How Imperium Dekadenz Elbowed Their Way To The Top Of Black Metal
[Ian: Welcome to The Black Market 2023. To kick off our 10th year of existence, Wyatt is taking the reins this month with a profile of a band responsible for many highlights over the column’s history.]
At an early 2000s house party somewhere in Germany’s Black Forest, one of Villingen-Schenningen’s two resident metalheads accidentally elbowed the town’s other metalhead while jostling in line for the bathroom, and what is arguably modern black metal’s best band was born.
“I saw [Christian ‘Horaz’ Jakob] several times before. You have to know that back then, in the Black Forest area, there was no one, absolutely no one, who was interested in making extreme metal. Black metal especially,” Pascal “Vespacian” Vannier says from his couch over Zoom, cigarette in hand. “I saw him in my small town as a long-haired guy, and I saw him at concerts. We began to talk, but it died out.”
The elbow bump resurrected the conversation, leading to an exchange of gruff greetings and the realization that both would be attending Wacken the following weekend. Vespasian needed a ride, which Horaz offered to provide. And on that ride, each played their own self-recorded demo tapes, and those tapes ruled. Not long after, the two were jamming. Imperium Dekadenz had begun to take form.
“This was the moment we became real friends,” Vannier says. “We always say, the main headline for Imperium Dekadenz is our friendship. It’s like a romantic story,” he laughs.
The rise of Imperium Dekadenz has been steady, striking, and, somehow, rather quiet for a band that’s been around for nearly 20 years and fired off banger after banger. The band is signed to European heavyweight Napalm Records and has been putting out some of the biggest, most monumental black metal for the better of a decade. Their new album, Into Sorrow Evermore, is the latest in a string of records that have pushed the boundary for what epic, atmospheric black metal can be while at the same time perhaps coming closer than anyone to realizing the platonic ideal of what epic, atmospheric, black metal might sound like. Far from bombastic, a quality that plagues a lot of arena-ready bands that envision black metal on a grand scale, Imperium Dekadenz is deeply rooted in the melancholic sounds that have shaped the underground.
“Memories… A Raging River,” the lead single from Into Sorrow Evermore, and a track we put at number one back in November, is an excellent place to dive in. Click play and you are dropped, mid-apocalyptic storm, straight into a whipping, relentless riff assault backed with an uneasy, wailing melody that warbles unsteadily from on high. The sound is thick — leagues deep, with the band’s propulsion blasting ever deeper through strata of cold black ore and mithril on the way to a fiery core. You’re quickly hit with a cascading, gut-dropping drum fill, a sonic firework Vespasian throws into passages both mid-blast and in transition that has become something of a trademark for Imperium Dekadenz — it’s the sort of epic black metal equivalent of a Phil Collins drum fill, a technique employed by many but unique in the hands of a Collins or Vespasian. This happens 50 seconds before the track hits its first choral refrain, when the true cinematic scope of the song comes crashing into view. What follows is every synonym of “epic.” As massively swooning melodic moments rage, Horaz’s phlegmy, stentorian rasps and growls echo in the mix as if they reverberated across time. He’s both a disinterested narrator and howling against the inevitable. Please, don’t take my word, listen to it.
“The approach was to put all the things that Imperium Dekadenz stands for to the next, more extreme step,” Vannier explains. “The faster songs are faster, more aggressive this time. The slower, melancholic, let’s say doom stuff, is slower, more melancholic than before.”
Dark, epic atmosphere has been there since day one when Vannier and Jakob first plugged in. (“Sorry neighbors.”) For a name, they chose “Imperium Dekadenz” as a nod to the nose-thumbing, gleefully explicit 1970s Penthouse-produced film Caligula, a movie that holds the distinction being one of a few movies Roger Ebert ever walked out of. Rome and its fall into decadence served as inspiration for much of their earlier catalog, but it isn’t the Rome of popular imagination — theirs is brooding and overcast, full of anguish, but the music is rife with earworm swagger.
