries home is representative of the combined achievement; if comparable in style, each outfit is coming from a different place.

Elephant Tree formed in London in 2013, with the lineup heard on this recording featuring Jack Townley on guitar, Sam Hart on drums, Peter Holland on bass, and John Slattery, the most recent addition, on guitars and synth. Townley and Hart are the cofounders, with Holland entering the fold a little later, after the three met for the second time at an Om show. Their set offers similarities to the heavier side of the ’90s Alt-rock sound, which could’ve proved a toxic situation.

Except that Elephant Tree evince taste and restraint, and additionally, fold aspects of the same era’s noise rock into the equation, so that more than once I thought of a less surly Melvins with hints of a doomier Unsane. The kicker is that Holland is a legit singer rather than a vocal cord shredder, which also could’ve spelled disaster for me, as ’90s heavy rock vocals are decidedly not my bag. However, Holland’s approach doesn’t date, as he refuses to overemote and is appropriately placed in the mix. Altogether, a nice dose of thud, with an introspective piano and synth-infused finale. B+

Domkraft, a trio comprised of Martin Wegeland on bass, Anders Dahlgren on drums, and Martin Widholm on guitars, hail from Stockholm, Sweden, with their full-length debut The End of Electricity released in 2016. Having been previously impressed with Domkraft’s studio output, this performance doesn’t disappoint, as it encompasses the sharpness of their attack (there is pummel of course, but also groove elasticity) and a range of influences.

Amongst the inspirations are Monster Magnet and Sleep, both unsurprising, but Domkraft additionally cite Hawkwind and Spacemen 3, names that underscore the psychedelic edge in the band’s sound, though the sheer heaviness, at times almost tribal, keeps matters from expanding too far outward from the doom objective. It’s Wegeland with the vocal duties here, and his aggressive holler is a productive fit with the massiveness of the whole. A-

Summoner are based in Boston and have been extant for nearly a decade, with AJ Peters and Joe Richner on guitar, Chris Johnson on bass, and Scott Smith on drums. Having dished three studio albums, Summoner are now well-noted for taking inspiration from the metallic precedent of the ’70s and ’80s, meaning they aren’t shy about getting anthemic, nor do they hold back the guitar dexterity.

But as outlined up top, the band don’t stray far from the doom paradigm, offsetting their bursts of intricacy and the oft-galloping tempos with bludgeon and crunch. There are times, quite a few times, in fact, where the soaring solos can remind me of Iron Maiden, but nearly as often there’s a pedal mashing psych edge to the guitar, and that’s cool. It’s also nice that the stated science fiction and fantasy themes lack a tangible D&D vibe. The restraint carries over into Johnson’s vocals, which never detract. A-

Horsehunter traveled all the way to Brooklyn from Melbourne, Australia, but based on the mauling energy of their album’s four tracks they weren’t the slightest bit fatigued. That’s right; four songs, three of them breaking ten minutes, one, the finale, eclipsing 16. Rather than faltering into the excessive, the durations are wholly necessary to encompass the music’s structural and dynamic changes.

But the band of Dan Harris and Michael Harutyunyan on guitars, Himi Stringer on bass, and Nick Cron on drums manage to avoid self-indulgence in the ambitiousness of their conceptions. If multi-movement in nature, there are also sustained textural passages that heighten the intensity, as Horsehunter aren’t averse to dishing the racket, particularly at the start of concluding track “Stoned to Death.”  While arguably the most expansive of Day of Doom’s four bands, the vocals of Stringer and Harutyunyan land firmly in the genre. A-

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