Monday, April 27, 2015

Review: Death Karma - The History of Death and Burial Rituals Part 1

High concept black metal has always been exceptionally curious in my mind. Mixing lo-fi adversarial vitriol with obscurely related, often threadbare themes that fray under scrutiny. I'd be remiss not to mention, however, that the trend backpedaled into something almost transcendent with albums like Blut Aus Nord's Work Which Transforms God or Deathspell Omega's oft' cited Si Monumentum Requires Circumspice. These were albums that inherently sought to elevate the medium above the too often perceived graininess and unlistenability of too many 2nd-wave bands to even begin to mention.

Since then many bands have attempted to do the same, and often with varying results that lean toward impressive. Most notably over the course of the last several years, and especially several awesome opuses from 2014, including works by Abigor, Nightbringer, and Lvcifyre. None of the aforementioned, however, did as much to distance their album from satanic metal orthodoxy then perhaps Cult of Fire's मृत्यु का तापसी अनुध्यान, which went immense lengths to blend traditional Indian instrumentation and scales with goddess Kali worshipping ideology... especially for a band from the Czech Republic.

It's appropriate then, that Death Karma is comprised of members Tom Coroner and Infernal Vlad, both of Cult of Fire infamy and that they manage to transpose ascendant ideas to this project as well. Said in simple terms, The History of Death and Burial Rituals Part 1 is exactly what the title implies, but to leave it so simply coined would be doing the record a huge disservice.

Rather than champion satanic religious fervor, this LP is a meditation surrounding six cultures' funeral practices and how death is distinctly observed by each of the represented subjects. Both a long lament for those who have passed as well as a celebration for what might unfold beyond the veil. Subjective, yes, but it is also oozing with empathy and respect for each cultural practice, seeking to imbue the listener with some sense of how the spirit is ushered from one life to the next and the common thread that ties them all together.

Musically this is black metal... everything present on the album is indicative of the genre, but superlative. Guitars are a churning maelstrom of buzzsawing intensity that dip into black/death territory on occasion, but never fully succumb to it. You can't help but hear exceptional chorus effects and small delay on these monstrous riffs. There is simultaneously the weep of tremolo picked vitriol as well as a melancholic tonality that more often than not revels in being secretly celebratory.

As far as the rhythm section here is concerned, bass and drums work in sync with one another. There are blast beats for days, and fills that work perfectly for the scales being explored by the guitars. There is also plenty of room for the bass instrumentation to shine, given a HUGE bottom end that swells and gallops when not blasting like artillery.

Some of the highest musical points on the album are when all three elements- guitar, bass, drums- are perfectly synchronized in a crescendoing fervor of black metal bliss. A perfect example being the 30 second mark of track five, "India - Towers of Silence" where everything gels and assaults in monolithic grandeur. Which is not ta say that's the first high point here by any means. It's one of many on an album that never ceases to surprise or thrill with its innovations and supremacy.

Atmospherically, few albums so far this year stretch themselves to the limits shown by Death Karma. There are symphonic elements that simply add to the superb grandiosity of the thing. I'm not talking cheesy orchestral hits a'la Dimmu Borgir or the suffocatingly hokey keyboard wankery of early era Gehenna. In tandem with the rest of the instrumentation here it's just as subtly nuanced as everything else these two musicians have put on display. Sonically, compositionally, and thematically masterful, it's safe to say that I can't wait to hear what they explore with the inevitable The History of Death and Burial Rituals Part 2.

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