Phoenix, Arizona-based instrumental duo Tempel have been composing strange, vast and ominous soundscapes for over a decade, but this year finally brings the pair's first full-length album (three years in the making) to the ears of the world... and when it comes to haunting, doomy experimental metal, On the Steps of the Temple is epic as they come. The team of guitarist/keyboardist Ryan Wenzel and drummer Rich Corle have been compared with boundary-pushing “post-metal” legends Neurosis and experimental drone metallers Sunn O))) for their epic, sprawling canvases of heavy sonic doom, and the dark spectrum of sound that issues from these six new tracks is so massive, it's hard to believe it's the product of a two-piece band.
Without the element of lyrics and vocals, a rock or metal album must find a different kind of voice, and Tempel accomplishes this by building layer upon layer of elaborate tonal and rhythmic textures to tell their tales. Frequent shifts in tempo and intensity help set the mood accordingly, enveloping the listener in booming, apocalyptic funeral dirges before repeatedly throttling them with a hailstorm of blastbeats and high-speed riffs, all while maintaining a very solid melodic foundation.
Lulled into a sense of calm by the clean intro of “Mountain,” I was promptly blown across the room by the monolithic riffs that kick in to drive this opening cut; Wenzel's slowly ascending chords are low and dark, but race along at a furious clip on the back of Corle's anxious beats, filling the piece with a sense of impending destruction. The pace slows up a bit for the intense mid-tempo cut “Rising from the Abyss,” which is enhanced by threatening synth tones before breaking into mile-high stacks of colossal, multi-tracked doom chords. It carries the strongest cinematic tone, making it my favorite cut on the record. Along with the pensive, melancholy non-metal piece “Final Years,” it's an impressive demonstration of the band's tonal range.
The sludgy, slow and boomy main riff of “The Mist That Shrouds the Peaks” pulls the album back into experimental doom turf, while maintaining the same hypnotic intensity we've heard up to this point. The tone lightens a bit for “Avaritia,” but the haunting, desert-dry plucked chords remind us we're exploring dark terrain here, and it peaks with a giallo-like vibe, enhanced by Mellotron-style choirs and burnished guitar leads. The record closes on the atmospheric title track, which starts moody and subdued before steadily morphing into a mammoth, high speed riff-beast reminiscent of Devin Townsend's more experimental projects, forming a suitably epic final curtain.
Slow-burning and surprisingly infectious, On the Steps of the Temple is one of the darkest, most chilling releases in instrumental metal I've heard in the past year. While similar acts tend to venture into looser, more abstract soundscapes, Tempel maintains a solid melodic structure throughout the album, which takes the music a step beyond dark ambient noodling and actually makes the lengthy pieces speed by in a heartbeat. On the Steps may be perfect mood music for reading a ghost story by candlelight, but these tracks also have distinctive personalities that make them fairly unique to the doomier side of the genre.