The first two albums, …und die Welt ward kalt und leer and Dämmerung der Szenarien, are comparatively rawer and more streamlined offerings when standing alongside the band’s recent output that runs deep with genre-busting ambition. But even with a stripped-down production toolset and a more by-the-books approach, there’s real gravity on those early albums, and the mix of the grandiose and curdling unease knots in the stomach. They’re black metal records, cloaked in haze and fiending on despair, and they lean into gorgeous, mournful classical instrumental passages that bring both a respite and cosmic perspective amidst blasting and grinding dread. Vannier and Jakob were in university at the time of their recording and living something of a rock and roll dream — college kids partying, making dark, extreme, wild music, and still in awe of having a record deal.
“Some people collect books with pictures from the holidays and vacations and stuff like that,” Vannier says, “If I see [an earlier album]…I am immediately in that time. I immediately know what was going on at that time, the recordings, the women, the university. I see the cover and I’m traveling to ancient times.”
It was a fertile era for Imperium Dekadenz, with two friends feeding off each other creatively and driving one another to excel — to broaden their sonic ambitions, aiming ever higher and moving further away from the traditional black metal blueprint, refining and pushing their production technique in pursuit of ever more powerful and impactful sounds and soul-searing melodies. They were churning out milestone tracks — landmarks like the mournful masterpiece of “A Million Moons” from Procella Vadens, the troubled odyssey of “Striga” from Meadows of Nostalgia, and the absolute chest pounder “Still I Rise” from Dis Manibus.
As they went on, Rome no longer occupied the same inspirational excitement as it once did. “We chose the name ‘Imperium’ for the greatness [of Rome] and ‘Dekadenz’ for the orgies, Saturnalia, and stuff like that. A lot of historical themes in our lyrics,” Vannier says. “We got older. The older you get you have more experience in life: good things, bad things. You widen your perspective. You have to work, you have to care and pay attention to other people. Family stuff. And you have more experience in life. You have many more chapters already written than when you were in your 20s.”
The new course was set and committed to on When We Are Forgotten, the first album the band released on Napalm Records, which trades the dark underbelly of Rome for metaphysical questions that have haunted humanity for as long as it’s been on two legs. Fleeting time, impermanence, and memory come crashing to the fore on the 2019 record, and the band pushes the bar further in nearly every way imaginable. When We Are Forgotten is where Imperium Dekadenz went from producing some of the best big-ambition black metal around to becoming something like the James Cameron of the overarching genre — going bigger and bolder than virtually anyone else in the game. The title track, which kicks off the album, makes for one of the most remarkable track ones in memory. The production is IMAX enormous, immersing and inundating with a new blend of dark, near-blackgaze atmosphere that seeps into every crack and void. Beauty, sadness, and dumbfounding horror are in constant interplay, pulling heartstrings in epic sweeps, with keyboard assists overwhelming the senses. Everything hits sharper, and Horaz’s scream sends prickles down the spine, raising hairs as if listening to the album were a 4DX experience.
When We Are Forgotten landed at the end of August 2019, and the world was under lockdown not too long after. Covid-19 provided Vannier and Jakob ample time and space to write new music. “Many people got depressed when it came to the pandemic situation, but in our case we had so much inspiration going on,” Vannier says. “Maybe corona is kind of a black metal thing — to be sitting at home on your own. We had a good feeling. Everybody was depressed in these times, but we were going to put out something really special.”
Into Sorrow Evermore is the result — a blackened tidal wave of an album that gives rise to questions of one’s own significance in an indifferent world, the aural equivalent of looking upon a fallen colossus or gazing skyward on a clear night. Admittedly, questions of life’s meaning and what happens when it ends are more universal and hold greater potential appeal than a historical setting. Rome is still fascinating — Vannier recently took in an exhibit of Pompeii bronzes in Munich, where he works, and, with cooking as a hobby, his favorite meals are when he can fire up his Neapolitan-style pizza oven at home to 500 degrees Celsius to cook up some pies. But as a thematic conduit for their art, Imperium Dekadenz are mining the richest vein in the broader black metal universe, and they’re forging some of the era’s most massive and memorable works.
