South Carolina’s Enthean label themselves progressive black metal and on their full length debut Priests Of Annihilation this proves to only be part of the story. At times its heavy on the progressive aspect and at others heavy on technical prowess. Be it death metal or otherwise the technical aspect of this debut is the most profound of all. It’s a busy album and over some 44 minutes the band hit on many influences, which can be overwhelming initially. With patience though, the album opens up on several fronts showcasing a band with a mountain of talent but not quite sure of a direction.
Much has been said of Emperor’s body of work as well as the symphonic touch that Dimmu Borgir added to the genre. They both cut a swath in their respective elements, one in black metal grandeur and the other built on that success and pushed it in a different direction. On the other side of the coin is technical death metal bands such as Neuraxis and the progressive approach of later era Atheist — combine this entire equation and the result is roughly the basis of Enthean’s sound.
On “Before You, I Am” symphonic black metal and progressive death metal coexist fluently. “Dysthnasia” immediately follows, relying solely on progressive — at times jazzy — songwriting. As the runtime ticks off there are a number of tracks that almost to the letter follow this same formula, back and forth between progressive noodling, symphonic sweeps, and technical interplay but never really lands on anything in particular. This exposes the unfortunate chink in the band’s identity crisis. No doubt these same tracks are enthralling initially as there is so much to explore but in the long run they prove to be a tough mountain to climb. This repetitiveness and meandering between genres loses attention spans rather quickly and subsequently falls flat.
On a positive note, “Ekpyrosis” is a beast of an entirely different color. Beginning with an onslaught of blast beats and inventive guitar work then shifting to a moody, melodic approach, this one easily takes the highlight spot. The band expertly pays homage to not only their black metal constituent but their progressive side as well but this time the combination is triumphant and feels grand in scope. This track shows the most clearly defined direction but also is the most indicative of their identity. All stops were pulled and the end result is nothing short of fantastic. Had they kept in this line of thought throughout, the album would be more cohesive and feel much less like a scatter shot approach.
Without a shadow of doubt there are great moments to be found and when the band hit these moments they truly are devastating. Unfortunately the repetitive nature, as a whole, wears thin quickly. And for an album that requires repeat listens to truly grasp its concepts fatigue is definitely not a good thing. It’s catchy in parts and brutally technical in others (“Tones Of Desecration”). The production is clean as a whistle and at least offers good separation of each instrument throughout but its overcooked, to the point of losing any sort of brooding, dark atmosphere.
On Priests Of Annihilation, Enthean do their best to not only emulate but expand upon their symphonic and progressive black metal influences. While they sparingly succeed the band’s overall effort here is lacking a clear and concise direction or focus, as well as suffering from dogged repetitiveness. The band’s collective talent is undeniable and hopefully on their next effort they can combine that with the successful moments found here and return with a stronger more cohesive album.