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.
Within the last two years or so, I’ve come to enjoy taking a long, hard look at my own biases when it comes to music I like and don’t like. I have a long-form rambling manifesto on the topic of progressive metal from a while back to that effect, but that is not where this self-interrogation begins or ends. I have been finding a lot of albums lately that I love despite their being played in a style of metal that I don’t generally gravitate towards, and this brings me another chance to shine a light into the cobweb-strewn corners of what’s left of my brain and grill myself about two albums that could each conceivably be called ‘blackened death metal’, although both choose to do something wildly different with that prompt. With that, I bring you something old, and something new…
Hath – All That Was Promised
Remember that mea culpa I threw into our last podcast episode when I mentioned this album? Yeah, I whiffed this one. All That Was Promised was released in early March of this year, which makes it our ‘something old’ for this column, and I was supposed to have a review for it around that time which…did not manifest itself. Yet like I also mentioned in the podcast, I feel not just obligation, but genuine desire to talk about this album, because it compels me in spite of the adjectives one might use to describe it flying in the face of what I generally enjoy in my death metal. Blackened, technical, progressive, these are all things that All That Was Promised is, yet the beauty of Hath’s formula is in the surprising way these are thrown together. Progressive and technical death metal oftentimes becomes too show-off-y for my taste, and blackened death metal is becoming a fairly derivative subgenre (in my personal opinion), yet here all these elements are used in enough moderation that they don’t detract from the core of really impressive death metal. The black metal elements lean heavily on a modern take on the genre, and foster a kind of vicious, icy aggression that plays wonderfully in tandem with the weighty dissonance of the Gorguts-esque riffing, while light touches of progressive song structures and moments of flourishing meter and rhythm changes keep things interesting without succumbing to any sort of gimmick. Add in a surprising amount of melody (with some fantastic clean-ish singing along the way), and you’ve got a whip smart approach to modern death metal that gets even someone like me to stand up and take notice. Many other bands that try to do this much with their music could take a lesson from what Hath has done here.
Egregore – The Word of His Law: An address to Abraxas in his time and place, through his Grand Viseer, Thine Panpsycopompos
I think it’s important to type out the full name of this album at least once, for maximum effect, because effect is a very important point of this album. Hereafter referred to by it’s simplified title, Egregore’s The Word of His Law is the ‘something new’ portion of today’s column. Taking a completely different direction than Hath’s idea of ‘blackened death metal’, Egregore’s music is less a blending of the modern versions of the two styles and more of a harkening back to when black and death metal had more in common than not. This style of old-school black/death is undeniably fun, but ends up feeling derivative more often than not; when you intentionally make music that sounds the same as it did forty years ago, how do you keep something like that fresh? If you’re Egregore, the answer is to just get frighteningly weird with it. In between stomping riffs, The Word of His Law blasts you directly in the brain with hazy psychedelia, unsettling whispers, and a hefty dose of good old fashioned rocking guitar solos, and when paired with the Crowley-inspired mysticism and almost cartoonish levels of blasphemy in the lyrics it invokes an atmosphere of a ritual straight out of the Left Hand Path playbook. Effect, as previously stated, is very important on this album, and everything here feels meticulously, purposefully crafted to its own end. As to what end that may be, you’ll just have to peer behind the curtain and discern for yourself…
The Word of His Law… will be available April 15 on 20 Buck Spin.
It is good for everyone, once in a while, to do a bit of self-assessment. Even if you come out of it holding the same opinions as before, at least you are now more sure of those convictions. Diving deep into these two albums has made me more apt to give a second (or even first) listen to things I might otherwise pass on to look for flashes of things that capture me, and I look forward to the next time I get to listen to something that turns me on my head for a minute.