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*DISCLAIMER: I am currently in this band as its drummer. However, I have known about this album since long before I joined the band at the start of 2012, so don't let my current status with them taint what is ostensibly an objective, non-biased review.
In the realm of extreme metal, many bands prefer the tried and true method of regurgitating older ideas and in the rare case they come up with ideas of their own it's usually not that good or interesting. This is especially true (or "trve" as many people within it prefer) for the modern black metal scene. Far too often within that particular sub-genre will bands merely go the Darkthrone route of "tremolo pick the same three or four notes/chords with fast blast beat drumming underneath for 3-6 minutes, have lyrics talking about Satan, and look like spiky panda bears covered in leather and fake blood". Only once in a very blue moon will a band come around to shake things up with genuinely original music. I'm very thankful to say that Sorrowseed is one of those once in a very blue moon bands with genuinely original music. With its apocalyptic imagery and music to back it up, Sorrowseed's 20 track, two disc epic The Extinction Prophecies shows that it's still possible to be influenced by your predecessors without outright stealing from them.
Musically this band is what I've taken to calling "melodic extreme metal", based on the three main components of their sound: gothic metal, doom metal, and black metal. Along with those three main styles there are hints of death metal, mainly in the vocal stylings of Casey Jones (more on him later), and progressive metal, namely in a few of the songs having odd time parts and the two disc closers being 11 and 9.5 minutes respectively. As mentioned before, The Extinction Prophecies consists of two discs, respectively entitled Dread Sylvan Summonings and Descent of the Scarab Prophet, each made up of ten tracks, leading to a total running time of nearly 83 minutes. Those with short attention spans may be put off by the sheer size of this double album, but I assure you that the album is worth all of the time it'll take for you to listen to it, and with the way the songs on the album are placed you could listen to each disc separately as if they were their own standalone album.
The two discs, while sharing many of the same traits, are musically different, yet not dissimilar. Dread Sylvan Summonings goes for a more flowing, doom and gothic metal influenced sound, while also being the more radio friendly disc as shown by tracks such as Cancer of Blades and Demeter's Reckoning. Three songs on this disc contain the beautifully woeful clean singing of Bonnie Miller, opener Cancer of Blades, the following track Flowers to the Furnace (the softest and most gothic song of the entire album), and disc closer Reaping Requiem. That's not to say there aren't tracks on this disc that go straight for the fury department; Famine Storm is the most black metal influenced track on this disc, while Demeter's Reckoning's vocals are some of the best on the entire record, showing the versatility of Lilith Astaroth through various blackened rasps, death growls, and Filth whistles that one might mistake for Dani Filth himself if heard out of context. Disc closer Reaping Requiem is the longest song on either disc and is definitely the most epic and ambitious. 11 minutes of gothic doom revolving around the total destruction of mankind, this track features the most poetic lyrics and depressing guitar leads on the album, courtesy of Sorrowseed's composer, lyricist, and main figure Morte McAdaver. Overall the disc definitely goes for the more melodic, doom and gothic influenced side of the band's sound, providing Cradle of Filth-esq vocals within an atmosphere that would feel right at home with a band such as Theatre of Tragedy.
Disc two, Descent of the Scarab Prophet, on the other hand, goes straight for the nut shot in the first track, The Litany, basing itself around faster tempos, more riffing than flowing chords, and more of a progressive tinge to it. Said Litany is easily the most black metal influenced song on the record, surpassing even Famine Storm, and with a more lo-fi production wouldn't be out of place on the old Norwegian demos of the early-to-mid 90s. Songs such as Eldritch Hunger and Obelisk lean more towards the progressive side, featuring many sections of odd time signatures. This disc, while definitely heavier, does have some low-key tracks as well, although none as soft as Flowers to the Furnace. Golden Plague and instrumental Forgotten Depths go more for the doom territory, although it doesn't always work here. War to Feed the Ancients and Circle of False Gods tie each other for the most energetic and aggressive song on the album, the former featuring thrash metal riffing and the fastest, most Slayer-esq moment on the album, while the latter is easily the most riff based and technical. Closer The Astral Harvest is only just surpassed in epicness by Reaping Requiem, mostly due to it being a minute and a half shorter than Requiem, although that's more than made up for by the song's content, featuring some of the best drumming on the album, including some of the only blast beats heard on the record. Most of the last third of the song is made up of a Cynic-esq light jam session between the drums and bass, with the guitar providing backing to the jazz styled bass noodling of Pete Gelles and groovy drumming of Wes Bourque. The song, and album, ends on a high (yet low) note, with the guitar reprising the song's opening melody as the Scarab Prophet's final growl is heard before disappearing into the spectral void.
