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Sometimes an album just clicks by virtue of having the right kind of imagery in place and perfectly conforming the music to that singular yet elaborate picture. With this illustration comes an air of ambiguity, as one ponders whether the party entering what appears to be a goblin or troll subterranean kingdom are on the offensive in a heroic quest or fleeing for their lives away from a formidable enemy that was more menacing than the forbidding structure unto which they are retreating? While this question isn't specifically answerable, a hint towards the latter scenario would fit the moribund character of the music that makes up Disma's massive debut of an LP "Towards The Megalith", an album providing an interesting twist on two older approaches to a rapidly expanding and varying sub-genre of metal.
One wouldn't be mistaken in calling this album a throwback, but unlike most albums that would earn that distinction, this one explores territory that wasn't widely delved into during the respective time periods in question, namely the early 90s NYDM sound and the subsequent mid-90s death/doom style. There is definitely a lot more of the former category to be found here, as much of the songwriting finds itself resorting toward the obscured, sludgy mode of thrashing death metal that Incantation was known for in their formative days. Nevertheless, the frequency of slower, dissonant drags in the swamps of a funeral procession of sorts definitely hints at a strong helping of doom-influences, in part from the Funebrarum members who brought their signature sound with them, but also from an older and somewhat more traditional sound comparable to early Autopsy and middle era Morbid Angel.
This album, in spite of having a really elaborate and admittedly captivating album cover, operates mostly on a level of simplicity, opting for a predictable mixture of fast tremolo riffs mixtured with a heavy dose of droning dissonant guitar lines that occasionally remind of Hooded Menace, though about twice as morbid and creepy in character. For most of the time the songs are relatively obvious about where they are going, and though at first the tempo changes come off as abrupt and extreme, a refined ear that accounts for NYDM traditions will not find this approach out of the ordinary. The primary draw here is the massiveness of the atmosphere achieved between the deep guitar tone, power and concert-hall sounding drum production, and the speaker-busting depths and darkness of vocalist Craig Pillard's ghoulish growls, which have lost none of their potency since his emplary work on "Onward To Golgotha".
The one thing that is generally difficult about this collection of songs is that given the heavily stylized nature of it all, the songs tend to run together a bit and function as one mammoth of a concept album musically, though lyrically it doesn't tell any one particular tale. It's as consistent and as unified as a towering ziggurat, but separate the various pieces out of it and attempt to isolate them, and the album definitely feels poorer for it. Nevertheless, "Chasm Oceanus" and the title song "Towards The Megalith" prove to be the most interesting given that they mix things up a bit more than the other songs, most of which occur in one version or another in prior releases before this album. The latter song in particular makes a brilliant buisness of really emphasizing the atmospheric elements, and marches slowly to an almost uncertain conclusion, almost like a lone survivor of some horrific war who hobbles back towards his home with lingering memories of his fallen friends and comrades tormenting his mind.
Pretty much anyone who liked death metal before it became saturated with Suffocation and Cryptopsy imitators will find a winner here. At times it becomes epic enough in scope to rival the first couple of Vital Remains releases, though it stands apart as being much denser in overall sound character and tends more towards a slow to moderate pace where the style's thrash influences are obscured, though still heavily present. Although at the time they probably had no idea where their experimentation would lead, Slayer's handiwork on "South Of Heaven" played a particularly noticeable role in what influenced this album, and "Towards The Megalith" could function as a gateway of sorts for anyone who is flirting with death metal and may find things to like about Benediction and Death, but haven't fully commited to it yet. Light up the torches and onward we go lads, for our destiny lay within these dark, forgotten chambers.