Cruciamentum | ‘Charnel Passages’
Cruciamentum have had a funny journey over the eight years of their existence.
Releasing what is widely considered to be a modern death metal classic in their ferocious ‘Convocation of Crawling Chaos’ demo back in 2008, their path then took a somewhat bumpy turn.
No sooner had the band solidified its lineup with the addition of R.B. on bass and R.C. (notably of Grave Miasma fame) on guitar and the release of the strong, if not quite as stellar, ‘Engulfed in Desolation’ EP in 2011, than mastermind D.L. decided to move to Finland, putting the band’s future into question.
What followed was a merry dance of on-again, off-again hi-jinx that kept everyone wondering over the band’s status and whether they had fallen to premature ruin.
So when, sometime last year, mumblings about a full length began to spread throughout the metal community, it was with trepidation that we held our breath.
Could they match the intensity, heaviness and songwriting excellence of their demo or would their inconsistent status stultify their creativity?
Would the album actually get made at all? Nobody really knew.
A Zealous Force
When ‘Tongues of Nightshade’ emerged earlier this year on Profound Lore’s bandcamp page any concerns were immediately dropped to the ground with a steel-toe boot to the teeth.
With a luxurious production that is modern and crisp yet full, thick and ultra-heavy, it became clear that Cruciamentum had lost none of their ferocity. In fact, perhaps ironically, the brighter production lends even more weight to their slightly updated, more dynamic sound.
Cruciamentum have always been about riffs and musicality, something that sets them apart from many of their more obscure, reverb-soaked peers. What they give us on this record is seven long, twisting, evil and catchy compositions that cover a lot of ground while maintaining a zealous focus.
Every section sounds considered. If there was any filler during the writing process the band have meticulously weeded it out.
The music is very dark, indeed, and is helped along in places with a subtle use of keys. They bring a ton of eerie character to the record, draping the vicious riffing in a moribund pall. The well-chosen guitar tones and thick, warm bass similarly speak to a sense of the ‘other’ without compromising on violence.
A Deep Groove
D.L.’s vocals sound stronger than they have before and are backed up here and there with R.B.’s vicious snarl. Reverb and delay is used sparingly allowing the words to ring above the density of the music.
‘Piety Carved from Flesh’- another pre-release single- is perhaps the most familiarly Cruciamentum sounding song here, with a big catchy guitar hook that echoes the ‘hit’ from their demo, ‘Deathless Ascension’, and will no doubt become a live favorite.
The band carved a deep groove with that legendary demo, and appear happy to stick within it. What they have proven now is that it is possible to stay rigidly focused on a fairly singular style without becoming boring or obvious.
They move around constantly, shifting up and down through the gears from well-paced faster sections to wonderfully potent doom parts, maintaining a sense of cohesion that a lesser band might fumble.
Picking highlights isn’t easy but if pushed at this moment in time I’d have to lean toward the penultimate ‘Dissolution of Mortal Perception’ and closer ‘Collapse’ (concept?).
Leaning more heavily toward the doomy end of the band’s style, they just manage to ratchet up that sense of dread that lurks throughout the album. Interestingly they were both written by drummer, D.B-H. (also of Grave Miasma), and they conclude this journey on an exceptionally high note.
Thumping Awkward Rhythm
Echoes of the demo ring out again on the final section of ‘Dissolution…’ where they reference ‘Rotten Flesh Crucifix’ with a thumping awkward rhythm that knocks you off guard. It’s like a breakdown that has been stretched sideways.
It is an off-kilter device that they employ at various points across the album and offers a sweet balance between knuckle-headed impact and skewed unpredictability.
It runs neatly into ‘Collapse’ whose spectrally overlaid clean tones are hauntingly brilliant, bringing this great album to a sublime close. It’ these great details that are scattered across the album that make you want to keep returning to it.
Sure, it is an album that essentially works best when taken as a whole, but there are so many exciting distinct elements that tantalise throughout the journey.
With two so closely linked bands currently operating out of the UK at the top of their respective games, and at the spearhead of the death metal scene, you might expect more of an overlap in terms of sound and style but that is not the case at all.
Cruciamentum come off as the ying to Grave Miasma’s yang, taking a much less murky route than their brothers, yet it is this very incongruity that makes their bond all the more satisfying to observe.
Wrapped up in fittingly gloomy and old school artwork that will look great on vinyl, ‘Charnel Passages’ is a must for anyone interested in what modern death metal has to offer. It has been a long time coming, but all things come to those who wait.
‘Charnel Passages’ is a striking and most rewarding listen.
4.6/5 – Andrew Cunningham ::: 11/09/15