With only four tracks, clocking in at 26:44, it’s likely that Skin of Earth’s Burn Barrel — released at the tail end of 2018 as an omen, a prediction, a benediction for the year to come — should rightly be called an EP. But damn, it doesn’t feel like one. It feels like it punches through a spot right beneath your ribcage, reaches back all the way to your spine and drags you forward, unrelenting, through a fog. And while you’re with it, there’s no start or finish, no deception of duration: only now.
This is what the best doom metal can do, and why I love it: It traps you in a six- or seven-minute track that’s more puzzle box than “song,” and doesn’t let you escape from fully experiencing even a second of it. Skin of Earth is doom metal at its best. But it’s also, somehow, more. About halfway through track three, “Lou Rawls,” for example, there’s a tone shift, a melodic lift that pulls you out of your complacency and demands a different sort of attention.
Like many albums released by Sump Pump, who regularly put out some of my favorites each year, Burn Barrel is a record that you don’t want to end. And it ends, as many of them do, abruptly, leaving you reeling, still in that fog.
But the final track in this case, “Jenny,” also ends with a few spoken lines from a 1972 Leonard Cohen poem, “Any system you contrive without us will be brought down.” It is engaging and conspiratorial, and it serves as a call to action. It’s an ending that doesn’t end, but propels us forward instead, into the world, to access and engage it.
If you need a reason to keep going when the world is full of chaos and feels desperate, Burn Barrel is it. We’re all in this together, and this is our soundtrack, respite and reinvigoration in one.
This article was originally published in Little Village issue 263.