This band came recommended by Liege Lord bassist Matt Vinci, who has been pointing me in right musical directions since I was a teen. Season of Mourning’s reputation was further solidified by Liege Lord guitarist Anthony Truglio, who relayed that singer Caesar Ettore (who goes by Czar on stage and record) has been loyal and cool to the metal cause since the early days.

The early days are a good starting point in assessing Salvation, the Philadelphia-area quintet’s first full-length. Not because it sounds dated but rather because it is a reminder of when heavy metal was pure; when songs were written without a template or need to follow a formula; when bands followed their muse without regard to popularity or even proper guidelines. Without getting unnecessarily deep, the nine tracks on Salvation are a reminder of what made a lot of us fall in love with heavy metal in the early 1980s. Namely that it was a music that didn’t play by the rules. Season of Mourning is nothing short of brilliant in its disregard for “rules” and utterly original in an era so many bands are interchangeable.

The band calls itself “melodic progressive/doom metal.” Not a bad place to start, the melodic aspect is key. Ettore sings/speaks his lines rather than gargles them which makes his lyrics easy to follow. It’s a noticeable — and welcome — device that is evident from the opening “… as One.“

Guitarists Ed and Billy are both impressive without being showboats. Quite a few solos (they split duties) stand out by including smart and clear melodic runs rather than overwrought flights of fancy. (The six-string lead work on “Crimson Reign” and “Trance Thirteen” both merit praise.) Check the clever pre-verse riffing on the latter of the two. This review would not be complete without mentioning how good the guitars sound. The disc was mastered by Armored Saint’s Joey Vera, another one of the music’s truest believers.

Every cut here is strong but the disc really hits stride toward the middle with the four song thread of “Song of Salvation,” “Insight,” “She, Temptation” and “A Wish, A Prayer.“ Season of Mourning works almost exclusively in the slow to medium tempo range, which suits it well. The guitars and drums lock in hard on the lilting “Song of Salvation,” where Czar also stretches his range to great result. “She, Temptation” might be the most unique track of the nine but it’s the one I keep going back to. Nearly gothic in the beginning, it turns epic.

There are probably great if little-known bands like Season of Mourning in different parts of the country. The thrill of discovering — or more likely, hearing them for the first time — is as exhilarating as it was 30 years ago.

Season of Mourning opens for doom legends Trouble in Philadelphia on June 15 at Finnegan’s Wake.

Label: Toil