I like the beats and I like the yelling: Sadistic Drive, Sorta Magora, Walpurgia

Sadistic Drive: Anthropophagy (2020)

After the ambitious demo ‘Street Cannibal Gluttony’, Finnish surrealist gore revellers Sadistic Drive have added a little water to the dense wiring of their morbid death metal, left the thing to air out some, and returned with a relatively spacious full length by the name of ‘Anthropophagy’. I say this is more spacious than the demo, because it literally is, but don’t go into this expecting anything other than a quagmire of grating dissonance, schizophrenic tempo interplay, animalistic vocalisations, and an all-round stereo assault on the senses. I can almost smell this album.

The mix is typical of percussive death metal done on a budget. The drums are clear but tinny, the guitar tone is focused on augmenting rhythmic precision as opposed to creating any specific mood. Bass cuts through the maelstrom, and is heightened in the mix on the rare occasion when it takes up lead duties. Vocals are a many headed beast appearing before the listener in different guises and from multiple directions. The sheer frequency with which ideas are rolled out before ours ears means that Sadistic Drive have shirked any lengthy runtime; this is a straightforward, no distractions dive into dense death metal at its most eccentric.

The foundation of this album is actually more hardcore punk than it is thrash metal, with obvious nods to grindcore. But as is their wont, each idea is dissected beyond recognition as Sadistic Drive lurch from one section to the next with no regard for traditional intervals or cadence. The key to this rhythmic underpinning is binding together these many faces and switching from one to the next seamlessly rather than tech-death wizardry. Drummer Jesse Räsänen still managers to work plenty of character into his fills and interplay with the guitars however.

And atop this sturdy but unpredictable foundation is the guitar work. As mentioned, there is a surprisingly prominent hardcore foundation to the shape of the riffs. But these are funnelled through Autopsy-on-steroids degrees of morbidity, as Sadistic Drive’s three dimensional approach to dissonance and chromaticism takes shape. They have a tendency to place complexity next to the outrageously simple, particular when contrasting the lead guitar work. This disorientates the listener as it subverts our commonly held instincts and perceptions of what good taste should look like.

Absurdity competes with orthodoxy at every turn. As simple power chord riffs are interrupted by staccato leads without context, and the drums appear to fall over themselves only to pull things back into a disciplined rhythmic framework before the listener manages to catch up with what the music is doing. It’s a testament to Sadistic Drive’s efficiency that they manage to pack all these ideas into brutally short tracks, and aside from some well placed samples, there is no fat or unnecessary bulk to this album at all. A triumph of discipline as much as creation.

Sorta Magora: Nic (2019)

Sorta Magora are a funeral doom duet made up of Belgium multi-instrumentalist Deha, and Slovakian vocalist Dryáda. They released an album called ‘Nic’ in 2019 and it’s definitely an album. Actually it’s not as the definition of album is a collection of songs, and ‘Nic’ is one forty minute long track, but what a track it is. Funeral doom has always been one of those fragile genre demarcations in danger of fading into depressive black metal at one end, or melodic death/doom at the other. ‘Nic’ is one of those albums that solidifies the form somewhat (and in the nick of time I might add…I’ll show myself out). Although we couldn’t say that ‘Nic’ is one continuous piece of music, defining it as one whole track was a good creative choice on Sorta Magora’s part.

By doing this it allows them to unfurl funeral doom’s inherent ambient tendencies, and explore this space as a series of unfolding moods of varying intensity, connected by the loosest of empty spaces and sparse, isolated notes (too minimal to be called melodies). This enhances the impact of the heavier, guitar-based sections of the album as they emerge from the gloom as a series of chasmic horrors connected more by mood than any musical architecture. Sorta Magora have taken great care in the presentation of this music, which at the ontological level is made up of only the most basic components and progressions. But funeral doom is one particular field where this approach is entirely appropriate. The basic, metronomic drums are huge, the guitars sound like they were recorded in a cathedral, the vocals, which largely stick to one note wails of despair, are appropriately enhanced to fit with this mix.

All this means that for Sorta Magora to achieve even the simplest of musical progressions takes an age. Each shift in note – let alone key – requires space and time for all the elements to catch up with the transition. The pay off is of course the impact. A change in chord shifts the whole impetus of the music in a wildly different direction, one change in timbre sets the listener completely off balance once again. And of course, dynamics are far more important here than almost any other form of metal. Sorta Magora can take their time to build to finale’s and fade out to silence, and these transitions are still loaded with tensions and drama as we are granted space to recover from the previous crescendo.

But underpinning the whole thing is the brooding ambience, drowned out during the more aggressive moments on ‘Nic’ but always ready to return as the other instrumentation fades out. Other effects are utilised distantly in the mix at such moments to further enhance the empty spaces these musicians are attempting to invoke in our minds. Such is the level of entropy that has been applied to the funeral doom framework that we lose site of the slow plod typical to a lot of doom metal, and instead find ourselves floating in the brume of abyssal ambience this album conjures.

Walpurgia: Altar of the Goatbaphemot (2020)

The debut release from this Greek trio sees them take the animalistic and occultist elements of Teitanblood and tighten up the discipline of riffs into something more controlled and focused. The crushingly simple philosophy of VON is applied to a meatier production job, and a dab more complexity in the rhythm section (just a dab mind). Ultra-primitive blackened thrash is set to blast-beats which only occasionally relent and provide us some contrast to situate ourselves.

Look to early Impaled Nazarene as another reference point for how Walpurgia manage to get more from less with these simple blasting riffs. If the ascending chord progressions are played over a blast-beat – sometimes shifting in emphasis – then they are able to ring out these rudimentary riffs for all they’re worth. This lends more impact to the slower passages as they run up against this blizzard of noise. The vocals also mirror VON in their tendency to utter simple slogans with little regard for musical placement, letting the guttural delivery and liberal amounts of delay do the heavy lifting when it comes to giving them any character to speak of.

This style often gets compared to grindcore, or at least the branch of black metal most closely related to grindcore. Nowadays the genre lines have also blurred with death metal of course. But the similarity only extends as far as purity of purpose. The fidelity to primitivism in craft explored through extremities of speed and noise. But the actual construction of the riffs, the aesthetics and of course the occult lyrical content all diverge wildly from grindcore, to the point where if a function of genre names is to approximate the listening experience, the comparison becomes redundant. This is more of a dirgey slog than the liberating adrenaline shot that is grindcore at its best.

Of ‘Altar of the Goatbaphemot’ there’s not that much more to say. It’s a competent if unoriginal addition to the catalogue of extreme occult death/black metal that revels in its own limitations. It’s a style that rewards those that take few risks, therefore the rewards are more certain but less valuable. We will nevertheless watch the trajectory of Walpurgia with interest as future contributions to this style could nevertheless surprise.

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