Ominous winds usher in a plodding, dissonant dirge. The sepulchral guitar notes linger, slowly unfolding beneath an oppressive, demonic vocal presence. Doom and gloom abound, a blasting fury soon breaks the funereal mood, and we’re flipped on our heads into the flames of a blackened storm. Thus begins the terrifying trip into the world of Itheist’s full-length debut.
The described first track, “Outcast,” far from overstays its welcome, leaving a fearful miasma. The threat of more violence akin to the ending of the previous track soon begins on “Mighty Father Of Rebellion”, with a lone tremolo riff. When the menacing screams enter over this, it’s a call for the blasting to begin, and to serve as the backing to a shredding guitar solo. The song, which alternates from high-paced blackened madness to a doomy march and back, is indicative of the diverse evil to come.
What we’re served here with Itheist’s self-titled album is undeniably black as pitch. But there is an abundance of alternate influence, with plodding death-doom riffage, bespeckled with dissonant black metal high-end notes, ala Gorguts-meets-Belphegor, but with more maniacal blackened furor than either of these artists. The guitar possesses a low-end not found on a typical black metal album, enabling the crushing death metal inspired riffs. However, the more traditional tremolo-picked tendencies and blast beats provide a familiar, if not particularly creative, basis for the menacing character of the album. Clean guitar tones are also employed sparingly, bringing a haunting feel to the already bleak melodic lines. The flatted-fifth (the devil’s note) makes a constant appearance, despite a tendency to venture out into some nearly beautiful leads, breaking the foreboding mood, if only for short moments.
The tone of the vocals, while quite traditional for black metal in their mostly mid-range screaming register, also reaches to the depths for unholy growls. When blended together in the mix, this makes for a horrid assault, moving from the center of the mix to the forefront, conjuring visions of demonic hellscapes in the mind of the listener. There’s also usage of ritualistic melodic chanting (“Horned One”, “Neter Amon”) used effectively, as well as animalistic shouts that blend in and out of the screams for a manic feel that compliments the complex changes in the composition. Being that the bulk of the lyrics are the usual Satan this, Baphomet that, the variance helps nail home the sinister intent of such conventional subjects.
The production makes sure to give all instruments clarity in the mix, even giving the bass its time to shine (notably at the end of “Mankind In Extremis”), while the vocals sit nicely in the center. There’s not too much gloss, as the grit of the band’s overall sound is captured well. The whole mood of this self-titled debut is that of aggression, dread, threat, and reverence. I feel that fans of Mitochondrion or even Deathspell Omega might find this to be a very satisfying listen, but one with its own distinct brand of melodicism. Overall, I’m impressed, if not a little exhausted from the permeating low that this album inflicts upon the psyche. For such a frenetic array of creativity, it’s the dirges and caustic, eerie mood that lingers most. This can be good or bad, depending on one’s taste in black metal.