posted on 7/2007 By:
It has only taken a mere three tracks for Nashville’s Totem to make a name for itself as doom debutantes of enormous potential. Er, except that it seems that Totem isn’t the name to watch after all, as the band recently pulled a switcheroo, renaming themselves after their frontwoman, Jex Thoth. It’s good to hear a woman’s voice fronting doom bands, and between Totem/Jex Thoth and fellow I Hate doomsters Serpentcult, female-fronted doom is delivering the goods this summer. Granted, Thoth’s silky clean vocals come as a surprise as opener “Kagemni” unfolds, but after the first few measures you’ll be totally acclimated and most likely bobbing your head in appreciation. Thoth’s are the best kind of female vocals, in that her voice lends a forlorn beauty, but never gets syrupy or compromises the heaviness of the music. The picture of Thoth on the inside of the cover art makes her look like the kind of girl who you’d find sitting casually on the front porch with a bottle in one hand and a shotgun resting across her lap, still managing to look womanly; and she sounds the same way.
Everything about this album, from the songwriting, to the production, to the artwork, reeks of decades past, and the three tracks that make up this highly impressive twenty-minute debut sound straight out of the ‘70s, both in style and presentation. Totem play a nice mix of slower and midpaced doom that has an air of psychedelia, thanks in part to the creepy Hammond organ lines that lace most of the material. The rhythm section is heavy handed, with the bass receiving ample attention in the mix, and the guitar lines radiate thick layers of fuzz. These tracks are short by doom standards, and if not for the devolving, swirling electric-kool-aid freakout jam during the last half of closer “Tauti,” this EP wouldn’t top fifteen minutes. On “Luna Moth Speaks,” the best of three very strong tracks, the band opens with a doom-rich psychedelic death march, moving in methodical even strides, but at the song’s halfway point they switch to an uptempo, more melodic riff, and for the rest of the track it sounds like PJ Harvey time warped and snuck into the Sabbath Bloody Sabbath sessions. Totem seems fond of the late turn toward Sabbath, as “Kagemni”employs a similar strategy. It pays off, and the band’s variation between somber, weighty passages and busier sections works well not only from a development perspective, but also because it gets the most from Thoth’s considerable talent, allowing her to restrict and expand her range and emotional palate, and the phrasing of the vocal lines is also really effective. On all fronts this EP comes across as a professional and well-crafted debut that, while not necessary original, has a unique enough approach in today’s scene. The band has an upcoming split with the masterful Pagan Altar, and the impending Jex Thoth full-length can’t come soon enough.
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