Sarpanitum – “By Virtuous Reclamation” (Stereogum Premiere)
The term “old-school death metal” usually comes with a particular connotation. It typically describes a handful of related approaches established by (mostly) American and Scandinavian DM bands between the genre’s nascence in the mid ’80s and its commercial peak in the early ’90s. If you follow our metal column the Black Market, you have heard a great deal of this stuff, because lots of it comes out every month. OSDM, as metal’s initialization-loving taxonomists sometimes call it, has become a durable standalone niche within the genre.
Sarpanitum’s upcoming second album, Blessed Be My Brothers, is an old-school death album too, albeit in a very different way. Those looking for yet more cassette-era tones and primitive bashing will find little to grab onto here. This on-and-off British project sounds like a relic from a less-celebrated moment in death metal’s history: Their creative touchstones mostly came out about 15 years ago, rather than 25-30. At the time, the brief moment during which death metal looked like it might become a real commercial force had already passed. Most of its leading creative lights were busy discarding both analog recording techniques and rock ‘n’ roll trappings in pursuit of more extreme, inhuman sounds. Among these seekers was Morbid Angel — a foundational OSDM act that took a hard left turn with the introduction of new bassist/vocalist Steve Tucker in 1997.
The squelching psychedelia and massive-sounding production artifice that Morbid Angel hit upon during this period constitute the groundwork for Sarpanitum. You can hear a lot of other contemporaneous death metal greats in their sound, too: Nile’s theatrical keyboards and grandiloquent song titles; the florid lead guitars of Vital Remains; Hate Eternal’s insane speed and deep, commanding vocals. The band Sarpanitum resembles most strongly is probably Mithras, which is fitting; Mithras main man Leon Macey drives this album’s rhythms with his impossible athleticism and clicky kick drums, while Sarpanitum guitarist Tom Hyde sometimes performs with Mithras live.
But while playing influence whack-a-mole with this album is fun, it doesn’t remotely convey the titanic physical presence that Sarpanitum brings to bear. Blessed Be My Brothers sports a combination of flashy speed and sheer power more commonly seen in blue-chip NFL defensive ends and 21st century war machines; it is a dazzling, mind-melting aural experience. And unlike many of this approach’s lesser practitioners, Sarpanitum can and do write nasty hooks aplenty. I count three on “By Virtuous Reclamation” alone, carefully positioned amidst a landscape of liquid-obsidian riffs and liquid-cheddar keys. Listen.
Blessed Be My Brothers will be available on 2/17 via Willowtip Records.