I like the beats and I like the yelling: Drawn and Quartered, Hnagash, Marras

Drawn and Quartered: Congregation Pestilence
Out 2nd July on Krucyator Productions

Seattle based death metal veterans Drawn and Quartered return with another taut punch of drab chaos. I’ve always likened these guys to an Incantation if they were stripped of all doom elements. The meditated discordant riffs, the angular shifts in tempo, the undercurrents of dissonance, all are rendered with a commitment to relatively straightforward composition despite their implied complexity. Many of the traits of technical death metal are there, but Drawn and Quartered insist on keeping the package relatively straightforward and uncluttered. There is an undulating sense of motion to their style that speaks of ordered chaos unfolding in real time unlike more frantic iterations of death metal which swamp the listener with information overload.

Drawn and Quartered are not afraid of a blast-beat or thrash tempo, but the overall presentation is framed by riffs defined by their patient deliberation and conscious placement within each track. Even during the faster passages the riffs are easier to follow, simple but not simplistic in their developments and transformations.

The production holds few surprises. This is a slick, polished mix of chunky guitars not lacking in edge, especially considering the frequent appearance of high-end harmonies or screeching leads that adorn the entirety of ‘Congregation Pestilence’. The prominence of these understated guitar leads also gives the album an atmospheric quality, a tone of mourning by way of commentary on the dirty chaos below. Drums offer a tight, patient, varied rhythmic framing for these pieces. During the slower passages the patterns are complex and dense, with double bass drums and crash cymbals defining many of the breakdowns in their twists and turns. Vocals are the traditional guttural style. Although offering not much beyond the typical for death metal, they add a welcome atmospheric texture that falls into a call and response relationship with those minimal lead guitars, a neat pocket of contrast within a densely packed musical space.

Drawn and Quartered build these tracks from one central riff which is then driven through several variations of tempo, additional dissonance, soaring lead guitars, and shifts in pitch. Development riffs are rarely introduced. Whilst completely typical for death metal, this approach allows them to dress the dirt simple as complex, repetition poses as evolution. It looks like technical metal, but compositionally speaking this music could not be simpler. It is within the arrangements themselves that complexity is to be found, with drums and layered guitars crafting new and novel musical artefacts upon a fixed central motif. This is indicative of an older artist, completely comfortable in their chosen field, maintaining their identity whilst simultaneously showing no signs of growing stale or contrived. ‘Congregation Pestilence’ is an impressive act of unapologetic self-preservation.

Hnagash: Ritual Over the Grave
Out 2nd July on Personal Records

There’s something about this brand of death/doom that just screams Hammer Horror. The classic kitsch evil of tritones, ghoulish vocals, understated guitar tones and frilly melodies that invoke feelings of faux baroque harpsichord laments. It’s all there on Hnagash’s debut album ‘Ritual Over the Grave’ released back in 2020, but now seeing a re-issue on Personal Records. Hailing from Chile, but invoking comparisons to Thou Shalt Suffer, this is doomy death metal with an overtly evil aesthetic that calls back to the early days of the genre, when heavy metal was still the chief influence alongside horror tropes. This was before the boisterous machismo of thrash had truly taken hold of the imagination of death metal and before black metal had become an exercise in speed thrills.

Hailing from Chile, which is something of a hotspot for many stripes of metal at present, they embody this nation’s knack for authenticity and an understanding of nuance within extreme metal’s many hidden corridors. The guitar tone is warm and light on the distortion, invoking an undeniable retro occultist vibe. This also allows plenty of space for the bass to ring through, adding a layer of earthy warmth and rhythmic solidity to an otherwise loose attitude to precision. Vocals are a mid-ranged rasp of monstrous growls and demonic ejaculations. Their understated style evokes a sense of formal ritual and ceremony in contrast to the uncontrolled histrionics of other branches of extreme metal.

Drums are somewhat synthetic, perhaps the only elements of the mix that was not treated to the warm, deliberately analogue aesthetic. Although certainly not triggered or digitally enhanced in any obvious way, they sound tinny and practice studio quality despite the elegantly direct performance. That being said, this assessment only extends to the snare and cymbals, with the bass drum and toms cutting through the mix with a decent, low-end throb.

In knitting these tracks together from older pre-‘Reign in Blood’ melodic traditions, Hnagash work together riffs constructed from simple minor key scale runs which are used to link together passage of droning, tritone based doomy chord progressions. Lead guitars are deployed to decorate this foundation with licks and refrains that seek to heighten tension, forcing the music into a place where resolution becomes a distant memory.

