Saturday, 20 February 2016

Dense and Bludgeoning: The Infernal Sea - The Great Mortality (2016)

The Infernal Sea - The Great Mortality
I remember seeing The Infernal Sea maybe two years ago; I had gone in blind and wasn't sure what to expect when they took to the stage, hoods-up, donning plague doctor masks, their backs to their crowd and the lights dimmed. What followed was a gritty, abrasive and unrelenting sound that cast the audience into a sickening trance. At their core the The Infernal Sea are straight-forwardly black-metal with their already deadly attack tipped with poisonous elements of crust and grind. It was a full-throttle, no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners sort of approach that was inherently more evil than a lot of corpse-paint clad exhibitionists. Most importantly, however, is that the band managed to mesh that abstract notion of  'atmosphere' with riffs and aggression. 

The Great Mortality is dense and bludgeoning, its pace of attack at full-throttle from the very beginning. In a sense it reminded me initially of a more sulfurous and smog-filled Absu with its overwhelming yet seemingly well-organised chaos. Spurts of melody mixed with clouds of ethereal eeriness do manage to rise to the surface occasionally, clashing against the constant black-metal attack; in 'The Bearer', for example, the wisp sound of a flute or pipe of sorts, together with clean vocals, emerge - Anaal Nathrakh-esque - from the maelstrom. The song transitions into a passage of  industrial noise as a solemn guitar atop of equally solemn drums,  layered with violins (one thing I certainly not expect to hear) haunts the mid-section of the eight-minute song. This rather unexpected change in pace and tone works nicely; the progression from such dense brutality into  subdued melancholy is a satisfying moment of rest-bite. At six minutes and 30 seconds the song emerges from pensive gloom into a whirlwind of atmospheric tremolo picking, pumping bass and machine-like drumming.

Dean Lettice's vocals - though largely uniform - are sickening throughout: high-pitched, abrasive, and anguished, they are the cries of a man forced to watch the new Ghostbusters movie on repeat for a thousand years. Occasionally they dwell lower in the register - croaking and tormented - but on the whole a constant blanket of sharpness stabs and prods through the mix, often accompanied by a slightly deeper backing vocal that serves to fatten the already full-bodied sound.

I'm surprised - in a pleasant 'just found a fiver on the bottom of my shoe' sort of way - by the variety of sounds in The Great Mortality; simultaneously I'm impressed by the the core black-metal intensity: it's pessimistic, haunting, throbbing with energy and most importantly rammed with good riffs and interesting progressions. The unholy trinity of an album of this sort for me is riffs, atmosphere and flow: The Great Mortality achieves all three. 'Pestmeester', the fifth track, opens with a mid-paced crusty onslaught that is lightly caressed with ghostly chantings and moments of unorthodox disharmony akin to the equally unorthodox approach of French weirdos Deathspell Omega and Spektr. 'Plague Herald' is similar, it's tempo even steadier with traces of, what to me, sounds like a sort of of evil hardcore-punk groove that demands to be headbanged to. The final track, 'Brethren of the Cross', opens with a deluge of hazy guitars before settling down into a more intricate and steady ritual. It really is captivating riff after captivating riff, enhanced by truly pained vocals and solid and dynamic bass lines; the drumming is just sort of there doing its thing, nothing out of the ordinary, but too distractedly abhorrent either. The album as a whole is nothing totally bizarre or original, it's not going to open up your mind to an alternate reality that you didn't know existed, but it will certainly rejuvenate that evil alter-ego - that little black-metal gremlin - that we know exists somewhere in the corner of our brain, nestled comfortably between daily worries and anxieties.

Part Deathspell Omega, part Darkthrone, part Abigor: an unholy trinity channeled, to great effect, into The Great Mortality. It's a richly textured and  has many moments worth revisiting. The Infernal Sea are an integral part of an  interesting and diverse British black-metal scene. Over the last few years many British bands have solidified themselves on the international stage and the diversity of British bands (Winterfylleth, Wodensthrone, A Forest of Stars, Fen, Saor, Voices, Old Corpse Road, Ninkharsag, The Meads of Asphodel, Anaal Nathrakh and many others I've not enough room or patience to list) is incredibly encouraging. The Infernal Sea are one such band carrying the plague-infested banners of the British scene to great heights, and long may it continue.

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