“For the next one we want to go even [bigger], I don’t know how, this may be impossible, but we will try,” Vannier says. “When I listen to my own music, I have a good feeling, because I have the possibility to make music, to work with my ideas, to tell people who I am. So it’s a very personal thing, and if people like it, it’s fucking great, you know. But if nobody were to like it, and I have this album, I would feel happy as well. Other people go to a therapist, and we are making music.”
Decades of dedication and countless hours spent writing, rehearsing, and producing have had cathartic effects for both the artists and their fans. Imperium Dekadenz write songs that plumb the depths of sorrow one moment and spur exuberance the next, blazing new trails and cracking the sky on the way to the top. It all began with a chance elbow bump, but it’s moving mountains now. –Wyatt Marshall
10. Ὁπλίτης – “Ὁ τῶν δακρύων ψεῦδος”
Subgenre: black metal
The first big Bandcamp blower-upper of the year belongs to Ὁπλίτης, a deathly black metal band with chaotic inclinations. Seemingly everyone added Ψευδομένη, the band’s second release, to their collections at the start of the year, and for good reason. It rips. Soundwise, you know the deal, as this is a growing style we’ve covered often over the past few years. However, when it comes to the particulars of this project, we’re still within that wonderful window when no one knows too much. The great newsletter Concrete Avalanche, which covers “non-pop music from China,” says the artist is based in Ningbo. The rest of the bio that I can piece together is pretty paltry as I await the inevitable Machine Music definitive interview. Late in 2021, Ὁπλίτης released Ἡ εἰκών, which has a lot of the same elements, such as the classic artwork, titles and lyrics in ancient Greek, and a bracing take on brutal bleakness. And…that’s it. That’s what I got. (Encyclopaedia Metallum connects the band to a single artist with another credit. I haven’t independently verified that information.) But the lack of info works. I like not knowing. It’s that old metal calculus: As a standalone, Ψευδομένη holds its own, but something about the mystery adds that extra oomph.
The band that Ὁπλίτης have been compared to the most so far is another enigma, the sadly now-disbanded Serpent Column. It’s a fair comp. Both synthesize a variant of metal that sounds like Slayer took a trip on the Event Horizon. That is to say, everything is dialed up to 10, and then there’s a scratched-CD approach to rhythms and e-brake-pulling riff drifts. Half the appeal is simply being battered by wave after wave of loud noises. In other words, chaos reigns. But the thing that’s starting to emerge from the aural anarchy during multiple replays of Ψευδομένη is that Ὁπλίτης’s delirium has a counterintuitive meditative quality. The eight-minute “Ὁ τῶν δακρύων ψεῦδος” closes with an extended riff that I melt into, losing track of time, entering into something like a flow state. Those moments of reverie are contrasted expertly by something like the opening of “Μάρτυς,” which needles a listener like a pissed-off porcupine. But even those sections have a contemplative energy that sucks me in, the rise to the fall, the ebb to the flow. While split into nine tracks, that’s why I think of Ψευδομένη as a unified work, why I’m drawn to internal drama that runs deeper than the on-the-surface disarray. [From Ψευδομένη, out now via the band.] –Ian Chainey
9. Hypomanic Daydream – “Memories of Her Hand”
Location: Chicago, IL
Subgenre: death metal
Hypomanic Daydream is the new solo project from Putrescine singer Marie McAuliffe, credited here as “Manic Dream Girl.” If you’re unfamiliar with McAuliffe’s other gig, it’s worth exploring, especially its recent output. Last year, across two splits with Adzes and Kosmogyr, Putrescine progressed, entering its next phase like a FromSoftware boss. Its best work so far is “In a Growing Sun,” a jaw-dropper that blended avant-garde and death metal in a way that didn’t feel claustrophobically cluttered like some attempts because it focused on clear hooks. That is to say, it evolved without forsaking the prime characteristics of the format. It was far ahead, but it was also the kind of experimentalism for which bands like Disharmonic Orchestra laid the groundwork. It was different, but it was death metal.
