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Crumbs from the table - 56%

robotiq, February 22nd, 2021

The mid-nineties were a terrible time for real death metal. The melodic version of the genre was emerging, which had more in common with Iron Maiden than with the complex aggression of death metal. The year 1996 might have been an all-time low for the genre. The number of notable death metal albums was pitiful. There was "None So Vile" of course, and Immolation's unheralded "Here in After". There were also flawed albums like "Millennium" or "Khaooohs and Kon-Fus-Ion", but little else. If I had known about Eternal Dirge, I might have added "Khaos Magick" to this shortlist. I would have liked this record if I'd heard it at the time.

The band’s debut album ("Morbus Ascendit") deserves wider recognition. That debut showed that the band had a superior level of musical and technical talent. They played an early American style of death metal blended with Teutonic thrash, different to any other European death metal band of the time. "Khaos Magick", showed a similar contempt for contemporary metal trends. There were no concessions to the more popular metallic sounds of the time; groove metal, melodic death metal, black metal. Eternal Dirge were a genuine band with their own sound. They made music that reflected their interests and Lovecraftian worldview. No-one paid any attention.

Four years separate this album from "Morbus Ascendit", but the two albums feel like the work of the same band (with an unchanged line-up). The music has evolved somewhat. The tempo is slower, the riffs are more angular, the thrash influence has gone. By far the biggest difference is the prominence of the keyboards. This was an endearing feature of the debut but it becomes the dominant melodic instrument here. I cannot think of another death metal record that uses keyboards to this extent. The enfeebled guitar and drums are relegated to bit-part players behind it. The mix reflects this hierarchy, with the guitars losing any crunch they would otherwise have. Even the acoustic instrumental ("Kallisti") is drowned out by the frequently used 'church organ' effect. Imagine walking through a cathedral listening to death metal quietly in your headphones, whilst an organ recital booms in the background. That is what this album sounds like.

The album starts strong. "I, Unnamable" is a solid opener, with a potent Nocturnus-ish riff transition which is reused several times during the song (e.g., 1:17 or 4:21). This transition is the best moment on the album, and is good enough to mediate the annoying organ noises. The second song "The Thresholds of Sensation" is the grittiest and best here. This one is closest to the spirit of the debut album. The riffs are fast and simple, and it is much less reliant on the keyboard. My attention wavers from then on. "Anthem to the Seeds (of Pure Demise)" sounds like a boring version of "Andromeda Strain" from the first Nocturnus album. The quality drops further on "Feaster from the Stars'', keyboards saturate the melody and the pace slows. A track like "Like Roses in a Garden of Weed" sums up the worst of this album; dull mid-paced riffs with an artificial ‘heroic’ feel, lethargic rhythms and a cumbersome organ melody.

Eternal Dirge were a talented band who avoided all genre cliches and released honest death metal with their own unique sound. This would normally make for a good album, particularly after such a promising debut. For some reason this isn’t the case for “Khaos Magick”. The lack of variety in the song-writing and the over-reliance on certain melodic tricks is enough to kill this one. It is a well-crafted shell of an album that feels sterile and humdrum. Listen to their debut instead.