Friday, April 3, 2015

Review: Sarpanitum - Blessed Be My Brothers

I haven't heard a death metal album so contrarily uplifting since Vital Remains' Dechristianized. While the US death metal legends' now classic opus with Glen Benton on the mic was a literal contradiction, being insanely melodic and soaring but with lyrics heaving vitriol to match their previous efforts. Sarpanitum's Crusades obsessed second effort, however, forgoes the hate and pointed violence instead proliferating nothing short of triumphant death metal hymns celebrating valor and warfare.

Sharing two of their members with Mithras, that would be a fine point of reference for people unfamiliar with the band in question. Sarpanitum began purveying their brand of death metal in 2003, releasing several demos and a full length in 2007 before taking a hiatus in 2008. This is actually my first experience with them, as I criminally slept on Despoilment of Origin until now. And while that album is a fine statement of intent, Blessed Be My Brothers considerably ups the ante in just about every positive conceivable way, and kudos to Willowtip Records for picking these guys up.

This is fiercely technical death metal, but without the noodling that typically litters albums of the same genre. Sarpanitum has taken that template and imbued it with distinctly black metal overtones that occasionally spill over to hints of shoegaze suggesting a subtle appreciation for UK acts like My Bloody Valentine or Ride. Not overwhelmingly so, however, but it is evident. As a full package, it's expertly composed and executed admirably. They have captured an atmosphere here that is difficult to draw comparisons and is endlessly thrilling to listen to.

Tom Innocenti's vocals crush. Deeply guttural, but lacking the gurgle and burps of other vocalists, his is a defiant roar that remains lyrically discernable throughout his incensed tirades. Evoking the topical grandeur and alluded majesty of the album art and themes. His guitar compositions are also beyond reproach, exuding a razor sharp lethality and wicked use of scales and riffage.

The actual guitar work, by Tom Hyde, is peerless. His picking is fevered and rabid and, yes, always technical. Layered and effected with reverb and occasional delay and pinch harmonics, it's an absolutely captivating performance. Hyde is also the man responsible for the bass work here, which is nuanced and richly woven into the tracks as a whole, keeping time with the drums and galloping victoriously from song to song.

Drummer Leon Macey's percussion is flawless. His battery is tight and pummeling lacking the compressed/triggered sound that can put me off to a lot of bands that purvey tech death. His pounding is intricate and propulsive, frenzied and venomous. The way the drums both maintain pace and initiate changes within the song structures is dizzyingly complex and neck-snappingly commanding.

There are several instrumental pieces here, starting with opener "Komenos" and ending with "Homeland" that are just as vital to the album as the other tracks. Everything here is fully realized and without filler. From the segue of the apocalyptic "Glorification Upon the Powdered Bones of the Sundered Dead" to the ritually introspective lyricless "Immortalised as Golden Spires". All of which lead the way to the crescendo of the title track, "Blessed Be My Brothers", a cacophonous warcry of remembrance and victory that has some of the most soaring and affirming leads that you'll hear all year.

Yeah, I love this stuff. It's flown criminally under the radar since it's release in February, but Willowtip has a fine band on their roster here, with a near flawless release now under their belts. Seriously, people, don't sleep on this one. It's a contender.

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