In Dante’s Inferno, the second circle begins the proper punishment of Hell, a place where “no thing gleams.” It is reserved for those overcome with Lust, where carnal appetites hold sway over reason. In Nine Circles, it’s where we do shorter reviews of new (ish) albums that share a common theme.
What do you think of when you see the term “blackened death” applied to a band or album? Is it predominantly death metal, but “blackened” up a bit? Is it black metal with traces of that good ol’ drop-D groove? Is it once again just a silly attempt to pigeon-hole and categorize something for easier consumption? Rhetorical questions one and all, but it helps to classify the theme for this edition of Second Circle as we check out the latest slab from Throne of Heresy and the debut from Tetragrammacide.
Sweden’s Throne of Heresy take to the Black Plague for the third album Decameron, and it’s a sweeping majestic blast of metal thanks to a thick and lush production by Magnus Andersson of Marduk. Having released their first album The Stench of Deceit in 2012, the band’s output (three full lengths and an EP) in only 5 years is already pretty substantial, and the growth from the more generic NWOSDM elements on previous album Antioch to Decameron is striking.
There’s bound to be some comparisons to Marduk thanks to Andersson’s involvement, but Decameron treads its own path, opener “The Shores of Issyk-Kul” really accentuating the technicality of the song over the black elements, which here are made most noticeable in the vocals, which are grim and frostbitten without sacrificing clarity. There’s a real thrash element to to the tunes as well, particularly on standout track “Siege of Caffa” where the palm muted madness and solos run rampant. Fears of using the concept element as a history lesson/poor excuse for lyric writing are unfounded, as Throne of Heresy instead (from what I could decipher) really use the Black Plague as a unifying theme for the lyrics – you’re going to get a bunch of dates and cities rattled off. orchestration is retrained and use as accents rather than the driving force for the tunes, and when the songs go more black (the stomp of “Liber Secretorum”, “Alvastra”) it adheres to a more modern, atmospheric vibe.
Every aspect of Decameron, from the production to the songwriting and performances are excellent, and coming this late in the year a welcome surprise I expect to keep banging and thrashing in my ears, at least until Throne of Heresy drops another album.
I have a feeling folks are either going to announce Tetragrammacide as the second coming of blackened metal or a meaningless pile of noise masquerading as the most TRVE in whatever constitutes coolness in the metal community. The truth of the matter is debut album Primal Incinerators of Moral Matrix isn’t either of those things. There is defnintely more there than a mindless horde of noise and filth, but beyond a penchant for manifestos and ridiculously long album and song titles what’s left is just an average scuzzy blackened death album that works as background noise more than the corrosive decaying listening experience I suspect the band was shooting for.
Things really kick off on the second track, inexplicably titled “The Prognosticators of Trans-Yuggothian Meta-Reasoning” and the music is about the same level of swirling, Lovecraftian confusion. It sounds like everything is trapped in a bucket of buzzing flies – the music is tightly compressed to the point where any nuance is lost, although again: this could very well be the musical intent of the band, and you just might dig the mess that’s being made.
There are moments when things come apart enough to give you a sense of what’s happening, and when that happens, as on “Cyberserking Strategic Kalpa-Terminator (Advanced Acausality Increment Mechanism)” there’s some really interesting stuff happening, particularly with the guitars. That being said, I probably derived the most enjoyment pulling apart the song titles: if anyone can explain the meaning of “Meontological Marga of Misanthropic Computation & Extensive Backwards Physics” I’d like to invite you to our program to charm the masses…
Until next time, my friend.