To an extent, Hypomanic Daydream follow that same path. The three songs on their debut, a split with Garry Brents’s Homeskin, are everything I loved about “In A Growing Sun” plus some delightful wrinkles. (I’m going to give Homeskin some column inches soon since I’ve wanted to write about the project forever and it seems to be coming to a close.) Wrinkle 1: There are keyboards all over everything. I’m not much of a keyboard tone knower, but they register as pleasingly old to me. In practice, “Memories Of Her Hand” sounds like Pan.Thy.Monium playing The Legend Of Zelda: A Link To The Past. Wrinkle 2: “Battle Against A God, Who Is Also Your Father” and “Yonic Envy” have the best usage of Vocaloids I’ve heard yet in metal, easily transcending the gimmick.
And that’s Hypomanic Daydream’s true skill: the songwriting is so engaging and earwormy that it burns the quirkiness away. “Battle Against A God, Who is Also Your Father”‘s coda, when a keyboard shreds against a dynamite death metal riff, is like someone hired Dan Swanö to score a JRPG. But, and this is key, it’s just a damn good song. Cut the electricity and those melodies would still be catchy. [From Hypomanic Skin, out now via Euphoriadic and Xenoglossy Productions.] –Ian Chainey
8. Kauan – “Fohn”
Location: Tallinn, Estonia
You may know Kauan from some of their more recent output, like 2015’s incredible Sorni Nai, a doomy, blackened atmospheric concept album that followed the story of the Dyatlov Pass incident — a mystery-shrouded true chronicle of nine hikers lost to “an unknown compelling force,” according to investigators, with speculation ranging from Yetis to aliens to nuclear mishap (though recent science has suggested a more grounded explanation). Or maybe you caught the band’s latest tour de force, Ice Fleet, which similarly followed an outstanding mystery, this one about the grisly discovery of a long lost frozen flotilla of ships by archaeologists in the 1930s. In between those two there was 2017’s lighter post-rock work of shimmering ambience, Kaiho, which, full disclosure, I wrote press materials for.
Kauan have long straddled doomy mystery and a kind of ethereal, dulcet, and cold post-ness. Those ambient characteristics took hold in the earlier chapters of Kauan’s discography, when Anton Belov, the band’s chief songwriter and instrumentalist, was crafting his unique sound as he moved across Eastern Europe and Russia. Originally from Chelyabinsk, Russia, long based in Kiev, intermittently in Finland, and now Tallinn-based, Belov sings in Finnish, and Kauan translates to “for a long time.” There’s a sort of pan-European, post-industrial gray that hangs over Kauan’s work. Heavy clouds overhead, with cold water forming the crystalline lattice work of snowflakes within.
Early on, Kauan relied on drum machines and other pared-down techniques to record, including what is probably my favorite Kauan album, 2009’s Aava Tuulen Maa, which is anchored by the unforgettable “Fohn.” Seeking to fulfill a vision not quite fully realized, Kauan recently re-recorded and remastered the entire album, with real drums, bigger production, and more. It’s the perfect opportunity to dive into a rich, occasionally disquieting, but ultimately serene world, and it is as evocative and transportative as ever. [From ATM Revisited, out 2/24 via Artoffact Records.] –Wyatt Marshall
7. Decrepit Cadaver – “Obscure Ancient Terror”
Location: Iquique, Chile
Subgenre: brutal death metal
To all of my dedicated degenerates disappointed that I haven’t yet turned this column into the Slam Market, I know you’re stoked for 2023. We haven’t even exited January and the loathsome larder is already packed with putridity. So, I want to tip my cap to a couple of bangers at the risk of further alienating all of the normal people who have the misfortune of reading this, such as every HR department in the country that sees my name and immediately trashes my résumé. Texas’s Urosepsis is back with Exploratory Autopsy, a savage speedster with riffs sharper and more plentiful than the scalpel collection of a pathologist blowing every paycheck on their Swann-Morton obsession. Turkey’s Drain of Impurity has also returned, and Cenotaph’s Batu Çetin has tapped BDM wunderkind Nikhil Talwalkar to drum on Beneath The Maze Of Infinite Equilibrium. Both are worth your bucks if you like high-caliber hideousness, and if my inbox is any indication, more grossness from around the globe is just around the corner. But today, I want to give some shine to an under-the-radar ripper that hit the streets at the end of December: Chile’s Decrepit Cadaver and their fourth full-length, Revelations.
