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Note a different edit of this review was posted on my blog "Subcide Webzine" in November 2012.
Unlike previous ‘Doom Cult’ releases, ‘The Grand Tormentor’, which is the first Witchrist release on Osmose Productions, has an instantaneous appeal. I found myself nodding my head to it from the first listen on my car stereo. In the past I’ve found them (recordings from the Doom Cult) to be slow growers. Where the previous Witchrist album, ‘Beheaded Ouroboros’, was more a barrage of unrelenting war chaos, ‘The Grand Tormentor’ is like a dirty ‘Immolation’, an ‘Incantation’ that’s been living rough for a few weeks without clean clothes or a shower, or maybe even a ‘Disma’ that’s staggered out of the Megalith covered in coal dust and then rolled in a rotting goat carcass and then in dust before showing up at home and been told to go outside until it’s squirted down with a high-powered hose.
From start to finish the album flows nicely. The opening tune, ''Into the Arms of Yama', is a nine minute building doom epic which eventually (around minute 6) breaks into death metal aggression. This simplistic, yet brutal Neanderthal assault continues in song number 2, the title tune, and again in ‘Meditation for Sacrifice’, which then progresses down into doom dirge. This is followed by ‘Wasteland of Thataka’, which at 1:36 is the shortest blast of hatred on the release. That hatred is blasted again in an extended barrage on 'Exile'. ‘The Tomb’ opens with a taste of ‘Autopsy’ and early ‘Pungent Stench’-styled slow dirge riffs with hammer on/hammer off tails which progresses into an intense up-tempo rhythm that continues into ‘Tandava’, then to the catchy fist-pumper that is ‘Cast into Fire’. Album closer ‘Funeral Lotus’ wraps things up in much the same way it started with an epic nine minute doom number.
A special comment must be given to the drum sound. Rather than the modern death metal triggered drum sound which to my ears sounds like a cross between a Geiger counter and someone farting loudly on a plastic chair, you can actually feel the low rumble of the kick drums more than you can hear them (although you can still clearly hear them), which in my view is how they are supposed to be. Additionally, the vocals sit in the music as more of an accompanying instrumental texture rather than dominating growls and this compliments the album nicely.
This sits up with “Kill this F*#king World” by Skuldom and “Opus One” by Sinistrous Diabolus as a kvlt classic NZ underground metal release. If you don’t have it yet, get it now!
The first time I heard this album I was about three tracks in when I realized I was drinking a tea. I’m not health nut by any means, but I do enjoy a nice refreshing beverage like this now and again. However, at this particular moment I couldn’t have been more embarrassed. I was drinking a tea while listening to the new Witchrist? How inappropriate! If I really felt the need to quench my thirst at that particular time I should have at least been cracking a beer (assuming there was no chalice of Christian blood sitting around). I couldn’t help but set the tea aside until the album was complete. It was just anything but fitting, for the new Witchrist album reveals powerful hatred and mystical violence. This is the second release with the newer vocalist (the first one being the split with Morbosidad) and I am far from disappointed.
Reflective of the debut album Beheaded Ouroboros, this one begins with a slimy, down-tempo riff drenched in anguish. Eventually it explodes into maniacal force and doesn’t let up until the album is finished. When I first heard this band, I thought them to be extremely promising. Featuring members from bands like Diocletian, I figured there’s no way they could fuck this up. And so far they haven’t.
I enjoyed Beheaded Ouroboros and it’s not rare that I slap that one on the record player to revisit it. However, this new release entitled The Grand Tormentor really takes the sound to a whole new level. They maintain their unique black/death sound that they’ve invoked in their prior releases, but now it’s clear they are on the verge of perfecting what they want to convey. This album is killer almost the entire way through and it is not one that I recommend black and death metal fans wait around to check out.
There are quite a few newer black/death and war metal bands that are putting out extremely notable material right now, and Witchrist is definitely one of them. Don’t waste your time by not picking this record up. If you love the smell of rotting Christian corpses, want to summon the call from the grave, and provoke war upon all enemies of the Old Ones, then this album is definitely for you. The wrath of Yama is upon us, let us go and spill our hatred.
New Zealand's Witchrist first caught my attention with their debut LP Beheaded Ouroborous: a vile progeny of the corpophagous swarm, slithering and sulking beneath the black, dead soil, searching for the sickeningly sweet scent of Death. It was easily one of the most impressive and enjoyable debuts I have ever had the pleasure to listen to, and left me craving for more. How surprised I was then that The Grand Tormentor was able to sneak up on me: it hit the distros and blogosphere before I even knew what was happening. Needless to say, once I got my hands on the album, I was salivating at the chance to be enveloped in the bands next nightmarish evolution.
