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Death - 90%

mornox, March 31st, 2005

I thought long and hard on a proper title for this review. I was tempted to go with “metal from the crypt”, but decided that the pun was just a bit too obvious, which would detract from the seriousness of the music under scrutiny. In the end, only one word is really needed to sum up this release totally.

Death.

Joined in Darkness summons forth Death itself. Where albums like Under a Funeral Moon or the German Pest’s Ära show the effects of death and decay, this release seems to go above and beyond the norm and presents the concept of the End of Everything as an entity, a physical being materializing to obliterate all.

The artwork already suggests death as a theme of course. Pictures of a mausoleum and skulls, decaying, dusty ruins. Ixithra himself genuinely looking like a corpse. But the music of the album doesn’t merely have Death as a theme; it represents it, presents it directly, personifies it; it truly becomes it.

How, you ask? How indeed?
Structurally it is beholden to both Darkthrone and Profanatica, like Demoncy has always been. It combines that typically Scandinavian epic tremolo riffing style, with the more brutal death metal-like intensity of early American black metal. The riffs themselves are relatively simple, yet highly effective; each song generally has a straight progression, where the main two to three riffs alternate while becoming more intense, carried by primal, fast beating on the drum-kit, with the occasional crushing, slow break in between. While the riffs and drumwork are good enough, they aren’t what makes this record so singularly evocative. It is the whole atmosphere, the sound and the production which elevates these riffs to a higher level.

The introduction, three drawn out, dark keyboard notes, suffused in a bassy miasma, while a heavy drumbeat slowly pounds out a dread rhythm already hints at the direction this album will take. It sounds huge, ominous, oppressive. Something is making an entrance which stands above life.

When ‘Impure Blessings…’ starts, it literally explodes from the speakers.
Titanic drums tear the ground asunder, and the bottom-end heavy guitars and bass crush everything, sounding like an earthquake. The feedback and background noise comes across as a storm. It sounds unbelievably heavy. The atmosphere this creates adds an apocalyptic quality to the already terrifying riffs, which generally only employ downward movements, and are relentlessly driven forward by the pulsating, thunderous drumwork.

After a while, it becomes noticeable how, despite sounding like nothing less than the annihilation of everything, there is a calculating, cold and emotionlessly intelligent quality to the whole proceeding. As if some force is directing the desolation. And indeed, besides the whole determined march of the drums and the malignant nature of the riffing, it’s in the vocal work that the drive behind the proceedings is found.

I have never heard vocals quite like this.
Ixithra sounds like a whispering corpse. Crackling, ancient and truly, genuinely disturbing; it is the tenebrous voice of Death directing and guiding the terrible forces unleashed by the other instruments. It is the final piece completing the picture, the vocals ultimately reveal the identity behind the onslaught; the booming echoes of the drums become Death’s mighty footfalls as it steps forth from its sidereal realm upon the earth; not just to take a life, but to exact its final reckoning, claiming all in a cataclysmic storm of destruction.

It can’t be a coincidence that each successive song has a clearer production than its predecessor, is more energetic and violent, more fatalystically purposeful, and has a greater variety in riff-work and tempos.

The more souls Death claims, the greater its power grows.

By the time the eighth track rolls along, the guitars have taken on such monstrous proportions that Death seems to become sensibly present in the room; a looming, superior presence, compared to which all man’s works are but dust; all efforts futile and irrelevant.

The crowning moment of this album comes with the final song “The Dawn of Eternal Damnation”. Its titel already portents its content. Starting with an even more intense variation of the downwards-moving riffing of all previous songs, it suddenly bursts free with an upward spiralling, free floating, triumphant tremolo riff. Another downwards dive, followed by the most extreme riff on the album, twisting, rising and falling, scooping up everything in the vicinity, the Reaper’s scythe cutting and weeding; then a full stop and a slow, fatalistic progression of doom heralds the end and Death’s ultimate triumph and omnipotence.

A tolling church bell echoes a final note and the album comes to a close.

This is one of those rare albums which are larger than life; literally in this case, for who can stand against the conqueror worm? Most black and death metal treats death in some way. But this album seems to personify it, showing it to be a tangible, omnipresent force which simply cannot be stopped, tearing down anybody and everything when it deems it time.

Get this album and invite Death into your life.