The three members of Portland trio Shroud of the Heretic all bring a unique blend of influences to the table. Doom is one major characteristic of the band’s emotional brand of death metal, (credit guitarist JT’s work in Symptom for that) with the other major characteristic being atmosphere. And on their third album, Unorthodox Equilibrium, that atmospheric influence is on full display. If atmospheric death metal ever becomes a full-on genre, this band will be the genre’s most emblematic act, and this album will be its most exemplary work.
Shroud of the Heretic is, at its soul, an atmospheric band. The band crafts songs that are long and cavernous, with interludes and mood changes built in. The shortest track here, the titular opener, runs a touch over eight minutes while the longest track clocks in at almost 14. So don’t expect to get the full experience in one pass. Unorthodox Equilibrium is an album that must be digested, not only heard. Without active involvement the album can become rote—merely background music.
Doing their listeners no favors, Shroud of the Heretic seem to bury their musical points deep within the thick, twisting tracks. The second track, “Metempsychosis,” opens clear and reverberates, as tom-tom drums lay a sparse, almost tribal pattern before thick-sounding guitars incorporate the melody. It’s nearly two minutes before the vocals boil up from below. But as the track builds, the experiences becomes clear: Shroud of the Heretic are kidnapping the listener, drawing them into the track and refusing to let go. It’s almost as if the inner emotions of the listener are a vital fifth element to their work.
Shroud of the Heretic may not have completely come into their own as a band just yet, but they’re still highly ambitious and unrelenting. The third track, “Sprawling Black Mass Consummation,” is a framework for the band to follow in the future. The best track on the four-song, 41-minute LP, it best delineates their progression from their rawer, previous work to this more-polished and better-produced effort. The song fits in with the likes of Mefitic as a representation of the archaic and evolving genre of blackened death metal. Further, it’s this track that best reveals how Shroud of the Heretic differ from current great blackened death metal acts: with their heaping servings of atmospheric black metal and doom styles, they invoke emotion rather than merely showing off their technical prowess. (Which they certainly possess.)
While some may like the more raw, chaotic style of the band’s Revelations in Alchemy, Unorthodox Equilibrium is more characteristic of the direction in which Shroud of the Heretic is headed. The album may take time to root, but it’s well worth the effort you’ll put into listening.