Beats and yelling from: Apokatastasis, Thaumaturgy, Ouija

Apokatastasis: The Consecratory Secretion
Out 20th January on Hessian Firm

Daring genre alchemy encased in a remarkably fleshed out aesthetic and thematic package defines ‘The Consecratory Secretion’. This artist is able to leverage elements of symphonic black metal, old school death metal, and riffs bordering on slam (of all things), Frank Mullen-esque staccato vocal hits and all. But Apokatastasis can get away with these unexpected marriages precisely because the overarching artistic character binding these elements together is so well defined, ensuring that these prima facie contradictory elements mesh and collide in ways both ordered and conflict driven.

Brutal death metal functions as the reluctant midwife for this compellingly dark and violent iteration of extreme metal. But unlike many abortive attempts at such ambitious cross pollination, ‘The Consecratory Secretion’ is defined by a fluidity situated not at the level of the transitions themselves – many of which are jarring and off kilter – but rather in the overarching artistic character of Apokatastasis.

The dark melodic grandeur of black metal finds a welcome mechanistic grounding in the choppy punches of brutal death metal as they arrest the tempo into uneasy grooves and aggressive power chord punches. Equally, the primal core of violence, identifiable at both the textural and rhythmic tiers, is worked up into a frenzy of occultist intoxication by some well placed symphonics and melodic riffing, the smooth phrasing of which works as the perfect contrast to the stilted delivery of percussive death metal.

The production is curated to accommodate the competing impulses sitting behind ‘The Consecratory Secretion’, from the machine like precision, the uncontrolled primitivism, to the violent mysticism. Drums are a little low in the mix, but they offer a performance crisp and clear enough to cut through the thick fudge dominating the foreground of the mix. The guitar tone is sharp yet bubbling with surplus energy. Articulate enough to capitalise on the blunt percussive interchanges. But it also delivers a panorama of flowing, theatrical black metal defined by romantic darkness, a melodic intent bent toward expressions of power and frenzy as opposed to anything remotely cathartic. All is tense, fraught, strained.

Ultimately this album is able to manipulate this clutch of apparently contradictory genre philosophies into working together toward the same end precisely because of Apokatastasis’ strength of character. If the identity is mature and totally at ease with itself, it will come to the surface no matter the raw materials being worked with. The underlying mechanics of ‘The Consecratory Secretion’ are really quite jarring if one focuses on them at the expense of all else. But layered atop this is a work that is so well thought through, and so aligned with the traditions of dark, melodic black metal that it feels at once familiar yet utterly novel.

Thaumaturgy: Tenebrous Oblations
Out 20th January on Adirondack Black Mass

Injecting the bloated subgenre of chasmic blackened death/doom with some much needed cohesion, the debut album from this solo outfit provides an interesting balance of stilted rumination juxtaposed against schizophrenic riff organisations. The presentation is all too familiar for anyone even peripherally aware of current trends within extreme metal. The Ruins of Beverast influence looms large, with giant guitar tones, warlike tremolo riffs underpinned by tight mid-paced blast beats, massive reverb drenched guttural vocals, and supressed drums offering pulses of latent urgency punctuated by choppy breakdowns.

But unlike many of their contemporaries, Thaumaturgy have not only brought some riffs with them, but have taken the time to arrange these in some engaging and teleological structures. Structures that allow the listener to locate themselves within the dramatic narrative arc of these pieces, that bring a scene of tension, rest, thematic introduction and resolution, and some unexpected tangents along the way.

The point is easy to miss, because aesthetically ‘Tenebrous Oblations’ slides easily into the increasingly nebulous trend of dark, cavernous death/doom seeking to deliver the final nihilistic vision of black metal apocalypticism. But this album side steps the arms race somewhat. A more route one approach to production and presentation allows Thaumaturgy to focus more on riff interplay, circling through themes with a degree of menacing deliberation. Tense death/doom coalesces into moments where the music threatens to collapse into formless noise, only to be pulled back into solidity offered by galloping blast beats, providing a framework for repetitive melodic fragments to gain currency, driving the music forward into nightmarishly ritualistic trances of ruminant metal.

The aesthetic is positioned as a mere means to enhance this interplay of themes as the central concern of the project. It is perhaps ironic that although Thaumaturgy offer less in the way of aesthetic flourishes – be that enhancements at the mixing desk, ancillary symphonics, laboured samples – there is actually far more to uncover about this work if one focuses on the interplay of riffs. Far from being the most complex or layered, the appeal of the compositions flows from their ability to jump from elegant fluidity to jagged conflict with ease, and to leverage these competing impulses into a work that is both tense and engaging whilst offering pockets of meditative, ritualistic metal that take one out of domestic experience and into the glum aether.

Ouija: Fathomless Hysteria
Out 26th December on Negra Nit Distro

Spain’s Ouija return for another outing of bracing yet warm black metal. Not ones to get ahead of themselves, ‘Fathomless Hysteria’ is album number three for this outfit since their inception in 1997. The package of riff laden black metal straddling moods from heroic to mournful to triumphant remains intact since their last EP ‘Selenophile Impia’ released in 2021. But here we see the vision expanded, as each element of their style is granted a moment under the microscope, its many subtleties and nuances drawn out for extended study.

From the raw energy of the first couple of tracks that blaze by in dense, fast paced waves of clean and crisp black metal imbued with a sense of desperate yearning thanks to some well placed and pronounced ascending chord clusters. To the regal melodic doom of the album’s centrepiece number ‘I See You Without Eyes’, that etches out a mature and surprisingly engaging narrative pacing despite its highly traditionalist orientation. Then to the slightly darker closing numbers that redeliver lengthy passages of bracing speed and melodic riffing, but with a greater degree of darkness and despondency underpinning what is otherwise oddly life affirming music at times.

The production is crisp and polished, more in line with the brightness of heavy metal than the latent violence of black metal. This befits the cinematic direction Ouija take toward these compositions. The framework of guitar, bass, drums, and nil keyboards may be straightforward, but they conspire to achieve a panoramic experience of linear story telling.

This makes ‘Fathomless Hysteria’ a fine example of how to anchor black metal’s embedded etherealism into a grounded realism and energy articulated via the gruff vocals, the tight drum work, and well placed atonality in the riff department. The music is epic and cathartic, but it never strays into gauche sentimentalism thanks to the forensic precision of the rhythm section, which guides the riffs’ more spiritual aspirations toward teleological compositional frameworks that supervene on the markedly route one musical ontology.

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