Thy Darkened Shade: Liber Lvcifer II: Mahapralaya
Out 10th January on W.T.C. Productions
Part ‘Anthems…’ era Emperor, part modernistic dissonance thrills, and part Hellenic quirk, the latest album from Thy Darkened Shade is not lacking for talking points. The album pulses between mid-paced tempos and brief but intense bursts of speed, with the melodic character of the guitars apparently straining every circuit to keep up with these rhythmic dictates whilst fashioning a recognisable tune out of the complex tessellation. And if all else fails, throw in some unreasonable dissonance for flavour.
Given the density of each bar stretched across the album, the production is suitably polished, saving the mix from becoming a swamp of murky reverb and ghostly echoes. The guitars are granted the most clarity, with each complex link riff and refrain placed front and centre with a veil of orchestral subtlety fitting of the high drama setting. Drums are perhaps a little quiet, but given the intensity of the performance this is probably for the best. We are still granted full view of their multi-layered stanzas and undulating, impatient approach to tempo.
Vocals also add a degree of the symphonic to this already theatrical setting. They are reminiscent of Attila in their operatic theological pontifications. Deep distorted tones bleed into earthy clean chants and all manner of dramatic expressions across this release. They lend the tracks a degree of drama and gravitas that goes beyond what is usual for a metallic vocal offering, actually expanding the timbral range of the music and lending the textures an agreeable amount of additional weight.
This ongoing conflict between the tight yet dualistic drum philosophy and the guitars’ unending quest to match or better these dictates makes up the meat of ‘Liber Lvcifer II: Mahapralaya’. At times this reaches a state of apparent rest, on the centrepiece track ‘Sathanastasis’ for instance, which offers a respite by way of its plodding, funereal backbone. But scant exceptions aside, this is an album of longform conflict, with liminal meta-narratives hovering above the chaotic ontological interplay that sits at the heart of this work.
Prima facie, Thy Darkened Shade fit comfortably within the current crop of big budget black metal outfits favouring darkness, intensity, density, and discord over nuanced atmospheres or modest presentation. That being said, they are able to articulate and retain a character and purpose to their riffing and overall approach to arrangements that marks them out in the crowd. Their indulgence in pleasing quirks that – in the wrong context – may well come across as humorous, can here be seen as an immersive and gripping epicism that welcomes the listener into the experience of ‘Liber Lvcifer II: Mahapralaya’ with open arms.
Confined: Eternal Fury of the Disillusioned Ones
Out 3rd January on Vargheist Records
As if Morbid Angel and Morpheus Descends hopped in the teleporter from The Fly, Spain’s Confined offer a bristling, clear, and tight iteration of old school technical death metal, before the genre became neutron star levels of dense and impenetrable. The packaging is modest but crisp, a refreshingly austere presentation that allows us full view of the three dimensional riffcraft without needless distraction.
Whilst we could broadly locate ‘Eternal Fury of the Disillusioned Ones’ within a percussive death metal setting, there are pronounced melodic flourishes along with nods to thrash and even groove metal at times. But overall the compositions are non-linear, throwing out clipped up segments of rhythmic violence to upset the forward momentum of each piece, or else rolling drums and fluid guitar work undulates around a tonal resolution of sorts but never actually grants the listener a sense of relief.
Drums, whilst tinny, are crystal clear and suitably powerful, easily cutting through the mix without stealing the show. Guitars offer a grounded, street level tone free of any weighty reverb or chasmicley dirgey leads. Vocals stick with an old school style of guttural distortion, rhythmic in its emphasis in line with the hardcore origins of this style, again with little in the way of flourishes offered at the mixing desk to enhance the presentation in any way.
But directness of intent should not be confused with reductivism. The riffs are complex, undulating between cluttered interplays of chromatic exchanges, off-kilter cadential flourishes, and more traditional melodic refrains crowbarred into the compositions by way of contextualising material. Solos are thin on the ground, but we are compensated by frequent lead refrains that tend to poke the rhythm guitar, forcing it into uncomfortable and demanding shapes.
Despite the disjointed, organised chaos of these pieces, there is a fluidity to them, discernible to any veteran ear of death metal. They flow by with a pleasing momentum and ease that marks Confined out as experienced masters of the craft.
Out 30th December on Hells Headbangers
Hells Headbangers oblige us with the split we’ve all been waiting for, uniting two stalwarts of death and grind whose name, when combined, has no major significance that I can think of.
Whilst this release may have aroused some good humoured hype, both bands offer but one track, briefly summarising their current – and diverging – intent, the main commonality of which is an unbending commitment to the signature styles that made their name, and continuing to stake a claim on their territory in the face of flocks of youngling imitators.
Blood open with a double whammy of their crushing brand of deathgrind in ‘Manipulator / Preacher of Hatred’. It’s everything we’ve come to expect of modern Blood given their other recent split with Nunslaughter last year, also for Hells Headbangers. Their style has endured so well because ontologically it plays on the same territory as the most direct, linear takes on deathgrind imaginable, but it drip feeds in elements of malevolent quirk and dark humour that simply cannot be imitated. They strike a balance between gallops of hardcore speed thrills, the moist gravitas of cavernous death metal, and the horror infused preoccupations of their own imaginations. All packaged in a technically and sonically simple package, remarkable for the amount of thematic weight it is able to carry within each pounding measure of aural churn.
Incantation are perhaps the more tired sounding of the two here. But given their longevity and the sheer size of the discography sitting behind them, the fact that McEntee and the gang are still able to churn out quality death/doom defined by its own unique thematic signatures is still a pleasure to watch. Especially considering the amount of bands half their age who don’t so much take influence from them as owe them royalties. ‘Quantum Firmament’ follows on from the sound found on ‘Sect of Vile Divinities’ in that the production is softer, more earthbound and immediate, but this affords the listener a peep into the inner workings of the riffs free of distraction. An instructive exercise for scholars of this style if not newcomers who are liable to see Incantation as a tired sideshow rather than the pioneers of this brand of death/doom.
Despite the headline grabbing title of this EP, if nothing else it is a joy and reminder that these two artists remain the more enduring and unique voices in death metal for a reason. Despite their simplicity of approach, they have created their own sound worlds from soil itself over many years, and we are mere guests invited along for the journey.