I like the beats and I like the yelling: Sinoath, Medieval Demon, Sporae Autem Yuggoth

Sinoath; Research (1995, rereleased on Hessian Firm 27th March)

“Reissue” is a dirty word in some circles. A way for labels to suck every last penny out of long dead artists, an endless cycle of dredging up old material in new wrapping. All the more need to reiterate the original and frankly nobler purpose behind the reissue. If an album or artist never got the recognition they deserved at the time, rereleasing their material gives them a second chance, and introduces a whole new generation of fans to their material. So it is with Italy’s Sinoath, whose debut album from 1995 is seeing a rerelease on Hessian Firm this month.

‘Research’ displays a remarkable degree of character for a debut album. It connects up the low-key melodic death doom of early Paradise Lost with subtle hints at progressive death metal, all loosely tied together into epic narratives in the classic heavy metal sense of the word. This finds its articulation through creative riffs defined by a strong sense of melody, but also through the rich variety of instrumentation that Sinaoth apply to their craft, with an array of keyboards, acoustic guitars, and clean singing alongside the raspy bark of proto death metal vocalisations.

The mix itself harks back to a time when space was considered a virtue. Sure, the bulk of the song writing is still focused on the attributes of the distorted guitar, but they are kept at bay both in order to articulate the delicate melodic threads of the riffs themselves, and to allow full voice to the acoustic guitar arpeggios that frequently crop up, along with punchy synth strings. In keeping with the understated presentation, crescendos and sudden bursts of energy are granted additional impact through the manipulation of this contrast.

At times the metal instrumentation is relegated to a supporting role as with the track ‘Lucifer’s Shapes’, which sees the keyboards act as the lead instrument, eventually culminating in a piano solo. The bass is perhaps the most overtly “proggy” instrument on here, offering intricate licks and complex intertwining basslines in support of the ponderous drone of the guitars. The musicality is still kept in check however, with each line succumbing to the dictates of the slow, galloping rhythms, and never overstepping their bounds so as to compliment rather than distract from the rest of the music.

All these rich orchestrations and flamboyant melodic leanings are restrained, held back from falling into the trappings of cheese or overly flowery meanderings through a dogged commitment to understatement. Taken in its totality, the album is thoroughly glum. This a common attribute of the earliest forays into gothic metal from the early to mid-1990s. It was a vehicle for reclaiming a classic melodic core to metal in the wake of the extremity arms race. In both linking death metal back to its heavy metal roots, and making use of the rich compositional potential of synths and other avenues of timbre they were able to expand the expressive and emotional range of the music.

That this would eventually culminate in a genre that has become synonymous with cheese should not detract from the fact that this style opened up new potentials within a broadly extreme metal framework. Digging up albums like ‘Research’ is a welcome antidote to the fanfare of much modern metal, a dignified yet playful exploration of melodic death/doom with a healthy dose of gothic flamboyance, kept in check by the rigors of composition.  

Medieval Demon: Arcadian Witchcraft (2020)

For those unfamiliar with this veteran Greek act, close your eyes and imagine what a black metal band called Medieval Demon would sound like, that’s what Medieval Demon sound like. Rather than take the ancient mysticism and dignified heavy metal leanings of Varathron or Rotting Christ, Medieval Demon are more like Greece’s answer to Cradle of Filth, or maybe more accurately Gehenna. Like a decent Hammer Horror film, they are classy and cheesy in equal measure, but so committed to the moment and unconcerned with subtlety that one cannot fault the end result. They are presenting a particular style of melodramatic, gothic infused black metal unapologetically and with ease, if it’s not your tipple then best to give this one a miss.

Their latest album ‘Arcadian Witchcraft’ is a game of two halves. The first is simply applying a new lick of paint to this well-worn style. The other is reconnecting this music with the more cerebral elements of melodic black metal perfected by their fellow Greek’s. The production is pretty polished, with a guitar tone that would be at home on any mainstream metal release. Keyboards – an integral part of the Medieval Demon formula – are generally rich and deep in overall presentation, with only the hammy church organ tone betraying the whimsical side to this unselfconsciously gothic black metal. Vocals are clear yet deep, pivoting on a vampiric narration through the music that is both measured yet able to meet the theatrical demands placed on it by the music.

As mentioned, there is a dual function to ‘Arcadian Witchcraft’. One is simply a reappraisal of gothic black metal. Medieval Demon apply a marked degree of musicality, multi-layered compositions, and undeniable technical ability to this well-worn style, resulting in rich compositions played with conviction that – despite their familiarity – one cannot help but praise. But as the album evolves, they work in increasingly pronounced elements of more straight edge black metal with a strong melodic core. The transition is gradual, so the work in its entirety does not feel disjointed. In one respect it feels like a brief whistle stop tour of European black metal. From the opening stylings of Gehenna or Mortuary Drape, through Dimmu Borgir circa ‘Enthrone Darkness Triumphant’, elements of early Emperor, until we eventually find ourselves in classically Hellenic territory with epic, soaring riffs, keyboards abandoning the organ sounds in favour of elegant strings, and the vocals more than meeting the levity demanded by the moment.

It’s an interesting experience, one that is simply packed with musical nutrition to keep one interested along the way. There’s something compelling about how the layers of playful occult metal are gradually pealed back in favour of sparse tremolo picked riffs and extended blast-beats. Whether this evolutionary structure to the album was intentional or undertaken subconsciously on the part of the musicians is anyone’s guess, but it comes across as too deliberate to be otherwise. It also leaves one revelling in sublime anticipation for what this outfit will do next during what has been one of the more welcome reformations of the last decade or so.

Sporae Autem Yuggoth: The Plague of Aeons (2020)

The debut EP from this Chilean death/doom outfit bears more resemblance to epic and melodic variants than it does the usual caverncore fair we’re used to seeing in this arena. The production is dirgey and demo quality, with drums relegated to a dull clatter in the background, the intricacies of the playing all but lost to the static. The guitars suffer from similar shortcomings, but retain just enough bite to articulate the riff structures and forward motion of the music, at least as far as the slower passages are concerned. Vocals are typical of the genre, offering guttural, uncomical narrations through these surprisingly colourful sonic corridors.

Despite all these surface level shortcomings, a novel brand of melodic death doom does emerge from the fray, one that combines the best from the more commonplace elements of this genre with a pronounced heavy metal influence found in many of the guitar leads and melodic articulations. Riffs generally trade on slow, patiently built layers of droning chords, but the drums keep the pace driving forward either with a presence of double bass or clattering fills that are felt more than observed. Riding on top of this makeshift percussive raft are classic guitar licks that call right back to NWOBHM stylings, only with the bpm shaved down considerably.

This will sometimes collect together into more playful galloping rhythms that call to mind Celtic Frost or Autopsy in their whimsy. All welcome elements that should bring this EP to the attention of a wider metal audience well outside the usual blackened doom metal basement lurkers. But more importantly as far as Sporae Autem Yuggoth are concerned, they display an adept mastery of epic doom metal, providing an instruction manual for how to seamlessly work this format into the brutal setting of slow death metal. The result is music that touches on moods ranging from melancholia to playful and everything in between on this promising debut EP.

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