‘Oh no, thou didn’t!’ Oh yes, yes Thou did. Thou did indeed. Prepare for one incredibly powerful, painful, slow-burn death-doom masterwork by one of the genre’s finest modern acts.
Inward does as it suggests, instantly mournful and introspective death-doom. This is the band on their straight and narrow; an endless, cavernously tall and thick but taut rope of caustic doom. The blackened shrieks plod endlessly alongside the turgid, sludgy sea of thick riffs, a shrieking wail riding the crests of chords and plodding drums that sets the watch to funereal pace. There’s nothing new here from their Dragged Into Sunlight/Barren Altar school of death-doom sludge, but it’s unashamedly an expertly done homage to these genres.
Wiping away the tears, muck and sighing heavily, My Brother Caliban backs ten paces from the colossal opener and bolts in a sudden and jarring interlude of breakcore-styled beats, wired shrieks and a dissonant wall of tremolo guitar from a world of darkness far beyond the slow, methodical torture of doom. With no pause from this interlude, Transcending Dualities flaunts a massive crashing doom riff over the intro like an elephant outpacing a gazelle in the fury of the stampede. Things crawl back to a unified tempo, the relentless crash and draw of shamanistic drumming reining things in to a murderously bleak crawl, underpinned by almost imperceptibly low bass rumbling. Some little harmonics, discordant arpeggios and licks poke creepily out of the muck from the guitarists, but, for the most part, the track is an endless brick-beating with the throaty rasps and roars of the rider atop this crushing, methodical leviathan.
The Changeling Prince takes a more traditional tack, opening with slow, sorrowful but delicious leads that wouldn’t sound out of place on classics such as My Dying Bride, kicking with just enough blood pressure to sustain consciousness. The forlorn feel of the semi-distorted and distant notes warbling in and out of the riffs, a feeble and meek wandering in and out of the major riff focal points, almost makes the juxtaposition between the two even heavier. And, as usual, the vitriolic omnipresence of those venom-steeped vocals keeps a corrosive, acidic coating on the riffs. Fuzz-heavy distorted bass adds another layer to the nausea, providing a deliciously sickening outing that is 6 minutes long but feels like a lifetime. In the most gleefully evil and bleak manner. Those rasps of “Behind the mask, another mask!” just another reminder we aren’t discussing light lyrical fare, either.
Sovereign Self pares things back from the caustic bleakness of the prior tracks, if only sparingly. Beginning with subtle chords over choir-like female sung vocals, we’re lulled into another melancholically melodic droning intro, which is unsurprisingly swept up from beneath us with a tragic, bleak and helpless undercurrent of seething and scathing. The contrast between the brief intro and the despicably-strained high shrieks gives them an edge unlike ever before, piercing through the dense riff-layers alongside shrieking harmonics. Slowing to a tempo almost imperceptible to the human ear in the latter half, things nearly reach SunnO))) levels of drone for a second, a nauseating one-two punch of crashing cymbals and snare in between what could be vaguely construed as a ‘chorus’ of pained screams and discordant arpeggio. This is a track that eschews tradition for the more vicious Khanate edge of the doom spectrum, forsaking gloom for outright misanthropy. It’s unsettling for the uninitiated, but even ardent veterans of all things sludge should take heed.
Even more disconcerting is the strange interlude Divine Will, which offsets those aforementioned airy melodic female vocals over off-kilter tribal drumming, both of which are heavily distorted, the fever-dream warbling in at pitches scientifically calculated to induce nausea. It’d almost be enough to literally throw some off-balance with such a sickly gait.
Similarly, In The Kingdom of Meaning begins with heavily reverberating guitar riffs played through a hallway of pedals, sounding equidistant from right next to you and a mile away in a deep abyss. Bashing the snare in one hand and cymbal in the other, the drummer comes marching in abreast of his cautiously-riffing bandmates who once more dance carefully around thick chords and the odd somber lead or two. The rasps and shrieks here are higher than ever, spiraling and intermingling with some almost Egyptian-styled guitar arpeggios and wanderings that bring Cult of Luna’s latter day semi-distorted warbles to mind. It’s proof that even with a seemingly simplistic template, a lot can be done with sonic space. The brief intermission of woeful but genuine female croons add a pensive section before the walls cave back in.
And anyway, as if a song named Invocation of Disgust is going to be anything but putrid filth, right? Just listen to those awkward guitar-headstock string tinkles, that disgustingly low and clacky bass tone. This one has laid the viscosity on hard and thick, swamping the listener with feedback-laced leads amidst more ‘up-tempo’ (by this album’s standards, at least) stomping riff-work in a confused haze of semi-conscious stupor.
Refusing to relent, Thou don’t give a rat’s if the perennial stomp and slowly consistent, infinite misanthropic march are too much for you by this stage. Elimination Rhetoric continues much of the same aesthetic as the prior track, crashing waves of simple strumming and string skipping into levels of distortion which threaten to crackle space-time around them. You want to escape, but like a moth to flame, the endlessly hypnotic march of the vocals, drum and bass between the guitar-dance has you horrified, enraptured, compliant. Moments of clean guitar tease you with promises of sunlight but are largely smothered by the thick sludge-doom blanket of complete nihilistic gloom that pervades the track. Then, from nowhere, we cop a beautiful wavering solo, akin to something you’d hear on mid-career Opeth – pensive, skillful and melodic at the same time, as it wails out amongst both acoustic and electric guitar, there is suddenly a feel of triumph, of pomp and grandeur that has made enduring this hellish nightmare worthwhile.
If only. Just to slap you upside the head with the stark existential realism of pointlessness, The Law Which Compels washes all of this away in a haze of almost pure noise, distortion and static. This is a purely atonal abrasive interlude, and deliberately so. From that noise Supremacy brings the entire album to a painfully epic closer, a culmination of the death, sludge, doom, noise, acoustics, operatics and strained funeral pace. Everything is amplified to eleven as the riffs surge to incomprehensible height beyond your vision, the vocals more acerbic than ever before. A spiraling, monumental epic of a track, the crescendo takes minutes to build and layers in pain and complexity, ringing out to the end in a tinnitus-flaring hell-hole you can’t help but be in awe of in its’ wake.
‘Magus’ isn’t an easy listen by any stretch, but it is well worth the payoff. Highly recommended for all denizens of sludge and doom netherworlds.