Precisely where you stand on the whole “blackened” term argument is completely up to you. I’ve seen support for it and eye rolls against it. Is it black metal, is it death metal, is it both, is it not? Correct answer is: who gives a shit. If either genre entices you as a fan or listener you know when it’s good and when it’s phoned in. Thankfully Israel’s Ziggurat burned the phone and have, on their debut EP Ritual Miasma, assembled an asphyxiating beast that doesn’t force you to pick a side but rather, revel in the darkness of their creation.
The thing is, there’s been a cavalcade of really good death and black metal albums released this year. But when it comes to albums that merge these two behemoths into something at least equally as good the list gets quite a bit shorter. While Ritual Miasma shows that Ziggurat are good at both – just pick any track here for proof – it’s the absolutely choking atmosphere created as a result of their particular marriage of the two styles that really sank its hooks in my crusty brain.
Sure, the band’s black metal blasting in “דִּבּוּק” is satisfying and their melodic death metal capabilities in “Summoning the Giant Serpent” are equally satisfying, meaning both are ok but nothing extraordinary. However, the band strikes a near perfect balance between these two styles and never relies too much on one or the other. While doing so, the low end of the sound spectrum is blown out in a way that brings on a sudden gasp for air. The trick is, this smothering feeling never lets up. It’s like a noose slowly tightening around the wind pipe or an apparition sucking the air out of the chest cavity while, inn both cases, you’re held completely helpless. Top tier doom and funeral doom rely heavily on this approach – and it’s damn near magical when done right – but it’s a rare thing to hear (feel) this same thing on a black / death album. If I can actually feel what I’m listening to then the artist in question has mastered the pressure of creating a piece of work that stands out, in one way or another.
If Ritual Miasma was strictly a black or death metal album I’m not completely convinced the individual parts would be enough to carry it. But the sum of these parts and the dark atmosphere created by this unholy communion are what forcibly grabbed my attention up front and has kept it ever since. Time will tell whether Ziggurat can mimic these results on a full length but for now I’ll be over here gasping for air and losing my hearing, enjoying every second of it.