Salt Lake City’s SubRosa is best known for its unusual configuration; few other doom metal bands are led by two violinists and three vocalists. On the three records they’ve released on the venerable Canadian label Profound Lore—2011’s No Help for the Mighty Ones, 2013’s More Constant Than the Gods, and now For This We Fought the Battle of Ages—the band has taken increasing advantage of the unique strengths its odd lineup affords.
Battle’s superb opening track, the 15-minute “Despair is a Siren,” is a perfect snapshot of the band’s evolution. Sarah Pendleton and Kim Pack’s violins are the focal point, and they appear not with dramatic bow strokes, but with muted pizzicato, more percussive than melodic. Then comes the eruption: guitarist and lead vocalist Rebecca Vernon ominously intones, “I see the bars of the cage,” and a cacophony of strings swells and crashes like ocean waves in a thunderstorm. The wild, churning movements that follow justify the song’s epic length, and the three other tracks that cross the 10-minute mark do the same.
But SubRosa are also adept making things heavier without necessarily making them louder. There are countless small moments on Battle—the emphasis on a syllable, a moan of bass feedback, a split-second of harmony between the two violins—that give the album nuance and character. Where many doom bands turn to volume and repetition as conduits for increased emotional heft, the musicians in SubRosa have found an invisible world in those little spaces that makes them as devastating as any of their contemporaries.