There’s no beating around the bush here. Grandiose spacey album art aside, this isn’t some tech-death stellar romp amongst spacefaring alien species, nor is it a thoughtful, synth-heavy, polished progressive rock opus. Nay, this is being cornered on the Nostromo with the xenomorph loose, long before Ripley came to save the day. This is the ejected astronaut, floating helplessly from communications range, doomed to flail without aim until the oxygen runs out.
In other words, this is the other side of space, the cruel, unrepentant void which has scared us time immemorial into the arms of safe celestial deities for fear of confronting the bleak fog of an unforgiving, mostly-empty, decaying entropic universe. Nest welcome you to the uninviting spectrum of universal horror with slimy tendrils.
Untitled opener ‘-‘ is literally 30 seconds of heavy subdued breathing, sharp ringing which set my tinnitus off (fair warning ) and some echoing fuzzy leads. Before you’ve had a chance to wrap your head around that, The Cowardice and Rashness of Courage kicks the emergency door open.
Vocals screeching ‘SUICIDE!’ and a wall of sludgy riffs bludgeon you, like a falling bulkhead on a ship set to self-destruct. Drums come thundering down on you, the toms and kicks pushing your chest cavity like a chestburster. Interplaying between the wall of riffs, drums and bass, harsh black metal styled shrieks give a sense of urgency to otherwise washed-out reverberation of noise.
Some repetitive, clean strumming follows, not unlike those you’d hear in similarly-space-bound sludgers Cult of Luna and we get some respite with ambient pause, full of bends and reverb. It doesn’t last, however; before we know it the track is drowned in reverb, echo and delay. You’ll hear these effects a lot over the course of the album, to the point of inducing nausea.
Heretic awakens the space occultist, thrashing momentarily then slowing to a blackened doom plod, a filthy sludge analogue of blackened doom. ‘Brooding eyes in the darkest of nights, the deepest of night!’. Oddly enough, the vocals are crisp and clear, the trebly warble staining your ears before backing off behind an echoing riff complete with drum rolls and fills. Awkward strained plucking rings out this one into silence. It’s cold and dark out here, even against the backdrop of beautiful stars, as we float helplessly.
Divining by the Entrails of Sheep both lyrically and sonically continues the theme of occult or agnostic hopelessness. Starting with what I can only gather as an odd or deliberate detuning , this strange intro gives way to a groovy fuzz-laden riff that just feels….. off. It’s 90% harmonic, and 10% dissonant. There’s just something in there that doesn’t quite feel right. The shock and confusion of meeting an ancient and obviously extinct form, being surrounded by compressed but washy riffs and loose drum rolls with deeper, more guttural bellows now. Tremolo plucking in the background, signifying there’s a hint of danger.
Then suddenly – the ominous crash, crash, crash, roar of Jewel of Iniquity.
The braying of a Satanic goat, the creature now morphed into vengeful post-hatchery form, born from cymbal and ride crashes that feel one hundred feet high. Gurgling over horror-esque fuzz and echo, before SPIT IT OUT is screeched. Drum rolls in between the thick chords. The bass is layered and pushed so far underneath a haze of smoke that I’m not even sure if it exists at this point. The whole thing sounds an octave too deep irrespective of what notes are being played. It’s a thick mess. The track stretches like walls of static, like cosmic radiation or fell winds on a barren world.
From the Darkness in Me, Illuminate! This track is the proclamation of some other abhorrent mutation or antagonist, facing our hero/heroine with a smirk in a burning wreck.
A tremolo riff that sounds like a faulty air conditioner slots underneath a crashing drum intro, rollicking akin to High on Fire. As the vocalist proclaims In the deepest shadows!’ here comes some cool, off-key strumming, like if ‘Altar of Plagues’ were a stoner rock band chained to a prison wall. Organic and spacious. A tighter, off-kilter riff now, before giving wide berth to slow chords, string slides and slow jazzy drumming. Once again reminiscent of old Cult of Luna or Neurosis, a small cosy reprieve from the sludgy chaos. Great release of tension. Echo-heavy leads so far in the background they’re almost imperceptible. Perhaps we’ve escaped, we lean back in the shuttle and stare out, exhausted.
By this stage, you’re absolutely hypnotised and weary from the journey. So when the cumbal-snare-and-chug stomp of Life’s Grief awakens you from your power nap, you get up and dust yourself off, sighing but ready. Vocals snarl back into view, kickstarting the fight-or-flight response. It’s back. Drum chokes and a faster riff signify growing tension again before easing right back into slow, single-string reverb and echo washed power chords over God knows what else is being employed. I feel like the guys in the band have pedalboards of sufficient size to power an actual space shuttle.
Whispers over feedback and slow riff, drums picking up pace. Feels like floating in space with schizophrenia. Building into wind-like noises, higher snarling and chaotic drumming and chords, reaching the albums’ zenith, totally draining you. It has reached apex, and over ten minutes you’re assaulted by the harshest of rays, gases and radiant material, a thick celestial soup of poison. Instruments and vocals are tearing at each other now – the beast writhes in agony in a pool of blood, screeching out to you with hateful spite.
Then we’re left with the similarly untitled outro ‘-‘. Back into the static, awash with feedback and noise. The tension and release did not come. You are left with nothing but floating aimlessly forever, pondering the pointlessness of the void. An exercise in beautiful, strange futility, one which I’ll be returning to re-traumatise with quite a few times in future.