Released on the ever-reliable Unmatched Brutality Records, which is owned by Brodequin’s Mike Bailey, Revelations fits the general UBR profile by sounding like Brodequin. At the very least, the trio pushes past the redline into death metal ridiculousness the same way as its bosses. But let’s slice the meat more finely. I’ve come to think of Decrepit Cadaver as the midpoint between two other UBR compatriots, the turbo turbulence of Cadavoracity and more song-focused exploits of Nephilim Grinder. It’s a nice mix, bouncing between totally bananas and well-constructed riffs that even exude an OSBDM memorability.
That approach tracks given the band’s beginnings. Way back in the ’00s, Decrepit Cadaver started out as a more conventional BDM band, and guitarist Jorge Reynaûd has retained that kind of catchiness. Now that Decrepit Cadaver have embraced bedlam, that particular type of catchiness, a Pierced From Within-y prioritization of hooks over wank, remains once the mayhem melts away. Sure, it takes a few listens, but I find myself humming along to a lot of this stuff, which is something I should probably discuss with a therapist. That said, since you’re still fresh, let’s face it: You’re here for the mayhem. Friends, check out the beginning of “Obscure Ancient Terror.” When drummer Alvaro Pacheco floors it like how Internal Suffering used to do it, it’s a jolt of adrenaline straight to the ol’ ticker. Excuse me while I push my back surgery up a few years by deadlifting a bus. If you aren’t fluent in brutal death metal savagery, here’s a state of the goo address: I can proclaim that the goo is good. [From Revelations, out now via Unmatched Brutality Records.] –Ian Chainey
6. Inherits The Void – “While The Night Seizes Of The Burning Sun”
Location: Clermont-Ferrand, France
Subgenre: black metal
Let’s cut to the chase: If you like leads, particularly of the melo variety, you’re going to like Inherits The Void. French shredder Antoine Scholtè’s solo project is following up 2021’s Monolith Of Light with The Impending Fall Of The Stars, a nine-track exercise in scintillating shredosity. The general thrust of the grandiose guitar widdling remains the same: “a meeting between influences from the ’90s Swedish Black Metal scene and a more current orientation of the genre,” per the Avantgarde Music bio for the previous offering. That meeting is something like Dawn plus Celeste plus the Sturm und Drang of the less cloying nowadays atmo-teers. But really, even writing that is like explaining the active ingredients of catnip to a cat. To reiterate: Leads good. Inherits The Void good.
“Where The Oceans Lost Their Light” is the highlight of the first half as it unhurriedly unfurls an elegant progression that conjures a “Moonshield”-esque grandeur. That’s the thing about Inherits The Void’s fusion: While the stated goal is the unification of classic meloblack with the synth-sweeping largeness of new-school emotional engineers such as…I don’t know, whatever Wyatt or Mike usually cover, The Impending Fall Of The Stars has a real melodeath sort of bite to it, at least to my ears. It sets Scholtè apart from the other bands operating in this space, like the masterful Mare Cognitum and Spectral Lore. Like, I get that this is doing a Vinterland, but the heaviness makes me think of another band that finds a balance between black and death meloness: Inexorum. What a tour that would be.
