The new single from the Polish outfit known as Cisza sees another tight blend of energetic black metal set against a subtle backdrop of post rock. ‘Ritual of the Wind’ carries forward the best elements of their debut EP ‘If It Is True What the Prophets Write’ (2017) and works in a sharper “Cisza” character of their own alongside the rich brew of influences. The central motif of the track is defined by a cathartic melodic core a-la Winterfylleth, one that is driven through both a slow, brooding passage, and the usual tremolo/blast-beat fair. Again, the resolution to this is a long time in coming. Cisza are proving to be adept at extending out these tremolo picked passages whilst sustaining the tension well past the listener’s expectations.
The track, although not long, also carries a sense of journey within it, opening with a frantic, almost schizophrenic chromatic lick that abruptly gives way to soaring chord progressions. By the end all this ambiguity is jettisoned in favour of a solid tonal centre, and the guitars practically fly away into the distance, reaching for the sky having emerged from the earth. ‘Ritual of the Wind’ is hopefully a tantalising glimpse of what awaits us on a debut LP from Cisza, keep your ear to the ground.
The debut album from this Dutch doomster has seen a CD release on Chaos Records this year. This is the work of one Maurice de Jong, who seems to have more projects on the go than you’ve had hot dinners. On The Sombre’s ‘Into the Beckoning Wilderness’ however we are presented with graceful melodic doom metal that sees a resurrection of mid 1990s My Dying Bride, with an emphasis on containing those rich melodies within a broadly death metal framework as opposed to the marked goth leanings of their Yorkshire forebears.
Read one way, the album is a far more focused iteration of the sound that Ahab keep reaching for but can never quite attain. The balance of melancholia found in the guitar leads against the monstrous throb of Jong’s guttural death metal vocals works very much in The Sombre’s favour. The former sounds almost hopeful, whilst the latter represents the ultimate absurdity of expectation. It is melodic without wandering into the cheesy territory of the recent wave of Candlemass followers, but also manages to be depressive without boring us to tears. This restraint does lead to some limitations to the extent of the album’s emotional range, but more on that later.
The dual intent is made clear from the outset, as mournful violins greet the ear and gradually give way to guitars matching their pitch and phrasing, the tone of the latter seemingly designed to mimic the violins, thus easing us through the transition as the metal music eventually grabs hold of events. The production reflects this balancing act between hope and strife, which finds its articulation through the mix of traditions within doom metal. The drums are echoey but warm, offering an understated but consistent performance that is both heavy yet reassuringly cosey.
The guitar tone is clear and polished, acknowledging the emphasis on intertwining dual lead guitars that make up the key focus of these compositions. Heavy, low-end power chords do form the basis for most of these arrangements, but their function seems to be focused towards providing texture and depth to the mix over substantive musical nuances. As mentioned, the vocals are an earthy, low-end death growl, operating chiefly as an atmospheric signifier despite the articulation still apparent within the voice. Clean vocals do make an appearance at certain points, but function more like a melodramatic poetry reading than fully fleshed out singing.
Given this focus on elegant, ponderous lead guitars, frequently accompanied by violins and gentle keyboard lines, at times ‘Into the Beckoning Wilderness’ comes across as a slower version of medievalist black metal championed by the likes of Obsequiae. Although there’s more separating the two artists than mere tempo, there is a similar approach to translating these interweaving, bouncy folk melodies usually reserved for acoustic instrumentation onto a distorted guitar format, and a similar melodic philosophy; the invocation of depression entangled with the hope and endurance of the human spirit.
Unsurprisingly however, both artists suffer from a similar shortcoming in their inability to move the music forward beyond this. The initial sound is rich and engaging, but The Sombre lack the chops of peak My Dying Bride to give their framework the longevity required to justify a full-length album. Such a distinctive aesthetic – one that never lets the listener lose sight of the overall vibe of the album – means that some of the musical developments get lost in what is essentially well-ordered monotony. But not to end on a criticism, which is a small one given ‘Into the Beckoning Wilderness’s many virtues, it is enough to say that The Sombre are doing far more interesting and characterful things with doom metal than many of their contemporaries.
The key to peak Beherit on ‘Drawing Down the Moon’ was atmosphere. The actual musical components were about as basic as they come, consisting of a concoction of Bathory and Hellhammer riff stylings, with only the most rudimentary harmonic commentary placed on top of this barebones skeleton. What made the album so special was the way in which these garden variety riffs were not only redrafted into the otherworldly atmosphere of the album – one crafted from vocals as much as guitar tone and synth accompaniments – but also how the riffs were mutated and warped by the sheer power of this aesthetic. The fundamentals of the compositions were much the same as any early black metal, but in the uncanny realm of ‘Drawing Down the Moon’ they stared back at us with alien eyes.
