I like the beats and I like the yelling: Conjureth, Sorgelig, Exsul

Conjureth: Majestic Dissolve
Out 25th October on Memento Mori

Following two impressive but tantalisingly short EPs in ‘Foul Formations’ and ‘The Levitation Manifest’, both released in 2020, San Diego’s Conjureth emerge from the chrysalis fully formed on their debut album ‘Majestic Dissolve’. Both EPs offered new interpretations of old forms by marrying the percussive chromaticism of North American death metal with the dark romanticism of the European tradition. Whilst this could still broadly be described as a very traditional approach, the result is a fully integrated and rewarding experience for listeners that already know their onions when it comes to death metal.

‘Majestic Dissolve’ sees Conjureth drive an even larger wedge in the middle of the Atlantic by choosing to further draw attention to these contrasting approaches to death metal. The choppy staccato riffs are more exaggerated, the rhythmic aggression more pronounced, yet to balance this out there is a profound sense of melodicism – in the early Swedish or Finnish sense of the word as opposed to the later Gothenburg style – which is offered by way of commentary on the raw and primal backbone of these tracks. As a result this album could be summed as “Conjureth: the expanded universe”, every avenue of their dualistic approach hinted at on the brief EPs has been explanded, exploded, a big bang of potential realised in a mature and thought provoking work of continuity death metal.

Everything is exaggerated, from the choppy, disorientating barrage of riffs that call back to early Deicide, to the flowing, tremolo picked segments that expand and reinterpret the ideas of atonality into traditional harmonic music with a pronounced cadential flow a-la early Dismember.

The production is also indicative of an artist finding their feet and stepping out into the world with every confidence in their craft. Where the EPs relied on bass and reverb to fill out the sound and create chasms of atmosphere that filled every available space, ‘Majestic Dissolve’ gives us a more immediate mix. It accentuates the percussive blows that permeate every track, with crash cymbals and any high end to the guitars being brought right into the foreground, thus exaggerating the restless and violent tendencies of this music. The drums remain bass heavy, offering barrages of choppy rhythms and fills that are felt more than heard, constantly challenging the guitars in their use of tempo.

Speaking of guitars, these opt for a tone more on the American side than the “buzzsaw light” sounds offered previously. The distortion is crisp, raw, able to clearly articulate the angular, impatient riffs as they collide their way out the speakers. That being said the production is not lacking in bass, with plenty of kick drum and low end working away at the bottom of the mix. This, along with lead guitar work focused on character and message over showmanship allows Conjureth to flex their atmospheric and melodic muscles alongside the blunt tool of chromatic death metal. The vocals also embody this duality of traditions, with rhythmically solid guttural punches set alongside higher end growling, evoking a conflict betwen the rationality of evil on the one hand, confident in its purpose, which in turn works directly against these uncontrolled outbursts of desperate passion.

All these elements are delivered in a self-contained and largely subtle wrapping. Those only willing to take a cursory glance could be liable to mistake ‘Majestic Dissolve’ as another meat ‘n’ taters death metal offering along with all the other offerings of 2021. But those with an eye for the detail within the various traditions and dual evolutions of death metal will be able to appreciate Conjureth’s understanding and love of this craft, and their ability to work novel ideas into its parameters. Not so much an act of self-limitation as it is a demonstration of new ideas in old formats; a declaration of what can be achieved within death metal if the craft is treated with care and respect.

Sorgelig: Slaves of Tomorrow
Out 5th October on Repose Records

Greek black metallers Sorgelig return in 2021 with the EP ‘Slaves of Tomorrow’. This is another exhilarating foray into hyper fast, hyper melodic black metal that cloaks its minimalism under sheer will, which finds as its outlet bracing speeds and hyper charged emotional energy.

