I like the beats and I like the yelling: Cmpt, Mental Devastation, Atomic Aggressor

Cmpt:  Krv i pepeo
Out 21st December on Osmose Productions

Following on from ‘Mrtvaja’, a debut EP that rivalled many of the lofty full lengths to be released in 2021, comes Cmpt’s debut album ‘Krv i pepeo’ (Blood and Ash). This mysterious Serbian outfit retains its anonymity, and beyond some exposition around this project’s dedication to ancient Balkan mythology they give us very little supplementary information to go on besides the music. Such vagaries are refreshing in today’s overly curated climate however, and given Cmpt’s mastery of black metal as a profound compositional force, we require little else to usher us into the experience of ‘Krv i pepeo’.

The overall presentation, whilst stripped to the bone, remains suitably polished. It warrants comparison to ‘Hvis lyset tar oss’ in that the production is murky and atmospheric, but the guitars and drums retain a sense of clarity that lends an element of theatricality to the proceedings. The guitar tone is thin yet crisp, offering a distinctive lead guitar track that is supported on a foundation of distant harmonic layers, this gives the mix a sense of size and grandeur despite the sparsity of the arrangements.

Drums are equally paradoxical, at once clear and well defined, yet laced in reverb, distant and thin, whilst still dominating the music with purposeful steady pulses. Vocals are a standard black metal rasp, sometimes positioned with intimacy in mind, as if right next to the ear of listener, and other times set back in the mix with cavernous echoes. Keyboards are seasoned sparingly atop this modest dish, bottoming out the music with a sense of unknowable mysticism, used most effectively on the track ‘Memla’.

I’m not one to drop Burzum comparisons lightly, but here the reference really is justified. Cmpt have a similar approach to getting more from less. The atmosphere and aesthetics of this album – whilst expertly placed – are relatively understated. Anything more would be a distraction. The riffs patiently build from the most minimal beginnings – a two note interchange, a gradual ascent – and through the manipulation of well-placed tempo changes, subtle layering or removal of guitar harmonies, and background keyboard effects, Cmpt are able to craft a truly arcane experience.

It’s akin to setting out on a trail in the woods, starting on a familiar path only to gradually encounter the fathomless mysteries of deep time that still lurk within, as mysterious sights, sounds, and smells greet the senses. By placing certain passages with a sense of immediacy, and others distant and faint, Cmpt manipulate our sonic perception of space as well as time, as if we are moving from the musty close quarters of dense foliage into open spaces and foggy planes, the horizon of which cannot be discerned.

It’s through these simple layers, compounding one basic melodic refrain onto another, and working through contrasting iterations of activity and stasis, that allows Cmpt to suck us into the world they are creating on ‘Krv i pepeo’. It’s refreshing to see such an ambitious and fluid approach to black metal presented in such understated and modest fashion. For once we can say with a degree of sincerity that here is an album that carriers forward the drive and ethos of second wave black metal whilst retaining a unique and confident character of its own.

Mental Devastation: The Delusional Mystery of the Self Part I
Out 31st December on Blood Harvest

There was a time in the late 1980s when thrash threatened to undergo a startling metamorphosis from skull bashing noise into highly abstract and conceptual progressive metal. Voivod, Watchtower, Coroner, DBC, even the likes of Metallica and Testament were all pushing at the boundaries of progressive metal whilst retaining the barbs of aggression thrash was known for. Chile’s Mental Devastation clearly reach back to these heady days on their latest LP ‘The Delusional Mystery of the Self Part I’, with dollops of Cynic and Atheist also discernible at times.

What’s perhaps most remarkable about this album given these old hat reference points is just how fresh it sounds. It shouldn’t be too controversial a thing to say, but thrash today is in a sorry state. Aside from a few exceptions – a Demoniac in Chile, or a Sawticide in England – it remains trapped in 1987. Technical or progressive variants that do emerge tend to be sapped of all life and spirit by overpopulated sonic landscapes and pseudo esotericism for the sake of it.

It is perhaps refreshing then that Mental Devastation retain some of the primal energy and rustic charm of traditional thrash, which serves to temper their more technical impulses. In fact, aside from some elaborate fills and meandering transitions, many of the riffs would be at home on a meat ‘n’ taters thrash album. Mental Devastation aren’t interested in bombarding the listener with showmanship, they have stories to unfold across these tracks and prove to be adept narrators.

Solos are a prominent feature across this album. They are put to greater use than mere showmanship however, being worked into the DNA of each track, either heightening or deescalating the tension as required. The vocal style is a half clean, half gruff bark. Given the multi-dimensional relationship to time and key signatures they are forced to navigate they are impressive from a technical perspective, but I’m not sure this style works for progressive thrash metal. I have similar problem with the abrasive falsetto crooning of Watchtower’s Alan Tecchio on ‘Control and Resistance’. The music leaves little room for such a distinctive vocal technique. Maybe a style with more elongated notes or just plane old distortion would be a better fit. That being said, Alejandro Lagos’s aural enthusiasms integrate well enough into the music despite this minor gripe.

This being progressive thrash it should come as no surprise that the rhythm section is key. Given that the fretless bass spends most of its time getting up in the grill of the guitar melodies, supplementing them with ample licks, slides, and accents, the drums take on the sole responsibility of anchoring the music for large portions of these tracks. Sure, the rhythm guitar is a prominent feature, but this is just as likely to join the lead guitar in fleshing out elongated melodic threads as it is to lay down a solid chord progression. But drummer Nicolas Pastene apparently has this covered as he lays down a relentless tirade of imaginative fills, solid back beats, and seamless rhythmic framing devices.

Despite the obvious vintage of Mental Devastation’s influences, ‘The Delusional Mystery of the Self Part I’ comes across as a breath of fresh air in a style that badly needs to hit the reset button. They have retained the raw energy and spontaneity of thrash metal and reinjected the excitement and intrigue of layered and imaginative instrumentation that the genre so badly needs right now.

Atomic Aggressor: Invoking the Primal Chaos
Out 31st December on Hells Headbangers

Atomic Aggressor are a member of the old guard of Chile’s respectable death metal legacy. Having only managed a handful of demos in the late 1980s and early 90s, they returned in 2007, receiving a second wind from Hells Headbangers, who put out ‘Rise of the Ancient Ones’ in 2008, a compilation of their early demos. A full length and a few splits later we arrive at their latest EP, ‘Invoking the Primal Chaos’, which bubbles with all the joyful colour and untroubled bombast we’ve come to expect of Chilean extreme metal over the years.  

This EP injects new life and enthusiasm into old forms, taking the best of classical formulas whilst discarding empty gestures. The closest ancestor appears to be ‘Altars of Madness’, and indeed at one point the opening riff of ‘Summoners Absolution’ comes so close to Morbid Angel’s ‘Suffocation’ that I had to check I wasn’t listening to a cover. But such blatant similarities are thankfully rare across these four tracks, with Atomic Aggressor very much forging their own path within this early iteration of death metal’s forays into ambitious song structures.

The joy of this style is that it retains the thrashing energy of death metal’s roots whilst still advancing the cause of complex compositions. Many of the riffs could have been lifted straight from a hardcore punk album, but amongst the trappings of death metal they take on a new lease of life as they are connected together with intricate minor scale runs, choppy chromaticism, and flamboyant guitar licks. These tracks contain many pockets of creativity, from moments of escalating tension to logically descending guitar riffs mimicking our slow descent into madness, to random screams of guitar noise to supplement the chaos. The packaging may be familiar, but there is real character and thought bubbling up between the cracks on each of these tracks, making ‘Invoking the Primal Chaos’ a cut above the usual OSDM box ticker charades.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: