My comrades and I at this site write very infrequently about instrumental metal. It’s equally rare for us to reach back in time and review an album that we overlooked when first released; we tend to stay focused on albums that loom ahead on the horizon rather than those which are growing more distant in the rearview mirror. I begin with those observations as a way of emphasizing what a strong impression On the Steps of the Temple has made on me.
It’s an instrumental album and it was released nearly eight months ago by a duo from Phoenix, Arizona, who call themselves Temple. I heard it for the first time yesterday after receiving an e-mail from the band that included words of praise from a healthy list of other sites.
I generally don’t like being the last guy to the party, but I started in on the music anyway, and when I finished listening I did something I can’t remember ever doing before with an instrumental release: I returned immediately to the beginning and listened to the album again, straight through, all 53 minutes of it.
Roughly two hours out of my Sunday, plus the time it took me to peck out the words to this piece, while many other more pressing things were scrabbling for attention. All that time, and every minute well worth it.
The album made such an impression in large part because it’s so original. While much instrumental metal leans toward the proggy, post-metal end of the musical spectrum, Temple have woven their tapestry primarily with strands drawn from death metal, doom, sludge, and black metal. The music is dark, dense, and heavy. It’s easy to imagine the kind of vocals that would have suited this creation — bestial roars, acidic shrieks, cavernous groans.
But I didn’t long for the added texture of vocals. The music not only succeeds without them, it also commands attention from start to finish without relying on pyrotechnical displays of guitar extravagance or synthesizers forced into overdrive or endlessly repeating narcotic riffs designed to mesmerize the listener into forgetting that time is passing.
And although there are well-timed passages where creative post-metal stylings enter the fray, Temple make no attempt to achieve an even balance between light and dark. The crushing and the crunching are dominant; the aura of doom, degradation, and decayed hopes holds sway.
A sense of sameness would sink an album of this length like a slab of concrete chained to its ankles in deep water. You will have guessed by now that Temple wrote their songs in a way that avoids this pitfall, introducing variety without compromising the core of their bleak vision. Beautiful (though bereft) guitar melodies arise here and there, appearing in a natural way despite the contrasting heaviness of so much of the music. The album’s shortest track, “Final Years”, offers the sharpest contrast, a slow, building flow of echoing guitars, meandering bass, and ambient keys sandwiched in between the ominous blackened hammering of “Rising From the Abyss” and the sludgy doom of “The Mist That Shrouds the Peaks”.
Interest is also maintained through changes in pacing and volume and by some exceptional (and exceptionally varied) drumming, which stands as a co-equal partner with the guitar, as well as by vocal samples on “Avaritia” that provide clues to the thematic intent of the music — a meditation on greed, self-delusion, and their perils.
Especially for a debut album, On the Steps of the Temple is a mature, beautifully executed tour through a harsh landscape of crags and thorns, mountains and menace. Yeah, I’m late to this party, but it’s a party I’d like to prolong in the hope that others will be lured inside — because it’s a bash that shouldn’t be missed.
On the Steps of the Temple is available on Bandcamp for a measly $5. Stream it below.