I may never have seen any of the Hellraiser films (shame on me, I know), but I sure as hell know Pinhead when I hear him. The eloquently-spoken manifestation of evil and torment drops memorable quotes throughout the Hellraiser series in ways that chill to the bone, and his gospel of dreary damnation is legendary, even among non-viewers such as myself. So when a band decides to incorporate several Pinhead sound clips into their debut album, it’s safe to say, at the very least, that they’re up to something…
Barcelona’s Atrexial aren’t necessarily hiding anything though. Seeing the artwork for and reading through the track list for Souverain is a clear indication of what you will find inside this Lemarchand box of an album. Opening track “Enthronement” sets the mood with dark, orchestral ambience, and rising out of the fog comes “The Hideous Veil of Innocence,” a solid track by blackened death metal standards. Nothing out of the ordinary so far, but for those with jaded ears, third track “Under the Scourge of Lamashtu” is where you’ll perk up. Here, Atrexial unleashes a riff that sounds equal parts Thy Darkened Shade and Cobalt, and then it’s off to the infernal races.
Immediately following this whirlwind of a track, you’ll be treated to the first sound clip from Pinhead, mocking your dreams as “fertile ground for sowing the seeds of torment.” I am normally rather critical when bands of this nature incorporate movie clips into their songs, but I give Atrexial a free pass here. Pinhead is not only fitting, but by the end of the album he seems integral to the band’s desired atmosphere. His petrifying presence is essentially a double knot on an already tightly-laced shoe.
And yet even without Pinhead, every song on Souverain is well-crafted in its songwriting. They twist, turn, and churn their way through guitar solos, tempo changes, and crescendos, and yet they never seem to lose their way. Riffs that open songs often make another bookending appearance near the end (a much welcomed element in songs such as “Shadows of the Nephilim Thronem,” with its awesome, plummeting guitar riff). Within these tight structures are several other ear-catching moments, such as the bursts of explosive aggression on the track “Illuminator,” followed by the almost dissonant, rockabye rhythms of “The Ominous Circle.”
Tight does not always mean enthralling, however, and Souverain does suffer at times from nurturing a loose attention span. The problem is that with the slingshot riffing on the third song that I mentioned earlier, the band has already shown their hand when it comes to the question of whether or not they can bring fresh ideas to the table. So when many of the other songs tend to fall into a typical blast beat/melodic tremolo picking formula, some may find the results to be slightly underwhelming. The oppressive walls of sound can become a bit indistinguishable from song to song, and despite several killer hooks, differentiation is not necessarily one of the band’s strong suits.
Many of the album’s shortcomings can be dismissed, however, by recognizing the striking levels of daunting, evil atmosphere accomplished here. The “room to grow” claim can only be made if there is already a firm foundation, and Atrexial have that and more. Souverain is an impressive debut, and you would be remiss to let it slip past you this year. I’ll make you all a deal, actually. You promise to listen to Atrexial, and I promise to finally dive into the Hellraiser films. I’m fairly confident we’re both missing out.