Great Britain has a rich history in doom metal with institutions as Cathedral, Esoteric, My Dying Bride and genre archforefathers Black Sabbath. The latest British export to make a name for itself is London-based unit Desolate Pathway. Desolate Pathway is formulated by scene veteran Vince Hempstead of long-suffering doom unit Pagan Altar. Before releasing its debut independently Desolate Pathway released the digital single ‘Purgatory’ to test the waters. “Valley Of the King”, a record fueled by an elaborate fantasy narrative concept, crystallizes the essence of the doom genre, and infuses it with a dash of potent traditional metal riffing for good measure.
On the whole the band’s primary influences seem to be Cathedral (“The Forest Of Equilibrium”) and Solitude Aeternus. Rudimentary riffing and chord progressions are abound but they are bolstered by emotive lead playing and a tight-knit rhythm section that provides the band with its heaviness and low end. Said soloing is reminiscent of John Perez in feel and delivery. On the other hand is Mags’ drumming similar to that of original My Dying Bride skinsman Rick Miah. There are a few studio effects and atmospherics that introduce a few tracks, but generally “Valley Of the King” is fairly basic in design. It’s a fitting design choice considering the sparse nature of the music. Desolate Pathway is far more concerned with delivering strong, emotionally resonating music than it is with dressing up said music in all sorts of distracting ornamental bells and whistles. The forté of the record lies in the purity of approach to its genre of choice.
Led by seasoned veteran Vince Hempstead the quartet stays as away as they possibly can from the popular and populist 1970s inspired occult rock movement in the genre. In fact Desolate Pathway seems to cater to a very specific audience within the doom metal genre as they are neither a throwback band in the traditional sense of the word, and neither do they have the sort of downtrodden romanticism and highly stylized introspective eroticism that made the British scene popular the world over during the 90s with bands such as Anathema, My Dying Bride and Paradise Lost. Despite the stripped down nature of its music and genre Desolate Pathway manage to infuse “Valley Of the King” with that kind of British theatricality shared with the likes of Bal-Sagoth and the more light-natured and joke-prone Jaldaboath. This in no small part due to the dramatic vocal performance of frontman Simon Stanton.
‘Desolate Pathway’ kicks off with an all too recognizable lurching ur-riff and has a stomping groove. ‘Season Of the Witch’ opens with a vintage Iron Maiden styled riff. ‘Forest Of Mirrors’ and ‘Shadow Of the Tormentor’ have more prominent bass lines with the former having a hard driving groove. ‘Last Of My Kind’ could be considered the ballad of the album in that it is more vocal-driven and less guitar-centered than the songs that surround it. ‘King Of the Vultures’ continues with the ur-riffing and is far more traditionally doom than the track that preceded it. ‘Upon the Throne Of Lights’ is the stand out song not only because of its extended soloing, but more importantly because it is more rugged, doomier and generally more evolved in terms of construction. If this album closer is any indication Desolate Pathway might sound more layered and dense in future material. It truly is the best track on a record that has no weak songs to speak of.
Like the music the production on “Valley Of the King” is thick, crunchy and earthen. Each instrument is balanced perfectly against the other. Jim Rumsey’s bass guitar lies prominently in the mix, and has a wonderful tone to boot. Like the bass guitar the drum tone is very organic, and not overproduced in any sense of the word. It harkens back to drum productions of the 1990s in that the kit sounds powerful and commanding. On all fronts “Valley Of the King” was produced with a love for the genre. Desolate Pathway is not out to reinvent its genre instead they are pursuing their course out of love for the music that they produce. The record exudes this passion from its very pores, and while there might be more marketable alternatives available “Valley Of the King” has something for doom metal fans of every stripe.