Alas, this is where I have to talk about the album's few, but noticeable, flaws. For one, some tracks don't retain their staying power as well as some others do, while one track just flat out doesn't work that well. Ocean Scorn from the first disc, gets a little tiring after many listens, probably due to its short length and driving purpose to lead into the second-to-final track on the album's piano intro. That's not to say it's a bad track, just somewhat forgettable. The instrumental Forgotten Depths is also like this, not being incredibly memorable and just being kind of there. For as many tracks as the album has, only one song is outright not very good, that song being Golden Plague. Maybe it's because it's a purely doom track on a disc full of faster, more extreme ones, but the song just sort of plods along with no real purpose. The vocals on top of it don't help much either, leading into the next flaw: the vocals of Casey Jones. Now he's not a bad vocalist by any stretch of the imagination. His voice has a lot of power in it and when he draws out his growl for an extended period, such as on War to Feed the Ancients, it sounds like the world is coming down around you. That being said, there's absolutely no variety in his voice. Disk one's vocalist, Lilith Astaroth, is easily the superior vocalist, with many little tricks up her proverbial sleeve to surprise the listener with. Casey has just one sound that he emits for the entirety of his time on the album. As said, that doesn't make it bad, just very monotonous. Lastly, the production quality on The Extinction Prophecies is at times quite hit and miss. The album falls victim to the common modern metal problem of the guitars and bass being buried underneath everything else, particularly the keys, which in some sections of the album are so loud that they detract from the listening experience. From what I understand there was some backstage hullaballo that lead to the album's mixing being rushed, but that doesn't change the fact that the production quality isn't as up to snuff as it could have been.
Despite its flaws, however, The Extinction Prophecies is truly a great metal album, one that everyone involved in its production and creation should be very proud of. Not often will an unsigned, independent, unknown metal band attempt something this epic and ambitious, but Sorrowseed decided to break the mold and show that an unknown, modern metal band can create an original, quite good product without feeling the need to mooch off the successes of their influences. With influences ranging from Cradle of Filth to King Diamond, from Theatre of Tragedy to Amorphis, and from Type O Negative to Dimmu Borgir, Sorrowseed have taken all those influences and combined them into a single 83 minute melting pot of epic extreme metal. Those within the metal world should give eye to The Extinction Prophecies, for it is indeed an album which deserves the attention of all who hear it.
Though I certainly get a fair share of local music passing my desk, it's rare that I hear something quite so painstakingly crafted as the 2CD debut album of Western Massachusetts' Sorrowseed, a group that establishes a missing link between Cradle of Filth's extreme Goth metal inclinations and the lush paradigms of mid 90s female fronted fare via Theater of Tragedy or The Gathering. Granted, such a fusion of aesthetics might not find a wide appeal beyond those enamored of such artists; but The Extinction Prophecies manages to glue such poles together into a cohesive, Lovecraftian landscape of haunting myths and harrowing, calm interludes distributed through a lattice of glazed guitar melodies, ambiance, pianos and outbursts of impish menace that dwell somewhere in the theoretical overlap of Velvet Darkness They Fear and Midian.
Sorrowseed has woven its endtime epic in two halves, the first being the Dread Sylvan Summonings and the second the Descent of the Scarab Prophet. Each occupies its own CD, and while the content is somewhat interchangeable in terms of overall mood, there are some notable differences between the two, largely in the vocals. Dread Sylvan Summonings features calmer and more eerie compositions, favoring a mix of female vocalists: Lilith Astaroth handling the Dani Filth-like blackened rasp and shrieks, and 'The Reaping Willow' Bonnie Miller covering the clean tones that are reminiscent of The Gathering's Anneke van Giersbergen via Mandylion. While I haven't in general fancied such a blend in a decade or more, I'll admit that Sorrowseed pulls it off due to the ghostlike fabrication of the writing. As for the second disc, Descent of the Scarab Prophet, the band turn towards their other vocalist, Casey Jones, who uses a guttural style not unlike Vader or other Polish death acts, and is backed by more of the rasping. It's a curious concept, and not one I've really seen attempted to this extent, but in a strange way, it actually does better distinguish each of the discs.
Musically, I found myself more inclined towards the latter, especially when the mysticism hits a crescendo of swelling components, the growl and rasped vocals flowing in conjunction over the solid guitars and creepy synthesizers in "Circle of False Gods" or the finale "Astral Harvest" which has a hint of Gothic, progressive extremity to it. The riffing side of the band is extracted more fully here, but that said I would have liked to hear the power of the guitars a bit more than I do. The almost constant use of the pianos and synthesizers is not a problem for me, but I do feel that they were a little loud in some sequences. With the Dread Sylvan Summonings tracks, I actually did feel that there was some more punch to the riffs, but this is possibly due to their contrast against the cleaner vocals, the rasping and the more Gothic focused songs like "Flowers to the Furnace", "Demeter's Reckoning" or "Willow's Edge".
I can't claim that the songs across both discs are incredibly distinct or catchy, but they flow very well as the saga proceeds through its roughly 90 minutes of desolation and despair. Aside from a few of the aforementioned volume levels, which are but minor irritations, the production is quite good. Special credit must also be given for the lyrics and packaging here. The former are incredibly poetic and resonant, saturated with the appropriate dire imagery, but never cheap or shallow; some of the best I've read of late. The latter (artwork) is great for an unsigned band: a spiraling Elder God trampling a storming cityscape, with a nice lyric booklet included inside the digipak. It's also of note that the band is a sort of Gothic metal collective, with the guitarist and composer Morte McAdaver at its center, and a rotation of core, live and guest members. That such a symposium, with such varied constituents remains so 'together' is a testament to their potential.
Sorrowseed might still be a project in its infancy, 'lurking at the threshold' of its promise, but the ambition and professionalism here are laudable. Metal fans who don't wince at my earlier comparisons, or appreciate Gothic/extreme metal hybrids like Graveworm, Crematory and Therion might find much to enjoy here.