Opium Warlords’ Nembutal: mind-bending transmissions from an alternative doom universe

One-man doom metal maverick Opium Warlords journeys further beyond the looking glass on new album Nembutal

Opium Warlords - Nembutal
(Image: © Svart)

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As his previous four solo albums have made abundantly clear, Sami Albert Hynninen is a highly singular and uncompromising talent. Since fleeing the self-imposed ‘true doom’ strictures of the mighty Reverend Bizarre in 2007, his work as one-man-band Opium Warlords has sometimes felt a little like intensely creative occupational therapy in a psych ward.

The title and sleeve of this eight-track, 76-minute very long-player confirm the subtle but profound atmosphere of creeping unease and emotional disturbance that the Finnish multi-instrumentalist is capable of striking, instinctively and without contrivance, even with just his voice and a few plucked strings, as on the ominously brooding Sarah Was Nineteen Years Old and the hauntingly batshit Solar Anus. It’s there in the labyrinthine doom epics that top and tail the album – forming the thick bread doorsteps in a harrowing abstract sandwich – but it’s also there in the needlessly aggressive thwack of the tambourine and sinister background crackling throughout acoustic interlude Perspiring Princess.

The minimalist sonic experimentation and stream- of-consciousness spoken word are an acquired taste, requiring full immersion; unless you’re attuned to his cryptic frequency, some of this might just feel alienating and bewilderingly abstruse. However, rabid doomhounds will need this album, even if just for the magnificent 19-minute opener, A Heavy Heart – a towering cosmic construction containing some of the juiciest doom Magister Albert has ever created, nailing each instrument with morose aplomb. Reverend Bizarre fans will already know he excels at resonant plummy vocals, dejected melodies and tilted, wraithlike riffs, but solid foundations are laid by his grooving bass flourishes and tight-but-loose drum work. The near-16-minute closer, Xanadu, is almost as strong: both weird gargantuan self-jams traversing doom’s past, present and future, fuzzily echoing the giants of yesteryear but from a totally individual, exploratory perspective.

Chris Chantler

Chris has been writing about heavy metal since 2000, specialising in true/cult/epic/power/trad/NWOBHM and doom metal at now-defunct extreme music magazine Terrorizer. Since joining the Metal Hammer famileh in 2010 he developed a parallel career in kids' TV, winning a Writer's Guild of Great Britain Award for BBC1 series Little Howard's Big Question as well as writing episodes of Danger Mouse, Horrible Histories, Dennis & Gnasher Unleashed and The Furchester Hotel. His hobbies include drumming (slowly), exploring ancient woodland and watching ancient sitcoms.