Beats and yelling from: Sodality, Sawticide, Carathis

Sodality: Benediction, Part I
Out 20th January on Norma Evangelium Diaboli

From Polish black metal pedigree Cult des Ghoules comes an aching rumination on laboured riff incrementalism, populated with an almost abrasively single minded fixation on operatically occultist theatre. ‘Benediction, Part I’ is the second album from Sodality, which sees rich yet raw black metal swirl in a miasma of slow tempos, gradualist melodic development, and cyclical rhythmic shapes that lend the music a sense of futile eternal return at the macro level.

The production is bitingly sour, cuttingly aggressive in the finest traditions of occultist black metal, yet immersive, a nuance that slowly reveals its hidden depths beneath the thin guitar lines, raw drum work, and histrionic vocal delivery. The guitar tone itself is rough but not self-limiting. It is sharp enough to lend jagged edges to the high end chromatic punches, yet it is not without body, fleshing out the mix with low drones and powerful gut punching chords.

Equally, the drums would be at home on a DIY stoner doom album, offering an unpretentious sound that nevertheless packs a punch when it comes to the toms and kick-drum. Gorecki’s vocals are a law unto themselves. Barely acknowledging the rhythmic dictates of the music itself, they jolt in fits and starts of energy, offering howls of intoxicated revelry, operatically ritualistic chants, and animalistic screeches that follow their own logic, one dictated by the necessities of publicly working through a spiritual discordance.

What makes Sodality’s interpretation of dark, occultist, ritualistic black metal stand out is how it is able to appear at once focused and single minded yet almost totally out of control. For the most part these tracks crawl by in yearningly slow funereal processions, with guitars circling around the same themes and refrains with a fixity bordering on insanity. But with each new repetition, elements of disorder are introduced, either by way of an unpredictable drum fill, a maniacal vocal outburst, or random attacks of guitar noise, dissonance, an unannounced droning pause.

Odd discordant tangents, outrageous displays of chromaticism collided against more direct bursts of black metal riffing, all may be fairly typical across the scenery of contemporary extreme metal. But Sodality seem intent on resolving these nodes of conflict in the clunkiest, slowest, musically most painful way imaginable. Like witnessing acts of violence carried out in the clumsiest, most unforensic yet oddly premeditated way imaginable. This is improvised, disjointed, unfocused sonic torture that can be relied upon for nothing besides delivering torments in the most drawn out manner available.

Sawticide: Man Made Horrors Beyond Comprehension
Out 28th January, self-released

Thrash metal younglings Sawticide from that London take an unexpectedly primitive twist for their latest EP ‘Man Made Horrors Beyond Comprehension’. Their debut ‘The 11th Plague’ released in 2020 was a polished, clean, yet no less ferocious delivery mechanism for subtly progressive thrash. Whereas here they cover themselves in grime and present us with a raw gut punch of old school thrash riffs from the very germinal of the genre.

The playing is no less precise, the execution no less deliberate. But the bright, sharp tones of the previous EP have been swept away for the sake of emulating Slayer at the height of their powers circa 1985-1988. Violently jagged power chord riffs chug by with single minded aggression, lurching from powerful mid-paced grooves to galloping mechanicalism, circling around the same limited set of themes with admirable persistence.

Drum work is again a worthy successor to Slayer. The cold precision of Lomdardo-esque fills lives on in the energetic rhythmic interchanges at play across this EP. They work to upset the momentum of the guitars, forcing them into rigid staccato bolts of energy before dragging them into chaos and speed, throwing out clustered chunks of information, requiring of the listener that they insert themselves into these restrictive spaces in order to keep up with the relentless pace of the music. Vocals are more befitting of early death metal, emulating Chuck Schuldiner’s aggressive rasp that nevertheless allows full articulation of the lyrics (we are fittingly treated to a cover of ‘Zombie Ritual’ to close the EP).

This short but muscular EP reintroduces thrash to its punk roots without sacrificing an ounce of precision musicianship in the process. Often considered an underdog genre in today’s cluttered field, a redundant pre-death metal stepping stone, consigned to the empty novelties of pizza thrash or the retro futurism of Voivod. ‘Man Made Horrors Beyond Comprehension’ realigns this outlook, playing to the strengths of the genre at its purest. The violence, speed, and aggression are tempered into strictly ordered sonic forms, rigid in their structure, yet pregnant with motion and possibility.

Carathis: Amethyst & Moonstone
Out 3rd February on Personal Records

Bringing together the EPs ‘The Amethyst Fortress’ (2021) and ‘The Moonstone Temple’ (2023), this de-facto debut from Carathis sees a consolidation of hi-NRG medievalist melodic black metal brought closer to the euphoria of power metal or even the folk punk of Dropkick Murphys. The packaging retains a raw bight that allows those concerned with their realist credentials to buy into this sound without losing face. But one cannot deny that the degree to which Carathis blast out jaunty arpeggiated sequences, colourful licks, pop hooks, and bouncy pop punk beats brings them closer in line with various strains of theme park metal than anything remotely sophisticated.

Tracks pivot on fast paced linear rhythms, notable for their dance folk shapes and foot stomping consistency. This allows the guitars a clear and uncluttered path to articulate anthemic riffs that lurch from the pomp and ceremony of fantastical heavy metal to melodic punk with ease. Basic, crowd pleasing, uncomplicated and free of danger. High end synths are deployed as a stand in for lead guitars in the form of choppy, staccato string tones. Whilst the execution is engaging, the ultimate form they take is risk averse lyrical lead material, navigating these pieces via predictable harmonic road maps, acting as passengers rather than disruptors.

The descent only steepens as this compilation moves from the ‘The Amethyst Fortress’ EP to ‘The Moonstone Temple’. The production is cleaned up, but this counterintuitively blunts the nuance of the mix. Any latent intrigue and jeopardy left in the package is squeezed out by the homogenisation of the overly polished mix, leaving us to inhabit an environment so heavily curated and controlled that the effect is almost clinical. Any hint at neoclassicism, interchanges of folkways, or sophisticated administration of music history through the nexus of melodic black metal is completely drained for the sake of vulgar and disposable melodic hooks and dance pop rhythms. This comes to a head on ‘The Procession’, which sees Carathis give up and begin churning out Nightwish cast-off riffs through the lens of the Vengaboys.

Ultimately one is forced – although hardly pleased – to come down on this collection so hard due to the broader revulsion one feels toward this music rather than a forensic critique of each component. It treats itself as disposable, obliging the listener to do the same. Nothing links up at the macro level because the music is designed entirely to service catchy yet paradoxically forgettable melodic hooks and anthemic bridges free of any teleological mystery. All the activity, all the instrumentation, all serve the ends of base distraction.

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