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Rabid as a dog of war - 80%

autothrall, November 13th, 2009

I'll admit it took me some years to come to an appreciation of Chicago's Usurper, but once arriving, I never left the terminal. Usurper is not a band that creates catchy metal-of-the-week. Their material simultaneously offers tribute to the early masters (Celtic Frost, Hellhammer, Venom, etc) while forging a rather brutal path of its own. Big, chunky and unforgiving, Skeletal Season is one of those records that you come away thinking 'that was heavy as fuck'.

The band can hammer out slower paced, meaty aggression such as the opener "Shadowfiend" with its crusty Tom G. Warrior-inspired vocals, and then switch it up to a mix of black snarls and death grunts in "Dismal Wings of Terror". The rhythms are always composed simply, but little more is needed. The grandiose bludgeoning of the loud guitars fuzzed out to overdrive evokes more charisma than could be crafted through technical riffing. Title track "Skeletal Season" crunches forth a yawning, morbid doom over the minimal, sparse drumming. A 2-year old could write this song, fucking BRUISES like an outtake from Apocalyptic Raids once it picks up the pace. "Embrace of the Dead" creates grinding doom with guitars that sound slightly, charmingly out of tune. "Prowling Death (the Demigoddess)" creates a forward thrust like the grate of an 18-wheeler being introduced to your forehead at about 65mph. "Cemetarian" is another monument to crushing, sludgy black thrash metal, with some nice verse breaks where the distorted bass plods along effectively. "Brimstone Fist" is the blackest, most driving track on the record, and it all ends with "Wolflord", another Celtic Frost-inspired piece. Lyrically, the album is highly influenced by horror, sci-fi and nostalgia (similar to the Misfits but a little more supernatural).

The mix of the album is loud and obnoxious, and it honestly wouldn't function any other way. The band did mature a little with later albums like Twilight Dominion and Cryptobeast, and those are arguably more memorable than this or the debut Diabolisis. However, there is a charm to the band's early discography which far predates the modern wave of retro worship. Surely, Usurper wore its influences on its sleeve, far before it was cool to do so. They were a consistent band in both the studio and their live performances, and an authentic footnote in the American metal landscape that will be missed (though they still perform on occasion).


Classssick... - 84%

Snxke, July 6th, 2004

"Skeletal Season" is an amazing war-stomping-hell-factory of a record. Usurper have managed to bring together a mix of militant drumming and clearer than normal black metal vocals to make one hell of a listening experiance. The drums clank along like a machine in hell, the vocals screech, sing and growl like a madman with acid being poured on his face (thanks to B.O.C. for the reference) and the songwriting is thick and chordal. The blast beat sections are incredibly constructed without falling into cliched traps, and the chugging war-march sections just amaze. Production is strange and gives a unique edge to the whole affair that few could imagine imitating. Usurper are strange and appealing...and manage to take from their influences without completely robbing them.

The songwriting is topic notch, the lyrics and music weave together to form a spell of necromancy and death that convince in their eerie spell. This record is truly "occult" in a way that most black metal records simply aren't. It has vibe, "atmosphere" and violence! Much attention is paid to the melodies so that they are violent and skilled, but also contain mood and poise. (Those are two things most modern black metal bands have lost in their mindless brutality today...) The lyrics pay close attention to actual folklore as well, providing written explanation for a few of the tunes even. Very classy compared to most of the pathetic attempts at Satan-Occultic reference that most of the idiots in the scene keep pressing out.

"Skeletal Season" ranks among the perfect "Halloween" albums as something to play whent he great Samhain is upon us. Moody, brilliant, and intense...these guys really put it all together here. While the new stuff is good, this will always remain my favorite of the many Usurper albums. Thankfully, the band never decayed into being poor, they just never recaptured this vibe either.

ALL black metal fans need to own this...BUY OR DIE!!!