The Impending Fall Of The Stars’ centerpiece demonstrates how well this strain of atmo melo can work. “While The Night Seizes of the Burning Sun” is a blizzard of blasts and stinging trems. Pleasingly to an ancient idiot like me, it even works in those alone-in-my-castle Sacramentum spokels. But the atmo padding elevates everything, giving it a celestial swirl that reminds me of Arkhtinn. It’s a novel combo, and I can’t wait to see where Scholtè takes it. Still, do you want to know why it works? The leads rip. [From The Impending Fall of the Stars, out now via Avantgarde Music.] –Ian Chainey
5. Aara – “Emphase Der Seelenpein”
Location: black metal
Aara are a blast, the product of three prolific Swiss musicians who have put out an album every year since 2019 and who go gleefully over the top every time. “Emphase der Seelenpein” is a great introduction. From a cold start, you’re dropped into the regal, nocturnal world full of mischief and magic that Aara call home. Everything moves on the double quick, drums are the work of a fill-obsessed madman, ghostly rasps haunt from the parapets, and melodies are lush and always make room for a flourish, which is perhaps unsurprising for a band whose press photos feature the three members posing in nature wearing red cloaks and ornate Venetian carnival masks. But the tendency for the elaborate and ornamental isn’t an end in and of itself, largely because it all lives atop a rock solid base of absolutely ripping black metal, with purpose-built melodies driving gripping narrative arcs. That said, there’s also this — “Emphase” is the lead single from the band’s forthcoming album, which is actually the closing chapter of what the band calls the “Melmoth trilogy,” a trio of albums based on an 1820 Gothic novel titled Melmoth The Wanderer by Charles Maturin. So take a leap into the fantastical, let Aara work their magic, and you will be richly rewarded. [From Triade III: Nyx, out 3/31 via Debemur Morti Productions.] –Wyatt Marshall
4. Megaton Sword – “Might”
Location: Winterthur, Switzerland
Subgenre: heavy metal
While there’s room for innovation in every style, the trad formula is pretty set. The old scrolls won’t be amended to let posers into the hall. So, what differentiates nowadays bands that wish to go way back is their energy, story-weaving ability, sharpness of riff, and charisma. I bring this up to preempt a possible complaint: No, Megaton Sword aren’t reinventing the steel. Heck, the bridge of “The Raving Light Of Day,” the opener of Might & Power, the quintet’s second full-length, sounds like Manowar’s “Battle Hymn.” But, damn, does the Swiss band bring it. Its riffs are catchy incarnate, and singer Uzzy Unchained’s primo performance is set to incite passionate drunken harmonizing from audiences of the faithful.
Unchained’s vox are as irresistible as they are varied on Might & Power, whether it’s the ethereal keening lullaby of “Iron Plains,” the plaintive bardic croon of “Raikaszi,” or the total Jim Steinman showmanship of “Babe Eternal,” which has a wounded cougar cry for the ages. That said, Unchained can also lift the heavy stuff, finding a middle ground between a Cirith Ungol rasp and Slough Feg shout on “The Raving Light Of Day.” And that’s the thing. While Megaton Sword’s previous dispatches from the mythical land of Niralet had a powered-up epicness, Might & Power demonstrates the band can just as easily pull a metallic ballad out of the forge.
“We attach great importance to catchy songs with comprehensible song structures and sing-along choruses, but it should never be too clumsy,” primary songwriter and bassist Simon the Sorcerer said to Bara Metal. “A certain basic hardness in the sound is also very important to us; the guitars, for example, should not sound too compressed.”
That hardness adds dynamism to Megaton Sword’s lighter fare, which is further deepened by Unchained’s unexpected and uncompromising approach to melodies. Listen to how haggard his read of “weathered face” sounds in “Babe Eternal.” He sells the hell out of it, immersing himself fully in the role. I love that stuff. It’s what makes an old formula feel fresh. [From Might & Power, out 2/24 via Dying Victims Productions.] –Ian Chainey
3. Cremation Lily – “HEARTSTOPPER PT. II”
Location: London, United Kingdom
Subgenre: ambient / noise
Cremation Lily, the veteran noise, power electronics, and ambient project of Zen Zsigo, has long layered meditative ambience and soul-searing, world-ending melodies into crashing waves of feedback and tortured screams. In years past, the project’s output was often only available through Zsigo’s own Strange Rules, a treasure of a micro label working on the fringes of outsider music and producing batches of small-run cassettes. While Cremation Lily songs are deeply personal works to be treasured, the scarcity and barriers to entry have kept some of what Zsigo has been creating a secret. So it was good to see a much-deserved, larger spotlight land on Cremation Lily’s last full-length, which came through the esteemed San Francisco label The Flenser, whose roster includes the boundary-pushing likes of Bosse-De-Nage, Botanist, Kayo Dot, and more.
