Solothus are one of those rare bands that manage to capture the very essence of why I loved the Swedish Runemagick. They write in a slurry of death/doom motifs, only they never quite abandon the rock & roll underpinnings that have flourished through Sabbath to Trouble, Pentagram, Cathedral and beyond. Yet where they depart from the Runemagick formula is that they don't sound even remotely Swedish: you won't hear that huge, old school death metal tone in the guitars circa the early 90s. Oh, Solothus sounds huge, but within their own bludgeoning, primal means, and though Ritual of the Horned Skull is a modest accumulation of three cuts in about 15 minutes, it's a solid manifestation of potential that will satisfy doom metal fans that are tired of 'doom' bands that don't feel even remotely sad, sobering, or...well, doomed.
That thick, oozing bass in the intro to "Throne of Bones" nearly ruptured my kidney, it is so corpulent and loud, but the atmospheric, slower riffing saves the day soon enough, before they lurch forward into a Cathedral-speed, dense rock riff that continues to escalate under the gruff, level guttural style vocals. With "Embrace the Cold", the bass returns, sluggishly woven beneath a simple, clean guitar tone that immediately feels ominous. Granted, the guitar verse in the riff might have been better if it didn't just follow the bass line, but the chugging of the bridge does enough to compensate, and the final track "Darkness Gathers Here at Night" is a better stab at the slower-paced stuff. Here, the vocals and guitar harmony open up this spacious, ominous realm of fear, and then the band ramps up the intensity with what might be the best riff on the demo at about 1:00 in, a surgical weaving and winding doom that lifts straight into the solo. There's also a great, warlike bridge laden in another decent, bluesy lead.
All told, Solothus reminds me that you can do simple without sounding entirely hackneyed and derived, and Ritual of the Horned Skull will be a steal for fans into bands like Runemagick, Asphyx or the more recent Hooded Menace. I liked the first and last tracks more than the middle one, and there are certainly grounds for improvement: perhaps some more dynamics in the vocals would be nice, and a bit more crunch to the guitars since they're dealing so often with the gargantuan bass. But for a demo, this is an adequate introduction from a quartet who inject
enough life into their death, and enough class into their doom to one day matter. Almost like a Candlemass/Cathedral hybrid with straight up growling. Looking forward to hearing more.
Verdict: Win [7.25/10]