333 is the new effort from North Carolinian doom outfit Hour of 13, and pulls less punches than its predecessor The Ritualist. Right from the first track ‘Deny The Cross’, the band don’t bother faffing about with keyboards, feeback or textures, kicking straight into a Candlemass-style riff which gives way to maudlin clean picking and Phil Swanson’s melodramatic lament. Indeed, as the album goes on it becomes clear that the band really only have three settings: Stock Doom Riff, Riff That Didn’t Make the Cut On An Iron Maiden Album and Gloomy Clean Picking.
Which is as good as it sounds; If those things sound like something you’d enjoy, you should probably give this a spin, if not, 333 isn’t going to convert you. Once you’ve heard one track you’ll know the template for every song on offer here. That’s not to say the tracks all sound the same, they do maintain their own identity amongst each other, the point I’m trying to make is that there are no surprises. That’s not necessarily a bad thing in of itself; after all, if you’re doing something well enough, you don’t need to innovate. Unfortunately for Hour of 13 they’re just not quite there. Chad Davis’s songwriting ranges from stodgy to middling, the best tracks being the mild groove of ‘Rite of Samhain’, and the insistent riffage of ‘Who’s to Blame?’, but proceedings never rise beyond the nebulous territory of ‘pretty good’.
It doesn’t help that a lot of the songs of here outstay their welcome by a significant margin. The first two tracks alone both clock in at over 7 minutes, and while long songs aren’t intrinsically a bad thing, with the band so rigidly adhering to their formula things get bland pretty quickly; there’s only so many times you can switch between interchangeable pentatonic chugging riffs and po-faced clean sections while maintaining interest. Ultimately, 333 isn’t a bad album, but Hour of 13 are re-treading ground that bands discovered, conquered and salted the fucking earth in decades ago, and as such, in absence of truly stellar songwriting, there isn’t much reason to pay attention to it.
Doom as a genre is in a very healthy place right now. Hour of 13 are up against stiff competition, and are just too stuck in their comfort zone to go toe to toe with the songwriting displayed by the likes of bands like The Devil’s Blood, Ghost, and Blood Ceremony, or the musical flair displayed by bands like Ahab.