Beats and yelling from: Nigrum, Devangelic, Deiquisitor

Nigrum: Elevenfold Tail
Out 16th December on Into Endless Chaos Records

Offering a tight iteration of cutting, riff laden black metal, the debut album from Nigrum succeeds in spite of – or rather because of – its notably modest packaging. Sharp interweaving guitar lines flow across these tracks with sophisticated grace, but the presentation is one of immediacy, intimacy even, a garage band working themselves into a frenzy of punk driven black metal of a classically evil shade. But it is no less sophisticated for this DIY ethos, delivering complex rhythmic and melodic interplays unfolding in microcosm and at great speed, producing macro narratives supervening on these atomised particles of biting, ritualistic aggression.

The production on ‘Elevenfold Tail’ is still polished enough to do justice to the dense riff tessellation at play here. The drums are perhaps a little quiet, but the constant reshuffling of patterns and rhythms is easily discernible. And the cavalcade of crash cymbals and flowing rolls does its job in unsettling the musical centre, allowing a constant sense of chaos to pervade without ever fully losing control of the musical direction. Dual guitar lines are thin and tinny, but cut like a knife across the mix, delivering sharp, well defined hooks and melodic licks, stitching together the longform narrative riffs with additional clutter. Vocals are a harsh, distorted bark that would be as at home on any blackened thrash album as they are in the mystical context found on ‘Elevenfold Tail’.

One is reminded of Ultra Silvam for a comparable contemporary artist that employs a similar interplay between microcosms of clutter that nevertheless give rise to supervenient meta qualities that float atop the ground level chaos, articulating lasting statements of melodic and philosophical intent. At times disjointed and angular, as on the track ‘Eleven Feathered Tempest’, but largely galloping past the listener’s ears with traditional melodic techniques that gain their abrasive qualities from their sheer density and speed.

Nigrum use a superficial grounded immediacy as a trojan horse, deployed to smuggle in a sophisticated and many layered identity as broad as it is single minded. ‘Elevenfold Tail’ achieves that rare thing within explicitly riff based black metal (over atmospheric), a plethora of raw material thrown at the listener, but this apparent chaos is only skin deep, beneath the surface it is marshalled into a remarkably focused, premeditated, fully bureaucratised system, delivering its message of bacchanalian revelry in exactly the manner in which the artist intends. 

Devangelic: Xul
Out 7th April on Willowtip Records

Theory and practice, technique vs. artistry, aesthetic vs. content, whilst these may be useful theoretical frameworks on which to overlay our analyses, they often devolve into unhelpful binaries if they become the centre of our focus. Take learning to drive a car. It is essential to know the workings of the vehicle and how to control it, along with the rules of the road. But from these dry rudiments grows the praxis that is driving, one could even call it artistry. One springs from the other. Music without theory, whilst sometimes producing results with artistic resonance, often does so via fluke rather than by virtue of ignoring the theory.

‘Xul’ is a fine example of matured artistry flowing from an intimate knowledge of the theory. Within the first few measures of this album Devangelic display their technical mastery over their instruments, directing it towards tight, dense, mechanistic brutal death metal with ease. They have learnt to “drive the car” to the extent that each action is simply a case of muscle memory. The raw techniques are ensconced in a section of the brain that no longer requires conscious thought. This creates space to focus on mastery, or in the case of ‘Xul’: artistry.

From here Devangelic effortlessly evolve their music from an entity admirable for its precision and complexity into something that begins to look like art. Riffs link in unpredictable yet intuitive ways, ways unavailable to less accomplished musicians. Soaring and characterful melodic leads fill the gaping holes left by unbending atonality and chromatic interplay that makes up the bulk of these tracks.

Drums weave their way around the guitars in percussive bursts at once combative yet supportive of their stringed counterparts. At times they provide a rock solid back-beat anchor, at other times they work in a seemingly unending fill of choppy, directionally uncertain energy, unsettling the flow of the riffs, forcing them into new and awkward shapes, before pulling the whole back to a place of rest and unity.

I suppose the closet analogy one may wish to draw for Devangelic is Nile, for unifying fluid technicality with ancient mythology, working both into a grand statement of high drama. The Sumerian thematic material works as an underlayer to this musical ontology, a motivating force directing these raw materials to their end goal. The choppy riff salads are gradually coalesced into dramatic finales where each unpicked refrain and theme of the track is worked to a place of unity, of glorious resolution. Biting melodic fragments soar above the cacophony, contextualising chaos and providing scant moments of catharsis in an otherwise senselessly brutal environment.

Deiquisitor: Apotheosis
Out 20th January on Extremely Rotten Productions/Night Shroud Records

The fittingly titled latest album from Denmark’s Deiquisitor is a pleasing exploration of the more obscurantist corners of old school navel gazing, with elements of early Agathocles sitting happily alongside more sophisticated death metal reference points such as Crucifixion and early Gorguts. But, as I have pointed out many times, in regards to explicitly old school orientated acts there’s a difference between imitation and scholarship. Deiquisitor definitely fit into the latter category.

‘Apotheosis’ is a work of death metal as mature and subtle as it is dirt ridden and primal. The production is murky, the guitar tone is oddly supressed, which, when combined with the down tuning, takes on an almost ghostly presence across these tracks. Unsettling atmospheric qualities are offered free of charge alongside a tone capable of articulating the multi-faceted riff philosophy. Drums are sharp yet unpolished, working in choppy percussive punches via aggressive blast-beats alongside a swirl of off kilter fills, bolstering the veil of utter disorientation stretched across this album. Vocals are a distant yet aggressive monstrosity lurking in the liminal crevices behind the foregrounded chaos. 

Ultimately, ‘Apotheosis’ is an example of the perfect interplay between the rudiments of creative riffcraft and the idiosyncratic atmospheric elements that can supervene on this if the guitar tone is developed in alignment with this musical philosophy. The staccato bluntness framing many of these passages is juxtaposed against the more fluid and unfocused droning inertia of sustained chords, invoking images of organic matter squeezed through a world of dry, urbanistic concrete and skeletal metal frameworks. For all its aspirations to mysticism, this is ultimately a sound world evocative of human oppression within our inorganic environment, and the odd mutations our physical and mental selves adopt in order to navigate this immovable, angular, claustrophobic means of habitation.   

The stop/start pulses, the ringing tritones smashed against droning atonality, the references to older thrash and punk influences via choppy power chord displays, all are directed in new and novel shapes that are utterly distinct from formative musical styles that adopted similar techniques. This is ultimately what made death metal so special initially, not the blunt fact of its extremity. For that reason ‘Apotheosis’ is a far worthier contender for adopting and developing the legacy of those older artists that pushed at these boundaries. This is both a continuation of and an evolution upon the qualities of truly atmospheric, idiosyncratic death metal that nevertheless trades on a pronounced riff philosophy to achieve these ends.

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