(TheMadIsraeli reviews the awesome new album by 7 Horns 7 Eyes.)
Here it is folks. The moment of truth.
For me, the best metal albums always have these qualities: a dignified, almost regal vibe; exceptionally well-composed guitar work; and the ability to convey the gamut of human emotion in its most agonized states. If an album can bewilder me, evoke emotion in me, and make me feel crushed under its presence while displaying musical virtuosity in all of its glory, it will win me over for life. It’s these kinds of albums that embody the idea that music can be a journey.
We at NCS have been anticipating this debut album by 7 Horns 7 Eyes like none of you would believe since each respective member here was made aware of its existence. At the time of writing this, I just finished listening to Throes of Absolution for the fifth time — the fifth time TODAY. To say I can’t get enough of the punishment is a severe understatement. I’m also enthusiastic about reviewing this audio tome of morose brutality because 7 Horns 7 Eyes are known for being a rather openly Christian band; A Christian band with the professionalism, compositional breadth, depth, and technical ability that match any of their hottest contemporaries. Listening to this album has been an invigorating experience, and it’s a pleasure and an honor to review it. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, it’s a landmark for the legitimacy of mixing Christianity and metal.
I also got my pre-order package at the time of writing this, which further pumped me up for this review and led me to review the album as a whole (and you’ll see what I mean by that).
7 Horns 7 Eyes have been the subject of much classification debate, but I’m personally going to lob 7H7E in with the melodic death doom metal crowd. There are shades of In Mourning and Daylight Dies that PERMIATE EVERY FIBER of the band’s music. Don’t be misled by my that statement, though . . . in their approach to the style, 7H7E are undoubtedly unique and recognizable virtually from first note. Their Christian background also has a tangible influence in the music, as certain musical hallmarks the Christian music of old, as well as heavy classical influences, are evident. The result is a sound that is quite dark and bleak, but one that communicates light at the end of the tunnel. A lot of elements contribute to this result.
7H7E use low-tuned, 7-strings to create sludgy, swallowed-in-the-abyss distortion waves, and the production as a whole creates a falling-down-a-bottomless-pit ambience. Combine this with the band’s tendency to use tempos of a very depressive, very lumbering sort, and you have yourself an album that captures its intended mood better than most bands could even dream of achieving.
“Divine Amnesty” is probably the best choice for an opener the band could’ve picked for this album. A somber clean intro and sweeping orchestral lines usher in an unexpectedly explosive pssage that is the equivalent of being cut into ribbons by a cathedral window that is violently shattering in your direction. The riffs in the song are abysmal, swallowing, and dank in their nature. The leads are contemplative and convey a feeling that you can bring yourself out of the darkness, but only for a little while. The whole thing sounds like a struggle with one’s self, embodying the inner conflict we all have with our own natures all too often. It is when the song reaches the peak of this struggle that it ends — on an apprehensive note.
Lyrically, the song seems to be about the amnesty given to believers who are in service to God, about how their sins shall be forgiven because they have tried to resist their corrupt natures rather than having accepted them. This seems rather obvious in light of the closing line: “You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea, as You have sworn to our fathers from the days of old”.
“Phumis: The Falsehood Of Affliction” is an avalanche of atonal chaos. Only bringing itself to a mid-paced attack, the song nevertheless maintains a frantic nature with chaotic rhythmic juxtapositions and syncopation. The switches from this to a melodic progression with a certain stoicism about it create a fascinating and gripping sonic contrast. The solo section is also quite magnificent, a turbulent serpentine melodic progression that throws you for a loop. Lyrically, “Phumis”, at least as I interpret it, seems to be about the fallacy of the famous/infamous Epicurus quote questioning the idea of a just and omnipotent god and the corrosive moral effect that accepting its truth can produce. Once again, the song’s lyrical conclusion seems to confirm this intent: “There is no magic infecting your soul. There is only what you have done. We have hurt to survive, we have lied to reach respite. We are the consequences of our human weaknesses and our damnation is our own.”
“The Hill Difficulty” is a less depressive and bleak song. It comes at things more introspectively in tone. The melodies themselves are very contemplative in nature, forming images of scribes studying in an effort to discover enlightenment. Lyrically, that seems to be the song’s aim as well, reflecting the characterization of a man of God who only wishes to be enlightened to the truth, regardless of whether his own humanity will allow him to accept the truth or not. The song’s lyrics are actually more like a prayer set to music than anything else, with lines such as these: “O’ God of Obscurity, deliver me into brilliance. Bathe me in the light of the outer-truth. Give me the perception of the Saints and the Exorcists. Carry me to the Summit of Infinity”. I particularly like the chorus of this song. The melody is enrapturing.
