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Thematically powerful, lacks definition and structure - 68%

Annable Courts, May 1st, 2021

Let's get something straight: this album isn't easy to listen to. It's long, it lacks structure, the production was it seems intentionally subpar. However, it is unique enough that it deserves a little bit of description and analysis. First, its most characteristic facet is it was built on an instrumental/song paradigm. The infamous 'Prayer' tracks amongst many other sections during the song tracks are strange bouts of instrumental (more on that later) while the rest makes sure this could not possibly be mistaken for anything else but black metal.

'First Prayer' uses a sort of hymnal Gregorian chants amidst distorted open string picking sections marked by deep sorrow and a religious sort of reverence and fervor, while 'Second Prayer' sets the stage for a more theatrical ambiance pervaded by a vicious malevolence and flowing with a more fluid groove, like the soundtrack to a dark entity in a film or some shocking revelatory scene. The entire middle chunk on 'Carnal Malefactor' is outright full-on Gregorian chants with a 'Hallelujah' at the tail-end of it. It's clear the band had some sort of dark sense of humor making this, and were obviously cultivating a kind of subversive religious innuendo-spirited mockery as can be seen in some song titles.

Musically, the guitars consist of textbook black metal riffing with full chord strums and warlike power chord rhythms with tremolo picked leads on top. The album can be brutal (see title-track), bolstering the said epic warrior-like dimension of black metal, but knows how to mix things up with avant-garde more progressive sections that supply the much needed yin to the yang of heads down extreme metal savagery. At no point does the album come across as one flat, horizontal sounding performance. In fact, the music generally gives out a feel of obliqueness, like the music is written at an odd slanted angle, so to speak. It seems to elevate past song-writing linearity and develop purposely warped shapes and motifs. Even some of the more straightforward passages always seem to carry a weird deformity at their core, almost like the guitars are a quarter tone sharp or a similar effect from the perpetual dissonance at play.

The recordings have a deliberately raw feel to them reminiscent of industrial metal, with the heavy bass guitar presence delivering that thick density at the center of the mix. The guitars sound like they're voluntarily under-produced and EQ-neglected as they exude too much high end frequency for it to be accidental. The album as a result has a harsh, raucous production sound that way. The drums sound heavy, although well lacking in definition. The vocals are a more monstrous sort of low-pitched heinous version of black metal shrieks, mixed in with a noticeable reverb/delay presence. That lower timbre of voice contributes in the way of making this release more rare sounding and distinguishable, and also keeps the album aurally tolerable as an hour plus of noisy guitar shrills plus loud high-pitched shrieks would've overloaded the mixing space around that 2-10kHz area of sharp sibilance.

Back to the composition aspect: the songs will abruptly come to a halt midway through, turning to bleak ambiances of guitar feedback noise or eerie samples in the background with over them unsettling reversed spoken word sequences sounding like sheer distressed howling or just remote plaintive wails before the full instrumental assault returns with more anger yet than previously. Naturally there's an extensive use of dissonance strained by heavy distortion expressing the lamenting demeanor the whole album is about.

Overall, the album is of course an intriguing concept musically, and its endeavor fairly remarkable and original. However the question then becomes: are the songs effectively memorable individually, or is it rather just the idea of the album in its broader sense that will stay with the listener ? Adding its unusual lengthiness, lasting a full 1 hour 17 minutes, it would appear the case here is rather the second proposed option. The songs contain solid moments and despite the abnormal length it isn't actually boring, even towards the end. But compared with black metal classics it lacks in the ability to produce distinct, memorable songs with unforgettable melodies and hooks.

The intrinsic entity of the album seems to be rather an effort in developing its one central mood and shaping slight variations from it, and not one of separate and distinct individual identities ultimately forming a complex entity. In other words, Deathspell chose to mix two or three colors together on their color palette (probably a grayish blend...) and painted a month's worth of art with just that one mix, and it's difficult to distinguish the paintings between them with the sore lack of contrast and definition. The listener will likely remember the 'Prayer' tracks, a few sections from the song tracks but really will enjoy the general atmosphere of the record and its kind of lingering, grossly organized jam session vibe.