“HEARTSTOPPER PT. II” was originally released on a limited-run cassette, but this month became available to stream more widely. Recorded after attending funerals of loved ones in 2022, it is a remarkable, cathartic song that inundates the senses and rips open the heart in primal desperation, with gorgeous, hanging melodies casting it all in a surreal, regal golden haze. Zsigo wrote, “It plays out as a knock on the door, the numbing weight of the news & the sudden wave of changes that ensues, a single take of hardware & screams was all it took to capture the moment, & now we all have to live with it.” [From HEARTSTOPPER PT II, out now via the band.] –Wyatt Marshall
2. Conjureth – “From Ceremonies Past”
Location: San Diego, CA
Subgenre: death metal
Don’t get it twisted: Conjureth play death metal with an old-school stank, but their breakneck barbarity doesn’t copy anyone.
“I guess we are OSDM, but I don’t really think about that much,” vocalist/guitarist Wayne Sarantopoulos said to VM-Underground after the release of the head-turning Foul Formations demo in 2020. “We just play and whatever comes out is what it is. I think there are too many bands that rip off too many riffs and ideas from other bands and they don’t try to even hide it. I don’t do that shit at all. If I write a riff that reminds me of another band, I don’t use it. There’s enough clone bands out there these days. I wish there was more originality within the framework of OSDM. It IS possible.”
The Parasitic Chambers, Conjureth’s sophomore outing, proves what’s possible. Yes, it’s similar to its predecessor, the whirlwind Majestic Dissolve. Sometimes the trio plays so fast that I wonder if I’ve accidentally triggered 2x speed. Similarly, it’s suitably atmospheric in that miasmic classic death metal manner. (Sarantopoulos owns a guitar that looks like something that would ambush you in a Bloodborne chalice dungeon, so yeah, you know what you’re getting into there.) But The Parasitic Chambers is no straight sequel. If Majestic Dissolve is A New Hope, this one is The Empire Strikes Back. It’s even subtly progressive in a way that I wouldn’t call prog, but Conjureth definitely tries to do the most with its version of death metal.
Take “From Ceremonies Past,” a sub-three-minute burner with a death/thrash energy and sneaky melodic sensibility courtesy of Ian Mann’s leads. Sarantopoulos writes riffs like an over-caffeinated kid explaining the plot points of Evil Dead II. Drummer Frankie Saenz somehow follows every digression, amping up the outrageousness with his own everywhere-at-once playing. Rules.
Alas, even noting the aforementioned “I don’t do that shit at all” mandate, I have to explain the total Conjureth package via comparison because I’m a hack writer. Where Majestic Dissolve cooked up a riff-based amphetamine that could drop Deicide’s Legion, The Parasitic Chambers is like a lost Euro band obsessed with Necrovore that had its album sped up in mastering. Cleverly, the album closes with “The Unworshipped II,” a near-doom crawler that’s like a magician slowing down a new trick for an assistant so they can understand the sleight of hand. [From The Parasitic Chambers, out now via Memento Mori.] –Ian Chainey
1. Anachronism – “Insula”
Location: Lausanne, Switzerland
Subgenre: death metal
“Contrasts,” the opening track on Meanders, Anachronism’s third album and follow-up to 2018’s excellent Orogeny, booms to life with guitars that grow in size like a powerful thunderhead. Some bands would milk that progression for minutes, turning it into a statement-of-purpose overture. Instead, this Swiss quartet has places to be. After the brief how-do-you-do, it’s blast time. The absence of throat clearing, especially for a band on the progressive spectrum, is jarring. It’s like Anachronism are skipping a few pages in the death metal Choose Your Own Adventure. Meanders this does not.
