I like the beats and I like the yelling: Sorgelig, Horrendous, Entrails

Sorgelig: We, the Oblivious (2019)

Greece’s Sorgelig dropped their second LP last year: ‘We, the Oblivious’. Rather than following in the wake of their country’s forbears they have looked north for their inspiration, and offered up what is essentially a more complex ‘Transylvanian Hunger’. Now, before you point out how you may have read that about one or two other black metal albums over the years, ‘We, the Oblivious’ is a more complex beast than the countless Darkthrone clones out there. Whilst the aforementioned Norwegian classic was a masterful exercise in minimalism, it carried hidden complexities within. For instance, the independent basslines that run through the album and only occasionally link up with the guitars, or the subtle inflexions and alteration in phrasing, which – when applied to such simple riffs – alter the course of the music dramatically.

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Prima facie ‘We, the Oblivious’ is a fairly straight forward black metal album. The production is raw but not excessively so. The mix is clear, with enough space to give all the musicians a chance to shine on a short and compact album; yet one that simultaneously manages to sound spacious and epic. The thing that strikes one initially is the vocal performance, which switches from a standard black metal scream to more theatrical techniques that indulge in the emotive and melodramatic without coming over as cheesy or abrasive. It sits very well atop the mournful melodies that the tremolo strummed guitars are crafting for extended periods of the album. A truly captivating performance.

‘We, the Oblivious’ takes certain underutilised elements in black metal and applies them to a more complex setting. The riffs are extended out, taking us on micro journeys throughout the course of one resolution. I am reminded of early Gorgoroth in the way Sorgelig will not only stretch out their riffs into more sophisticated uses of key and cadence, but also how they explore the potential for this to interact with a shifting rhythm section beneath. When the drums switch pattern or tempo, they will only occasionally link up with the resolutions of the riffs, more often choosing to follow their own cycles. Much like the bass, the elegantly simple patterns that each individual instrument plays out – which link up less frequently than a standard rock pattern – form the artistic core of this album. Add to that the tension laden melodies of the guitars, playing over bass lines that are sometimes simplified versions of the same, sometimes a complimentary melody, all makes for a wonderfully trancelike and rewarding album.

Again, many of the individual performances on here are worth singling out – the vocals, the construction of the riffs, the tight drums, and the basslines that perfectly underpin all this with additional tension and resolve – but it is the assembly of all these elements that really makes this album noteworthy; like watching an intricate clockwork device with apparently independent processes and functions that link up at pre-assigned intervals and work to a common end. I would cite Gorgoroth’s first two albums along with ‘Transylvanian Hunger’ as worthy comparisons. But unlike the countless others that have referenced these earlier works over the years, Sorgelig offer richer, more intuitive and ultimately more rewarding ways to build on these foundational black metal albums. They have also provided further credence to the idea that an album does not need to be excessively long to deal with epic themes. ‘We, the Oblivious’ is only around thirty-five minutes in length, yet it achieves more in that time than many recent albums twice that length.

Horrendous: Idols (2018)

Horrendous have a bassist now, and boy do they make use of him on ‘Idols’, their latest release. This is the full progressive death metal lick of paint these guys have been hinting at with each new release. Complete with the bounce of an Opeth circa ‘Deliverance’ era, and the disjointed, almost lucky dip approach to piecing tracks together. I have really tried with these guys, more so than usual because I believe them to be skilled craftsman attempting modern spins on old school styles. Even the artwork for each of their albums is exquisite. But each time I have found them wanting.

On ‘Idols’ we see Horrendous graduate into prog metal, and true to form it’s a sort of hybrid of later Death, mid-era Opeth, and even a dabbling of some thrash in the shape of Coroner. The guitar tone has been sharpened up to fully do justice to the intricate guitar leads. The vocals – although running with the same dual attack of fairly standard death metal growling – are more articulated than ever, going along with the general feeling that this is Horrendous after some virtuoso music lessons. There are even some clean vocals here and there, adding another dimension to their sound. The drums play their part to a tee in terms of articulating those additional unorthodox time signatures. But I gotta say it’s a weak-ass snare sound on here. I can’t be any more poetic about that observation. It just feels like it was lifted from a crappy demo tape they had lying around and chucked into the mix as an afterthought. This is odd given the richness to the rest of the mix.

