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This split features two of the major players in the modern death/crust scene and includes some very strong work from both bands involved. Fans of either band should look into this, as the Stormcrow tracks featured here are as strong as anything on their full length and the Sanctum tracks are the only songs the band has recorded not available on the CD version of On the Horizon.
Stormcrow play a particularly dark, malevolent blend of old school death metal and heavy crust punk. Bands like Autopsy and Asphyx are as clear influences as pioneering crust acts like His Hero Is Gone and Skitsystem. Their riffs hop around between energetic hardcore stomps, galloping mid-paced thrash and slower, doomy sections all played in fuzzy, downtuned glory. The drumming is fast, furious and full of d-beats during the uptempo sections and heavy-handed and plodding when the band slows things down. Brian's vocals, as on the Stormcrow full-length, sound like a hoarse hardcore shout that's been drawn out and lowered down into death growl range. In other words, it gives the music a definite death metal feel while still retaining a bit of punk influence. Of the band's three tracks, the first two are faster paced, thuggish ragers. The third, "Dead Dreams," clocks in at nearly eight minutes and is both the highlight of the split and possibly the best thing Stormcrow has recorded. Starting with a slow and ominous melody, the band kicks on the distortion without losing track of the melody and feeling of hopelessness, then kicks things into overdrive for perhaps their most overtly death metal riffing, which then slows down into thrash break territory, double bass and pinch harmonics and all. After the six minute mark, we even get a lead guitar line that's straight outta Stockholm circa 1991. Not to say that the rest of the split pales in comparison to this monster, but the rest of this release could be a few rungs short of average and "Dead Dreams" alone would make it worthy of a purchase.
Sanctum's tracks on side two predates their full-length material by two years and at this time the band hadn't yet incorporated quite as much Bolt Thrower influence into their crusty deaththrash. Kevin's vocal approach isn't too dissimilar to Stormcrow's Brian: a sort of "downtuned" version of a harsh crust shout, though he does slight more in the way of screaming. First track "Age of Ruin" is their most metallic here, with an intro that's pure old-school death metal before turning up the crust quotient. The remaining tracks are more rooted in crust and thrash, but the guitars are deep and distorted and the general thrashiness is much more Demolition Hammer than it is Overkill. There are some absolutely killer riffs on these songs. I particularly like how the break in "Forging Minds" picks back up gradually. The drumming is a straightforward thrashy affair (with some nice double bass here and there) and the bass pretty much just follows the guitar lines (this isn't solo heavy by any stretch of the imagination but there are some little flourishes that bookend riffs). "Taste the Steel" is a furiously thrashy song and is a definite highlight, but album closer "Work for Never" (an Extreme Noise Terror cover) is made even more extreme than the original and sounds sort of out of place on this split. It's a fun enough track, though, so isn't too distracting. If only Sanctum had ended their side with a band-defining song like Stormcrow had, this would be near perfect.
All in all, this is some of Stormcrow's best work and while the Sanctum tracks are all excellent (with the exception of the cover, which is just sort of there for me), the Bolt Thrower influence is something I really like about their later sound. And if there's any band a release of any genre can be criticized for not sounding like enough, it's Bolt Thrower. Again, if you're into either band involved this is a must-listen but I also recommend this to any fans of crust or thrashy old school death metal as this won't disappoint.