Beats and yelling from: Thecodontion/Ceremented, Thysia, Ossaert

Thecodontion/Ceremented: split
Out 7th April on I, Voidhanger

Hands up who likes their metal without guitars? This split brings together Arizona’s Ceremented and Italy’s Thecodontion, two artists capable of demonstrating the enormous versality of instruments historically side-lined within metal, but ones that have recently been taking up more room centre stage as people gradually tire of distorted guitar dominance. Here this intermediary is completely stripped out, and we, untroubled by walls of distorted noise, are able to reach for the very core of metal’s essence: the riff.

Coming off the heals of their hugely acclaimed debut album ‘Supercontinent’ released in 2020, Thecodontion largely dispense with the furious deathgrind element of their sound to focus on the eerie, ethereal aspects of their style. Whilst on their LP this asserted itself as a form of progressive sludge metal, here the addition of a full time a keyboardist drags their bass driven template into full on progressive metal territory. Echoes of Pestilence and Cynic ride atop what is still an undeniably abrasive bedrock.

Grizzly, distorted bass is still the foundation of this sound. As are drums that articulate the blast-beat as a kind of jazz shuffle, with emergent fills acting as accents as opposed to signallers of a coming transition. Bass leads ride atop these waves of primal aggression, offering idiosyncratic harmonic material, juxtaposing their softer textures with the rough edges at the music’s core. Equally the vocals retain the gravelly, distorted bark of death metal (aside from ‘La Torre’, a cover of Italian singer /songwriter Franco Battiato).

Keyboards fill out the textural offering of the music. Where ‘Supercontinent’ was marked out by the unsettling emptiness at the core of the sound, a positive absence felt by the listener expectantly awaiting the centre of the mix to be filled by distorted guitars, this EP by contrast leaves no such speculative gap. All is eerie, spacey, unnerving, but also oddly compelling. The keyboards for the most part flesh out the sound with spacey, mystical texture of synth lines following the cues of the bass. Emergent melodic licks extend the already rather complex musical meanderings of Thecodontion.

Ceremented take the more obviously direct route, with three tracks of dirge ridden death metal, pivoting on a primal percussive attack, along with a “lead” and “rhythm” bass guitar line. They offer a nightmarish, industrialist take on Autopsy, via droning, downbeat riffs and off kilter playful rhythms that revel in their nihilism.

The production is oddly mechanical, with an overtly clicky bass drum, a tinny snare worthy of the power violence at the philosophical core of the music, and mechanistic bass tones. Guttural vocals complete the picture, offering the audial equivalent of industrial noise static to flesh out the scant textural picture.

The tracks themselves are a kind of half-formed descanting on the nature of finality, futility, a sparse, plodding, lackadaisical tour of twisted and simplistic death metal. The structure of these tracks is so loose, informal, entropic, that they appear to collapse before our ears. Post hardcore and sludge sit as peripheral influences here, guiding the music in its loose approach to compositional structure that pivots on exercises in competing intensities, degrees of activity, and layers of sonic illogicism.

Thysia: Islands of Cosmic Darkness
Out 7th April on Chaos Records

A thick undulant of Southern European black metal greets the ear on the debut album from Greece’s Thysia. All is warm, organic, cloying. Intensity is not lacking, but ‘Islands of Cosmic Darkness’ follows the loose mysticism of early Mortuary Drape in its quest to craft dank, dark atmospheres that supervene on a relatively direct rockist set up of guitars and drums, with little in the way of additional atmospheric flourishes to aid in building the picture.

The production adopts an old school organicism by which to frame this scenery. The guitar tone is soft, exhibiting a depth and murkiness that nevertheless leaves room to articulate razor sharp melodic leads and hints of jagged abrasion. Soft, understated drums circle the riffs with punches of mid-paced blast-beats or else choppy but basic fills that hearken back to early Samael in their chasmic presentation. Ghoulish mid-range vocals complete the picture, adding an undertone of calculated monstrosity common to occultist metal.

Ontologically, the package is about as basic as they come. But the riffs transcend their simplicity, offering imaginative yet transparent evolutions of melodic development. This pivots on traditionally orientated minor key themes, supplemented by shadows of dissonance to unsettle the otherwise linear flow of the riffs. They swirl, collapse, and reform in ponderous and elegant patterns from which subtle macro structures begin to manifest. Moments of dramatic import are often signalled by a drop in tempo, a lapse into the droning momentum of doom metal to signal that the activity has reached its apex and limitation, finitude is all that can await the cumulation of information.

‘Islands of Cosmic Darkness’ is a subtle and studied work of warm black metal. It eschews the theatrics of many of their fellow Greeks (Medieval Demon, latter day Varathron, Caedes Cruenta) in favour of an understated but no less atmospheric exploration of dark, occultist metal. Its charms may not be as forthcoming as some of the big hitters in this field, but the interaction of creative riffing with playful drum work brings to life a pocket of sleepy, dreamlike black metal with unique rewards to offer amongst the current crop of contemporaries.

Ossaert: Offerdier
Out 7th April on Argento

Galloping, melodic, heroic black metal of cinematic scope and ambition is somewhat cloaked by obscurantist production values. But true to the lo-fi philosophy of the form, this only serves to enhance the presentation, positioning the music as mystical, liminal, othered within the mind of the listener. The sonic offering is therefore paradoxically enriched by the active suppression of its true dynamics and power taking place at the mixing desk.

This EP is spliced into chunks of dense but easy to follow triumphalist black metal and eerie ambient pieces in ‘Rituals I and II’. This contrast serves the creative purposes of Ossaert well. The black metal is of such a hi-NRG brand that it requires the gentle curation of ethereal dungeon synth (sorry, but it is) to create space for the listener to fully digest the compositional information thrown at them by the lengthy opening riff salvo that is ‘De lichtkrans en de waan’.

The metal numbers betray a marked degree of technical ability, knitting itself between the sparse, minimalist tremolo riffing. Heavily accented licks and trills thread their way between central melodic themes that are themselves far from simplistic, but are at their core accommodating to the listener, attempting to take them on the journey rather than pummel them with tight punches of activity and surplus virtuoso displays.

With the closing number ‘Het geschenk en het bestaan’, heroism completes its journey and drifts into melancholia, an overbearing threnody takes the place of bracing, energetic melodic revelry. The package is no less panoramic for the fact, offering a vast, complete sonic picture for the listener to inhabit without fear of reaching a limitation. All this makes ‘Offerdier’ an interesting pocket of not only escapism, but a profound rumination on the limits of this pursuit, the sorrow felt in the knowledge of its end, and a reflection on achieving the mental tranquillity required to fully live with this fact.

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