Beats and yelling from: Athanatheos, Out of the Mouth of Graves, Kristillis-Kansallis-Konservatiivinen-Suur-Suomi

Athanatheos: Cross. Deny. Glorify
Out 14th April on Lavadome Productions

This unassuming French death metal outfit continues its preoccupation with the rise early Christianity on ‘Cross. Deny. Glorify’. This time tracking the decay of the Roman Empire following Emperor Constantine’s conversion to this strange new sect quickly sweeping across Europe out of the Middle East. As with their previous effort ‘Prophetic Era (Or How Yahveh Became the One)’, the lurking menace of paranoia, psychological upheaval, and the gradual realisation of the existential threat that this new form of monotheism posed to the pagan pantheon are communicated effectively via Athanatheos’s slick yet austere brand of death metal.

This is an example of what death-metal-era-Behemoth could or should have been. Athanatheos present a clean, dramatic, and at times technical vision of spiritually inclined death metal, but here the bolshie fanfare and overworked melodrama are jettisoned for the sake of a highly focused rumination on theological despair and ideological struggle. A multi-generational conflict of such epoch defining significance makes for particularly resonant thematic material to explore for today’s audience.

But it should be noted that Athanatheos unfurl their conceptual material in the abstract. This is no heavily orchestrated work of dramatic Southern European death metal a-la Septic Flesh. The mix is immediate, precise, it feels like a product of the mid-2000s for its the triggered drums, clinically distorted guitar tone, and ironclad compression. Given the extent of the backlash to the homogeneity of early 21st Century recording techniques, and the many attempts to replicate mixes from early 90s that followed, the forensically precise mix on ‘Cross. Deny. Glorify’ sounds almost novel. But beyond the more literal context, the cloying claustrophobia, allowing no room between the tight guitar tone, mechanistic drums, and precision mid-range vocal delivery is an effective expressive avenue for Athanatheos to unfurl their conceptual material.

The clashes of dogma, the gradual decay of the old and the totalitarian threat of the new, the encirclement by a threat once peripheral, now dominant, all are communicated effectively via the carefully controlled yet unsettlingly austere environment of ‘Cross. Deny. Glorify’. Equally from compositional standpoint the music makes much of collisions between taut melodicism and brief chromatic flourishes, creating a sense of urgency at the unknown, a danger as yet not fully understood. The monotony of the narrative vocal delivery, swinging between crisp death metal distortion and almost choral clean singing adds an element of dignified emotional commentary as a background flavour.

Flurries of speed and activity are offset by nods to the death/doom of Asphyx, indeed tracks like ‘The Silent Oblivion’ borrow liberally from their Dutch forebears, but melded with their own ever distinctive approach to riff communication. And worked alongside these decidedly funereal aspects are pockets of tech death, and the angular, understated progressivism of Morbid Angel. But ultimately this is an album that stands apart from its influences. The DNA is there for those wishing to study it, but the character of Athanatheos both at the ground level of riff and rhythmic communication and from a macro perspective in the grand conceptual narrative being woven, all shines through as the centrepiece of this experience, elevating it to a work that truly stands apart within the current milieu of death metal.

Out of the Mouth of Graves: Shrines to Dagon
Out 10th April on Vargheist Records

Out of the Mouth of Graves’ second LP sees them temper the unchecked chaos of their debut, seeking to expand the horizons of their music by bringing the rampant barbarism into check, wielding it with intention and forethought. Make no mistake however, ‘Shrines to Dagon’ is still a deeply primal work of loose dissonance, chromatic interplay, and conflicted rhythmic clashes.

The first thing to note is the production. Although this still very much of the DIY oeuvre of the Vargheist trio of Justin Volas, Jared Moran, and Nicholas Turner, they have taken their most sonically nihilistic project in Out of the Mouth of Graves to a decidedly symphonic place here. Not in the literal sense of course, but the compositional architecture certainly poses as a more regal offering than ‘Harbinger Unceremonious’. Soaring lead guitar work of a novel but traditionally harmonic orientation serves as a welcome counterweight to the thick soup of low end dissonance as it fleshes out the centre of the mix. This lead work forces the music into more ambitious and recognisably musical patterns, lending gravitas and intent to bolster the already considerable weight of the activity.

The drums are organic, earthy, although slightly tinny, they serve to cut through the dense fog of the rest of the mix and wrest the listener’s attention, sometimes with the purpose of anchoring the music in rhythmic familiarity, sometimes to further disorientate with intentionally clunky fills. Vocals bark their way above this frayed conflict, offering alien growls augmented by cavernous reverb, lending all a sense of deified power.

But ultimately, this album is all about the murky swamp of viscous guitar tones bubbling at the centre of the mix. The frequent lead guitar work attempts to organise this cumbersome beast into a coherent whole, and to some extent it succeeds. Far more so than the debut at least, which was a work explicitly dedicated to a rumination on the fragmentation of music itself, but remained staunchly on the borders where recognisably organised musical chunks persisted. Here, we see a similar miasmic disorder. But cohesion is achieved via a focus on melodic, emotive, and thematic intent, even if these things are not visible on the ontological level. The moods working behind the music are given greater visibility, clearly planting ideas in the mind of the listener, even if the instrumentation is stubbornly chaotic to the core.

Kristillis-Kansallis-Konservatiivinen-Suur-Suomi: Rakas seurakunta
Out 7th April on Sacrificial Dance

A primal, absurdist piece of black metal in the most visceral tradition of the form, ‘Rakas seurakunta’ is the debut demo from this Finnish outfit, which is the side project of one Kalle Kostivirta, mastermind behind death metal avant-gardist Oksennus. Here we find raw black metal as described, ripped straight from the playbook of Profanatica and VON. Although for all the manic energy of these forebears, there was still a degree of premeditation and restraint behind thier work. Not so with Kristillis-Kansallis-Konservatiivinen-Suur-Suomi, who furnish their us with only the most cursory nod to structure and pacing.

Although there is a strong argument to be made for a meta-intent working behind these pieces, dictating informally worded memos on the overall shape and direction. But at the atomic level of tempo, riff, and vocal delivery, all is quite lawless. This lends this demo a maniacal aura of unmanageable violence. Where the majority of extreme metal describes or speaks on violence, ‘Rakas seurakunta’ is itself an act of violence.

Production wise we have certainly heard more severely lo-fi offerings in the raw black metal milieu. The music is still expressed in familiar “rockist” framing devices. The guitar tone may be harsh, but it is capable of expressing melodic ideas, it simply refuses to, instead engaging in forays of unwieldy, discordance and low end atonality. Drums take the hardcore punk roots of extreme metal drumming seriously, working through aggressively energetic blast-beats and head pounding, simplistic fills. Equally the vocals exercise a duality of monstrous high end histrionics set against a low end death growl. The effect is not unlike oi punk influenced NSBM, but here given a nihilistic sheen of anti-Christian sentiment.

There is form to these tracks. They behave as if they have structure, even in the most primitivist tradition of raw black metal. But the actual chords that make up the riffs, the fatalistic chromaticism, the angular dissonance of the Les Legions Noire school, and the earthy aggression of USBM, all defy any logic that would force itself upon this music at the macro level. The result is an oddly conflicted demo, desperately trying to claw itself into solidity, yet aware of the futility of this project given the contradictions inherent within its fragmented DNA.

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