Sadly, The Grand Tormentor merely reacquainted me with the evils of high expectations. The album didn't even sound like the Witchrist I knew and loved: instead of the horrifying stew of Archgoat, Incantation and Beherit I was expecting to dine upon, I instead received a pile of ground Bolt Thrower-meets-Asphyx chuck, raw and covered in flies. Not necessarily a bad thing, but also not what I signed up for either. Truth is, The Grand Tormentor is a perfectly fine album in it's own right. The production is wonderful: powerful and static-riddled, each riff landing with sledge-hammer force. The songwriting also holds up to scrutiny: an easy mix of groove and doom that will no doubt satisfy big fans of Bolt Thrower and Benediction. Needless to say, it's got riffs: "Cast Into Fire" is short. groove-laden and heavy, and will no doubt get heads banging and mosh pits thundering, while "The Tomb" will draw many favorable comparisons to Asphyx with it's slow, monstrous pace and underpinnings of creepy melody. The Grand Tormentor works well for what it is.
And this is also my biggest issue with the album: The Grand Tormentor is a pretty massive departure from the bands previous work, so much so that I just can't get behind it. It may not be objective, but then again music is never truly objective: the value of personal preference is vastly under stated when it comes to the analysis of any album, and disingenuous attempts to curtail it's importance are frankly obnoxious. I simply cannot get into The Grand Tormentor precisely because it is such a massive departure from a direction I vastly preferred. Gone is the atmosphere and dessicated bleakness of Beheaded Ouroborous, replaced with groovy-riffs and monotonous guttural grunts. Many have complained about the bands new vocalist, known as Void, because he lacks the range and rawness of the bands previous vocalist Impecator(these two must have been tortured as children with such names...). I am not one of these people per-se: Void is a very competent growler, and his style fits perfectly with the bands new direction. My issue with his vocal attack comes from my problem with the band new direction more than his performance.
It's true, "Occult" black/death like Witchrist played on albums like Beheaded Ouroborous and Curses of Annihilation has become pretty trendy in death metal. There are a veritable sea of bands dabbling in occult mysterious and impious practices right now, and I can understand any band wanting to separate themselves from the scene. But why jump from one trendy sound to another? There are just as many "Old-Skull Death Methul" bands rehashing played out Bolt Thrower and Asphyx riffs as there are grimm, lo-fi C'thulhu Cultists mucking about, so I really don't understand the change. And at least the "Occult" black/death movement is a new one, born from a revival of classic death and black metal perhaps, but none the less a new phenomenon. Everything about The Grand Tormentor(no doubt a reference to Benediction's The Grand Leveller) feels watered down, from the musical approach to the artwork to the song titles. The Grand Tormentor will no doubt appeal to a larger audience, but it's also missing something that the bands previous work had in spades: personality.
Much like recent albums from Undergang and Cruciamentum, Witchrist have toned down their evil in favor of a more accessible, well-worn sound. And like those recent releases, The Grand Tormentor is a solid album for what it is. And what it is exactly is a large step back, away from downward progression into true nihilism and instead into well tread paths of various beloved forebears. Competency can only get this album so far, but those who are looking for a head-banging good time should seek out The Grand Tormentor. For me, I'll wait for more intoxicating whispers from the dark.
originally posted at http://curseofthegreatwhiteelephant.blogspot.com/
The Grand Tormentor is slower and more straightforward than Beheaded Ouroboros was, but nothing's been lost. If anything, this record is even heavier than the last. Insane amounts of low-end nearly bury the vocals and drums, rendering everything into a cylinder of pressure which seems to press down upon the listener as the record goes on. Recognizable riffs and frantic solos break the surface throughout, making the record surprisingly catchy, and repeat listens will reveal even more detail. The band knows how to blast now and again, too; "Meditation for Sacrifice" combines headbanging breaks with tank-like rumbling and doom sections which have to be heard to be believed.
It's that sense of balance which elevates this over most doom/death records. The Grand Tormentor is just slow enough -- "Into the Arms of Yama" and "The Tomb" are perfect pits of sludge which recall the best of Disciples of Mockery -- and it's also fierce enough, with tracks like "Tandava" and "Wasteland of Thataka" providing a non-stop barrage of riffs. In between are tracks which combine the best of both, mixing them with swaggering mid-paced parts. "Cast Into Fire" is a great example, packed with nimble start-and-stop riffing and some impressive drum fills. Then there's "Funeral Lotus", a ten-minute epic of oppressive, ponderous weight. Witchrist slows things down to a crawl here, allowing vomitous vocals and crashing cymbals to take center stage. The pace increases to a gallop, then drops off into an extended, memorable theme which rolls its way to the end, crushing everything in its path. Then, if you're anything like me, you obey the dictates of the circular intro/outro and start over with "Into the Arms of Yama"...
The Grand Tormentor is a strong contender for record of the year, and is sure to convince many of those who missed out on Beheaded Ouroboros. If you like slow, blackened death metal, you must hear this record. Highest recommendations.
Standout Tracks: "Into the Arms of Yama", "Meditation for Sacrifice", "The Tomb", "Funeral Lotus"
Review by vorfeed: http://vorfeed.net