Without meaning to denigrate the music of bands whose music goes straight down the middle of specific metal genres, there’s an unusual level of interest (at least in my case) that’s consistently provoked by groups whose ambitions lead them to create intersections of multiple traditions, like audio Venn diagrams. Such amalgamations probably fail as often as they succeed, but when they do succeed, they can provide the kind of exciting surprises that really stand out. And that’s what the Portuguese band Scarificare have accomplished on their new album, Tilasm, which we’re premiering today with a full stream.
This is the band’s third album, but it reflects the work of a new line-up, with guitarist Quetzalcoatl (also the vocalist an keyboardist on this record) being the only mainstay since the band was formed; here, he is joined by bassist Eligos and drummer Luis Leal. And what they’ve done on Tilasm is to draw together elements of black metal, death metal, doom, and (for want of a better term) epic heavy metal to create a wonderfully dark and multi-faceted sequence of songs that are both atmospheric and explosively powerful.
The album opener and first single, “Crystal Skull”, provides a bracing introduction to Tilasm’s musical alchemy, albeit a perhaps “thrashier” thrill-ride than you’ll find on the remaining six tracks. The riffing, which pitches toward a high whine, is downright vicious, and the opening vocals are a scalding howl. The band alternate those bursts of berserker ripping and slashing (and percussive fury) with stomping rhythms and battering chords. The mood is grim and fiery at the same time — but near the middle, a gripping melody surfaces and soars, clean vocals make a surprising appearance, and then the music transforms into a haunted acoustic-guitar interlude — and an organ motif lends an air of grandeur to the finale.
And so right off the bat, you learn that Scarificare aren’t going straight down the middle. But the full extent of their creativity still hasn’t been revealed. In the follow-on track, there’s an “epic” feeling to the song right from the start, but the heavy, harrowing riffs, edged with corrosive abrasion, and the dissonant and disconcerting leads, increasingly darken the mood of the song. At the mid-point, the band jab and jolt with increasing ferocity, following which they create an interlude of warbling ambient tones, tribal drum and bass rhythms, a rippling mystical melody, and a layer of sweeping ambience. Yet it’s the riveting instrumental section that brings the song to a close, one that combines guitar and a brittle piano melody in a duet, that proves to be particularly memorable. It shines with a fierce energy, yet is forlorn at the same time.
All of the songs include heavy, high-intensity, hook-laden riffs; some include leads that give the music a mythic air, or sweeping keyboard layers that convey a sense of mysticism; some make room for galloping war charges that are convincingly barbaric. The clean vocal harmonies (which are excellent) reappear, usually to send the music soaring. If there is an “atmospheric through-line” that unites the songs, it is a persistent feeling of bleakness and melancholy, and yet that word “epic” also keeps coming to mind.
Notwithstanding the darkness that infuses the album, it seems to end on a hopeful, indeed an inspiring note, with the radiant “Rise”. The song is a pulse-pounding rush, but seems to climb toward breathtaking heights of shining grandeur; the beautiful interlude feels bright; the clean vocals and the harsh ones join together in a way that helps make this song a glorious anthem — though a feeling of beleaguered melancholy again comes over the music in the final minutes, in a way that unites the song with what has come before.
That closing track is one of my own favorites, and I’d mention “Wandering Soul” and “Consecration of the Talisman” on that list, but they’re only slight favorites, because the band really don’t make any missteps on Tilasm. All the songs are well worth hearing, and having.
Tilasm will be released by Helldprod Records on April 20, and can be pre-ordered via the link below. Hope you enjoy listening.