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I’ll be frank: I wasn’t expecting quality from this band. Was it presumptuous of me? It certainly was. I had no right to expect failure going into this listen. But I did, and I hardly think I can be blamed. A name like ‘Sadomasochrist’ seems like a pretty typical forced portmanteau with the intention of being offensive while actually coming off as somewhat silly. The picture on their band page isn’t much more convincing. Oh look, a guy holding a cross upside down. No, wait, two! Two guys holding crosses upside down! And the guy on the right is wearing a Hannibal Lecter ‘He’s a little bitey” mask. They even have funny little monikers (the bassist’s name is, get this, ‘Viking Death’). They must be down right brutal, right? Not for the light-hearted, that Sadomasochrist. The Mexican Gorgoroth, if you will.
Actually, yeah, they are.
The Mexican Gorgoroth? No, I was having a little fun with that one. I mean to say that Sadomasochrist didn’t strike me as even remotely in the ballpark as what you might think a band I’ve described would sound like. You know what I mean, we’ve all heard the ‘guy-in-someone’s-basement black metal acts that take pictures of themselves in corpse paint and black longcoats. We kind of expect them to suck. No offense meant to them, but this isn’t the 1980s. The novelty is beginning to wear thin. Sadomasochrist is not that sort of act; they achieve what they set out to do. Even if they appear as no more than a guy who, try as he might, just isn’t getting the compositional side of things. On the contrary, the compositional side is where they got it exactly right.
They’re a band from Mexico (ostensibly a large hill someplace if I’ve a correct understanding of what an ‘ecatepec’ is), specializing in a loud, raw form of black metal. Their sound is very old school and arranged in a live sort of way. The guitars come at you from either side with the vocals nestled in between. The drums are pushed to the back, but not too far back. They are somewhat muffled but not to the point where it hinders, although it’s fairly noticeable on the snares. The kit sounds good, though; the bass has some real heft and the snares feel full. It’s not hard to hear the kit at all. For non-black metal fans the guitars may take some getting used to, however. They register high; almost shrill, even. It’s not terribly difficult to acclimate to the sound, however, especially when the riffs are quite as interesting as they are. That said, you might find yourself not wanting to push the volume too high.
The vocals are.. black metal vocals. I mean that as a compliment, because that’s the best way to describe them: more or less quintessentially black metal. The vocalist squeals like his internal viscera is being scooped out with a melon baller. Sometimes he drops a little lower, using a more bottom-heavy wretch reminiscent of death metal. Other times he reaches pitches not unlike the sound of a cat dying. The vocal performance is really very engaging and fits the music around him like a perfectly-sized marital aid. An apt analogy because, I think, the vocalist is positioned almost dead center of the bedlam around him, rather than being pushed all the way to the back like some black metal acts prefer to do. Maybe he’s not fond of the drummer? I like to think so, although I can’t for the life of me figure out why.
The production is pretty basic, all in all. As I mentioned the instruments are placed in such a way to give a sort of live feel, and it works. Perhaps the album was recorded live? Regardless, the album sounds great. It’s just sparse, cold, and empty enough to appease one’s need for that sort of thing on a black metal LP while not leaving the instruments sounding dead and hollow. Rest assured, this is not a Bone Awl record. Every instrument is fleshed out just enough to give the right impression. At the same time, there is enough ‘room’ in between them to give that above stated sense of emptiness. Sadomasochrist finds that careful balance a black metal record needs to sound menacing and grim without also sounding like a train wreck recorded on a gramophone.
The music itself, all things considered, works. Sadomasochrist is a band not afraid to embrace where black metal began and the heavy metal giants before that. Each track is a journey from one riff to the next, not typically eschewing black metal’s rip roaring infancy. The second track - “Babilony” - is built around an adventurous ditty of a riff that will certainly get your head a-nodding and foot a-tapping in no time. Later on, the tracks shifts into another aggressive riff that climbs and falls, climbs and falls. Not to abandon where it began, the song crashes into its outro: a teaser of the earlier riff. We’re treated to another head-banging delight in the form of “Mirror of Souls”, the seventh track. The rhythm guitarist, on your left, strums away a mean little riff while on your right is a shrill, slashing attack. Later things shift into creamy tremolo, then a dual beatdown from both sides. The interplay between the two guitarists here is just gravy and the track as a whole is the highlight of the album. Likely my personal favorite as well.
I’ve found the album to be fairly consistently interesting. Sadomasochrist appear to be aware of when to switch things up a bit, as well. An example being “War Symphony” which takes the tempo down a notch for a period, allowing an angry drummer dominant the soundscape for a time. Another welcome addition is the intro to the title track. It starts slow, a few chords sharp with that familiar shrill reverb creep out while the vocalist hacks up a furball. Then the track proper begins and we’re thrown headfirst into another one-two punch of dual guitar AK-47 riffs. Breaking up the monotony every now and again is certainly pleasing on an album such as this and I appreciate the thought. There’s only so many ways you can begin a track on an album such as this after all.
All in all, a pretty enjoyable listen. I’m glad to have been treated to it. Sadomasochrist is a rock solid debut. Perhaps one could turn that around and present it as a negative; the album doesn’t do anything particularly interesting. There’s not much reason to listen to it unless you’re in the mood for straight-forward, blistering black metal. This doesn’t really cut it in a word of Arckanums, Ascensions, and the like. However, Sadomasochrist are certainly going about it with the right attitude: they revel in black metal’s heavy metal ancestry and for that I applaud them. Good job, guys. Can’t wait to hear what you come up with next.