Hnagash keep things slow, but are not afraid to mix up the tempos when deploying link passages and development sections. Sometimes this is simply done via the double bass drums, other times the rhythm guitars join in this endeavour by offering lackadaisical low-end chugging. Despite referencing these much older traditions which some would consider almost cheesy given the 70s horror vibe that the music is soaked in, the combination of flawless execution and straight edged delivery elevates ‘Ritual Over the Grave’ into something worthy of notice.

It should also be noted that this album – which is already short – features only four metal tracks. These are book ended by a compellingly minimal woodwind intro and the epic closer ‘Eternal Wandering’, a trancelike doom jam that eventually meanders into the closing dark ambient track ‘Into the Adimensional Dark Abyss’. So slick is the presentation, and confident the execution, that we don’t even notice the storm samples as the tired cliché that they are given that they fit so well into the backdrop of this album. A neat piece of retro occultism to come out of Chile, which is fast becoming the new home of extreme metal.

Marras: Endtime Sermon
Out 9th July on Spread Evil

The modern turn within black metal has seen it mesh with other music and expand its boundaries beyond recognition. The rhetoric deployed to curate the impulse driving us toward the next big leap in black metal (whatever it may be) is dressed up to be so pragmatic and reasonable that detractors are easily painted as dogmatic, narrow minded traditionalists. But here’s the dirty little secret. The modern wave of post/folk/atmospheric/progressive/psychedelic/or any other prefix black metal is lamentable for the simple fact that it’s boring.

It beggars belief that one could take the most dramatic, vibrant, engaging, over the top form of metal and turn it into something bland, understated, serene, boring. Even the grating avant-gardist turn within black metal so often leads down a path of utter tedium so far removed from the heady promises of these artists and their champions. Where’s the theatre? Where’s the unapologetic arrogance and swaggering soundscapes of hammy melodrama? Or to put it another way: where’s the joy?

This is one but one trend I’ve noted over the last decade or so, and exceptions abound of course. But Marras of Finland caught my ear with their latest release ‘Endtime Sermon’, which might not be the most original or engaging release in terms of pure musical elements. But the presentation is strikingly intense, delivered with a totally unselfconscious passion and carefree joy in its craft that it immediately stands out as a work of authenticity. Despite the cliched melodrama of these pieces, the traditionally evil or epic undertone to many of the riffs, the strained and dense vocalizations, despite all this, ‘Endtime Sermon’ is a work of honest joy and childlike excitement in the face of the potentials of power found within the unique branch of sonic expression that is black metal

The energy and chaotic momentum of the tremolo picked riffs and their dense delivery is reminiscent of Marduk’s ‘Opus Nocturne’, although Marras cover their guitars with far more reverb, creating an atmospheric inertia that grants this album its own aesthetic, the frantic and quickfire pacing of these riffs warrants comparison all the same. Drums are equally choppy. Although breaking from blast-beats for all but brief moments, each run is punctuated by frequent fills and the near constant presence of crash cymbals, as if compelled to make each moment more intense than the last.

Because all the metal instrumentation is pretty much working in overdrive for the lion’s share of this album, there is very little space within the mix for keyboards. But they have been modestly applied in places to enhance the atmospheric qualities of the guitars with gentle strings, and even hamming it up in places with pleasingly cheesy organ tones. There are plenty of keyboard interludes and intros to break up the full throttle black metal passages. These again take on a tragic gothic aesthetic that walks the line between high drama and full on carnival without ever falling off the sincerity wagon. Even during the slower passages – the sombre, funereal march that opens ‘From the Soot of Goahti’ for example – Marras keep the momentum going with a dynamic approach to riffcraft and no laboured repetition of the same idea.

Indeed, this is black metal’s promise of heightened drama, an emotive philosophy uncomfortable to modern ears but at home in a Greek tragedy or Romantic poem. The expressive outlet that this form of black offers for a higher level of unbridled despair and euphoria in the face of existence finds few rivals within contemporary music. It is not the raw components of ‘Endtime Sermon’ – which are fairly typical of traditional black metal – that grab the ear, it is their execution and delivery in such a way as to remind us why black metal has grabbed the imaginations of so many over the years. We do not mourn the dilution of black metal with other forms of music nor the impetus to mutate and crossbreed the rudiments of technique in a quest for musical progression. But we do mourn the fact that these well meaning motivations so often kill the raw heart of this intense form of artistic expression, and in doing so bring us back down to the mundane, the commonplace, the vulgar. ‘Endtime Sermon’ says no to this project, and reasserts the true power that black metal can hold for us if harnessed and deployed with innocence and joy.

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