Anachronism can pull that off because the musicianship is exceptional. Modern drum demigod Florent Duployer blasts brutally with the same accuracy he brings to Cenotaph, Focal Dystonia, and Kakothanasy. Bassist Julien Waroux accents the rise and fall with well-timed metallic brangs. Guitarists Manu Le Bé and Lisa Voisard team up to twist their strings into dizzyingly entwined riffs. Voisard roars and screams with gut-punching pathos. It sounds like everyone is playing lead, Voisard doubly so. More importantly, the band sounds confident. I instantly trust them to take me wherever they want to go.
So, where are Anachronism headed? Well, Ulcerate augmented by Sutrah’s mind-expanding near-melodicism and Krallice’s quantum entanglements might help you triangulate its coordinates. But that’ll only last you a few sections. Pretty soon, the band is on to something else, such as space dust-caked bridges that would put a smile on Mithras’s mug. If you hang on a part too long, it sometimes feels like you’ve missed an entire album. Such is the way with a band smitten with endless contrasts, albeit ones so painstakingly composed that they feel like the gears of a high-end watch.
“We like the contrast of aggressive riffs and soft arpeggios,” Le Bé said to Metal Distraction Zine in the run-up to Meanders release. “The next album will be in the continuity of the previous one and we are trying to match the progressive and technical aspects of our music with its complex structures in compositions that convey a real message. In short, we are trying to move away from the ‘tech-death’ label to something more and more refined. For example, we have chosen not to use samples and synth layers in this album, unlike in Orogeny. Everything you hear in terms of ‘special effects’ in the next album comes from the sound design of the guitars that we worked on. But blastbeats and brutal riffs will always be part of the game, of course!”
Of course. Highlight “Insula” is full of those aggressive elements, but it also demonstrates how good Anachronism are at making a jagged riff sound like the most fluid riff in the world. Some real brain-busting abounds that sounds like Ion Dissonance trying to solve the world’s hardest sudoku, especially with Waroux working overtime to fold in all sorts of neat melodic contrasts. But I never get staggered by the technical whiz-bang. Anachronism pushes you along like a subtly insistent current. Any song breakdown would require a flowchart, but this is one of the easiest complicated albums to listen to that I’ve heard in a bit.
To drive home how different the flow looks on the page than how it’s actually experienced, here are the next two songs: “Mirage” follows with a tech doom pace and airiness soon atomized by a Rush supernova of a miniature breakdown. The rhythmic dexterous “Macrocosm,” which takes Meshuggah’s Holdsworth obsession and filters it through Obscura, somehow wows with its restraint even though Duployer must’ve sweated out his bodyweight playing it. Again, this must look like a thicket of contrasts on the page, but Meanders’ 33 minutes are unbelievably cohesive. While there are hints of improvisation in the liner notes, Anachronism aren’t throwing stuff against a wall. They have plotted a path to a destination where few others have tread.
I hinted at this while writing about Hypomanic Daydream, but what Anachronism are able to achieve is something that has been on my mind a lot. Recently, I’ve been asked why black metal seems like it’s pulling ahead of death metal when it comes to the cutting edge. While I understand where that sentiment is coming from, mainly because I see the same tour packages of new old-school bands that sound like fast Cannibal Corpse and slow Cannibal Corpse, I don’t know if that’s accurate. Metal is a style of exceptions: Whatever rule you apply to it has been or will be broken. So, the variable is how hard you want to look for those exceptions. You don’t have to look very hard to find Meanders, a forward-thinking experimental album that has kicked 2023 off the best way possible by showcasing that death metal is anything but dead. [From Meanders, out now via Unorthodox Emanations / Avantgarde Music.] –Ian Chainey