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The reason I have spent so much time on these guys – especially when sanity dictates that one should stop expecting something new to emerge after however many spins – is simply because all the components are there, but no love or care has been taking in piecing them all together. Well, maybe that’s disingenuous, love and care has been taken, but their reach in the amount of techniques and styles they ape has far outstripped their grasp as composers. Unlike Opeth, individual passages do reach a level that far surpasses many of their contemporaries when it comes to approaching musically complex metal – the second half of ‘Devotion (Blood for Ink)’ for example – but this in itself makes the listen all the more frustrating.

Music at its most basic level is repetition. The listener’s brain hears a repeated pattern, once the pattern is learned, their brain starts rewarding them for anticipating the next note, the next bar, the next refrain. As music builds in complexity, the rewards for anticipation become greater, but so too does the intellectual toil required to follow the pattern. If music offers no discernible logic or structure – some forms of jazz, Deafheaven – we usually find liberal art students sniffing around trying to fill this artistic vacuum with pseudo academia. This is why it’s so hard to make prog metal succeed as art, because a wash of musical complexity must be disciplined into serving an artistic end, without falling into meaningless chaos. The more components there are to tie together, the more rigorous the mind must be that masters all these elements.

Horrendous sound like a band ‘playing’ at prog, pretending. They know all the boxes to tick, they know roughly which sentiment belongs where; but the result is a chimera of unrelated riffs and keys, leading to a work that feels like five different albums chopped together. Quality albums for sure, but whoever did the assembling did the best they could do with what they were given. This is true when Horrendous have approached simpler forms of death metal over their discography (maybe with the exception of ‘Ecdysis’), but the problems are exacerbated by the multifaceted nature of prog metal. Despite the harsh words, I believe them to be capable of ironing out these creases on a future album if they continue to plug away at this style, as disparate ideas scattered throughout ‘Idols’ offer some intrigue regardless.

Entrails: Rise of the Reaper (2019)

As if making up for lost time, Entrails have been clocking up the releases since their reformation in 2008. 2019’s ‘Rise of the Reaper’ is their sixth LP to date. As the name of this album suggests, Entrails aren’t exactly shaking the landscape of death metal to its foundations with this release. Indeed, their whole schtick has been about crafting well made but highly unoriginal Swedish death metal from the get go, and there have been no pretensions to anything more ambitious than this. I have no problem with artists perfecting a style and sticking with it. There’s an audience for it and the pursuit can be a noble one. However, for the first time it feels like Entrails are floundering. There has been a gradual and now unignorable lurch towards the treacherous waters of melodic death metal over the course of their career. If they started out as a high-quality Entombed knock off, ‘Rise of the Reaper’ is closer to ‘Slaughter of the Soul’.

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This album feels like Entrails phoning it in. We have some half decent riffs in places, and the opener ‘For Hell’ kicks things off in suitably epic fashion, but then the lazy writing sets in. Ideas that were not just done with in 1999, but well into being clichés by that point. Many of the choruses that simply repeat variations on the track title are not only unimaginative, but have the artistic worth of a sitcom catchphrase. Given the colour-by-numbers nature of the death metal Entrails have been serving us recently, this collapse into pop metal seems inevitable with hindsight. But it is nevertheless disappointing that all of the bite and excitement from their first clutch of albums has been sucked dry in this stale display of a band on auto pilot. Even the cheap looking album art points to a band out of ideas, putting little care or thought into what they are releasing as long as it’s passable.

It’s at this point that I would usually try to point at specifics of where they have gone wrong, and maybe offer a hope for future releases; maybe the artist could pull it back if they made some adjustments here and there. But Entrails are a beast that requires no such forensic analysis. This is a joke that is wearing thin, not because it’s been repeated one too many times, but simply because they have forgotten to deliver on the punchline. ‘Rise of the Reaper’ is a neutered version of Entrails that puts them into bed with the kind of pop metal that one frequently sees headlining Bloodstock and other larger festivals.

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