Sorgelig throw a surprisingly small number of riffs at the listener over the course of these three tracks. Drums veer from blast-beats to imaginative but wholly transparent patterns which are utilised as a framing device when the music cuts to half tempo and breathing space is granted. But with these scant tools Sorgelig are able to weave epic narratives into these pieces, evocative of heroism and a pronounced sense of journey.

Vocals ride the swelling waves of the music in fits and starts. They diminish the musical elements that are present in the distorted technique, such as rhythm and dynamics, in favour of a histrionic spoken word style. Outbursts from every end of the register are spat forth in desperation with little regard for the phrasing of the music that accompanies them. But seeing as the music is so tight and purposeful this vocal technique serves to elevate the overall presentation, offering an effective contrast between order and chaos, granting it spontaneity and freewill in an otherwise highly formal setting.

Despite the short length of this EP, the subtle shifts in melodic progression, tempo, and intensity all invoke something larger and beyond the brief duration of these tracks. They warp and manipulate our sense of the passage of time, reaching – as all good black metal does – to a larger sense of duration utterly beyond individual perception. For that reason, despite the fact that these tracks consist of only a handful of riffs apiece, they feel dense and rich with musical information, containing within them an artistic message beyond the sum of their parts.  

Exsul: Allegoresis
Out 22nd October on Caligari records

Arizonian death metallers Exsul return for round two this October with the EP ‘Allegoresis’. This is death metal at its most informal, to the point where I would say aesthetics aside this has more in common with power violence or grindcore in the deliberately random and loose architecture of these tracks. As if barely holding it together, riffs are not so much played as they are fashioned from mud, only to collapse in on themselves lest they become too complex, unable to sustain their shape when formed from such overly malleable material.

Exsul’s intent seems to be one of taking the usual signifiers of death metal of a particularly doomy bent – the down-tuned guitars, the guttural vocals, the thunder of the double bass drums – and appropriating these for the sake of a more avant-garde pursuit. The tracks are not formally structured in the way death metal would normally be, rather they use riffs and basic rhythms as mere suggestion, hints designed to compound on one another with a view to creating a vibe. Said vibe is suffocating and evil for sure, there is an intriguing and almost mesmerising element to Exsul’s execution of this that warrants closer inspection, but as it trades on mood and invocation over formal narrative composition the appeal comes from a very different place to typical death metal.

Ambient death metal doesn’t really exist in the same way as ambient black metal, but ‘Allegoresis’ is a reasonable approximation of how I would imagine this subgenre to sound. The production is warm, heavy, all encompassing, with the low end only ever interrupted for the sake of a screaming guitar note or manic vocal outburst.

This idiosyncratic endeavour was only hinted at on their debut self-titled EP released in 2020. And the fact that Exsul have leaned into their quirkier traits on this latest EP is certainly to the benefit of all. This is still recognisably death metal in the most primitive sense of the term, but there are enough other elements – notes sustained just a little past the dictates of good taste, odd collapses in timing and other deliberate moments of sloppiness, an out of place slide guitar or light jazz breakdown – to make us think Exsul are only interested in death metal as a canvas for more experimental pursuits.

But these odd elements are not crass, overdone, or otherwise obnoxious. There is no wackiness for the sake wackiness. All is kept classically contained within a framework of death metal that would satisfy any traditionalist. In short, it seems that Exsul have nailed their aesthetic, which is undeniably lifted from primitve death/doom, and this in turn allows them to contain a greater number of unexpected avenues and twists within their music whilst maintaining the integrity of the whole. This is a process that is proving to be a pleasing curiosity to witness from one EP to the next. One wonders with baited breath as to where they will take this format on subsequent releases.

One thought on “I like the beats and I like the yelling: Conjureth, Sorgelig, Exsul

  1. Thank you for truly seeing what Conjureth are really capable of instead of lumping them in with the Maggot Stomp/20BS groups. They worked their asses off with these songs, especially Wayne. I felt privileged watching them rehearse all these songs, and I assure you they have PLENTY more crazy ideas waiting to be surfaced.

    Like

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