“Cycle Of Self” is the album’s fastest song (which isn’t saying much, considering the album’s generally slow pace). It’s got a real mover of a groove, and technical noodily riffing that brings the band’s death metal influences a tad more above the surface than usual. It’s a grueling song about the struggle that life brings when one doesn’t have God in one’s life, and how humans can only repeat self-destructive behavior without hope of relief or reparation of their fallen state. This song also includes my favorite solo on the album, an intriguing instrumental chunk of the song that focuses on a theme established at the solo’s outset by its clean intro. The riff and ensuing groove that conclude the song create a really pulverizing finish.
“Delusions” is another dank, dragging number that utilizes eerie melodies and alien progressions to heave upon you the weight of 10,000 boulders. The lyrics reflect the frantic inner struggle of a man to reconcile himself to his own sinful nature, someone who becomes more and more aware that, in the end, he will still turn out blessed and prosperous. The solo section in this song is absolutely gorgeous in its melody. It hits the spot just right.
The next song, “A Finite Grasp Of Infinite Disillusion”, really feels like a logical continuation from “Delusions”. The man who has come to the place of trusting in God now begs Him for enlightenment, even if it may destroy him to know the truth. He is no longer out to vindicate his own humanity, or his personality, but is instead only seeking the truth, only seeking what will save him from his own condition and the world in which he resides. Melodically, as well as lyrically, the song is also more or less a continuation of “Delusions”, with the exception of a very tasty neoclassical motif that is accented by the song’s extremely slow, dragging cadence.
“Vindicator” is the sound of slo-mo fire and brimstone raining upon the Earth and laying absolute devastation to its fabric. Powerful, majestic, and brooding riffs, leads, and ambiences assault and steamroll the listener into a flesh pancake. The song is a triumphant yet anguished cry for protection from the many enemies a Christian faces, both in flesh and in spirit, ending on the note: “I cry aloud, and He answers me. I will not fear the tens of thousands drawn up against me”.
“The Winnowing” is the bleakest and darkest song on the album. Lyrically, it is a prediction of the punishment to come for all unrepentant sinners, heretics, and blasphemers at the end of the world. Cries about the corruption of the unification of mankind and a railing against the arrogance and ignorance of humanity’s assumptions about the way of things are vented in an exceptionally meaty, riff-filled drone. It ends with the believer being taken up, ushered away from the final destruction, and delighting in his continued existence.
“Regeneration” is a profound acoustic instrumental that channels the end of the album, the end of the world. It feels like the ascension into heaven, the waking up in a new afterlife, and the realization that you actually made it there. Oh yeah, AND IT HAS JEFF LOOMIS SOLOING OVER THE WHOLE THING. That’s how you close an album.
Mix-wise, this album caters to a very ambient, dank, and echo-filled doom slant. It’s so full of meat, overwhelming force, and enveloping atmosphere. The instruments are performed exceptionally well, with lead guitarist Aaron Smith and vocalist JJ Polachek definitely at the forefront as the stars.
Aaron Smith is a guitarist to watch in the future. I haven’t heard solos, or even leads and motifs, this interesting and gripping from a new name on the scene in a long time. His solos display a very old-school, Classical and Romantic-era grace and precision. His melodic choices are compelling, taking the listener on mini side-quests along the journey that is this album. Polachek is an unstoppable vocal beast. I loved his work on the also much-loved-by-me debut EP by Ovid’s Withering, but here his voice is bewilderingly powerful yet sorrowful in its delivery. Delivering mostly profound gutturals from the deepest abyss, he really conveys the 7H7E sound as the final, vital ingredient in the mix. This man is one of THE best vocalists in modern metal right now.
The rest of the band play their positions with grandiosity, however; don’t mistake me for belittling them. Sean Alf on guitar, Ryan Wood on drums, and Brandon Smith on bass provide the colossal tidal wave of blood and thunder that is the rhythm section, producing a surging cascade of sonic ecstasy, and agony.
The CD’s packaging is very macabre, in a very doom-metal fashion, with dark imagery of crucified half-corpses or martyred soldiers of God with their only their remains left upon the Earth. It fits the mood of the album very well.
Powerful? Yes. Majestic? You bet your ass. One of the best of the year? Top shelf, grade-A, top-10-of-the-year list in the making. Buy this album. You won’t regret it.
“Within the throes of absolution, I shed my humanity. I rise beyond angels to the company of saints.”