Why am I talking about Beherit in a review of the debut EP by the Greek entity known as…Bestial Entity? Well, much of the above incidentally applies to ‘Treason of the Dead’. There are many followers of ‘Drawing Down the Moon’, but the problem with the vast majority of them is just that; they are followers attempting to exactly recapture what was essentially a onetime offer, lightning in a bottle. Bestial Entity on the other hand – and as much as can be expected on a ten-minute EP – have begun to construct their own world of the uncanny. We can draw comparisons to Beherit, or indeed early Impaled Nazarene for that matter, but such a link will only get us so far as a descriptor.
Bestial Entity’s approach to riffing couldn’t be simpler. Set to a straightforward rhythmic core of consistently pounding drums, basic atonal barrages with some shells of harmonic guitar leads to lift the music out of this mire. The vocals are a concoction that hits the ear from every angle. A guttural narration provides the chief voice throughout, but they are frequently echoed by ghoulish outbursts bouncing off the walls of the mix and approaching the ear from unexpected directions. This meeting of filthy guitar tones, barely attempting to rise above the swamp from which they emanate, alongside the layered vocal attack subsuming truly unique atmospheric qualities as they unravel, this is what makes this EP succeed where others fail.
There are obvious parallels not just with the aforementioned Finns, but also with US occult BM in the form of Demoncy or even Pronantica in places. But Bestial Entity are simply revelling in their own world. This also marks it out against the ocean of old school BM releases that come out each year, that make an explicit point of aping a particular style or band. ‘Treason of the Dead’ by contrast – despite working with much the same tools – sees Bestial Entity already finding their own voice in this over saturated field, a feat made all the more impressive given that they have done so in under ten minutes worth of material.
Sometimes the quietly modest will win the day over those with vaulting but wholly unrealisable ambitions. The debut LP from the Cambridgeshire quartet known as Celestial Sanctuary can easily be thrown in with the new wave of old school death metal(?) whose grip on the metal community doesn’t seem to be loosening any time soon. All the trimmings are present on ‘Soul Diminished’; the rich, earthy guitar tone that exists just to spite the digital precision of early millennial metal, the vocals which – despite being fairly high pitched – are covered in cavernous reverb, the crisp and clear drums with a warm organic sheen kept at bay for the sake of performative integrity.
So far, so on-trend. But there’s a sense in which Celestial Sanctuary – in doctoring their surface level aesthetic to sound exactly like every other OSDM fan-band on the scene right now – made some deceptively good choices along the way. The reach of this album may be modest, but the resulting work is a tight, focused, and altogether unified piece of artistry. This automatically makes ‘Soul Diminished’ a more satisfying listen than more overly ambitious artistry that ultimately falls short of its lofty goals. We are free to sit back and follow the underlying strings connecting each riff together, as each constituent part unfolds in a manner that is both playful and aggressive in equal measure.
All the usual voices can be heard in the Celestial Sancutary blend: Incantation, Autopsy, even some hints of Suffocation style slamming here and there. But they are worked into a cohesive unit on each track thanks in part to the strong character of the production, but also the regular reiteration of themes that can be felt and understood through several developments of tempo and playing technique. It’s not the most exciting thing to listen to for a seasoned death metal fan, but it’s always worth noting when a release in the OSDM style crops up that has a degree of focus and clarity of purpose behind each track that allows it to hang together based on its own internal logic as opposed to an obstructive hodgepodge.
One final thing to note that completely passed me by on first listen is how stingy Celestial Sanctuary are with solos. I say “stingy” like they owe me some fretboard murder. The observation is more to further emphasise how much this band can do with less. You honestly do not notice their absence until some screeching guitar leads jump out on the track ‘Suffer Your Sentience’, but even then it’s only for a couple of bars. This is another indication of the less-is-more philosophy at work here. ‘Suffer Your Sentience’ is a slow, Asphyxian marching number, the guitar leads are used to elevate the intensity for a brief moment over what is a fairly rudimentary but deliberate collection of death/doom riffs, but nothing is overdone either way. And that seems to be the underlying philosophy at play on this work as a whole, an efficient, hardworking album with few bells and whistles but reliable results all the same.