(DGR reviews the new album by Nashville’s A Loathing Requiem.)
You may recognize the name A Loathing Requiem, as we have written about this project before. In early July we actually featured a small write-up about it in one of our “Seen and Heard”, posts alongside Orkhan and some others, and now we’re going to check back in with it because July 31st actually saw the release of the band’s second album, Acolytes Eternal.
Acolytes Eternal, the new album from A Loathing Requiem — the one-man solo tech-death project headed by perpetually angry-looking musician Malcolm Pugh — comes at an interesting time. 2015, like the years before it, seems to be adding to the ever-expanding blast-front that is the tech-death explosion, and a lot of bands are clearly giving it their all — these releases are coming hard and fast. It makes them somewhat difficult to distinguish, and you have to dig that much harder to get past the massive walls that each band erects in terms of sound and song structure.
It’s an increasingly hard field to break into, but A Loathing Requiem has some interesting advantages up its sleeve. One is that this project has been around for a while; Acolytes Eternal marks the second full-length release from this project — serving as a follow-up to 2010’s Psalms Of Misanthropy, and another advantage lies in the musician behind the project himself.
Malcolm Pugh is insanely talented. It’s hard not to pay a lot of respect to the fact that he is responsible for damned near everything on this recording (barring a couple of guest solos and a drum track – which we’ll be getting to later) and has spent time in some bands where you may not recognize his name. But if you’ve crossed paths with said groups, you’re going to immediately recognize the hyper-technical finesse behind the guitar work alone.
Malcolm Pugh has spent time in Enfold Darkness and is currently a member of Inferi — a band whose album The Path Of Apotheosis had so much music packed within it that if CDs weighed as much as the sound they carry within them, then anytime this one was dropped it would crack concrete and likely be permanently affixed to the floor from there on out.
Acolytes Eternal follows a similarly charted path with its slightly more than a half-hour burst of energy — with some differences in subject matter — but it is still an album that is so frighteningly consistent that it makes the concept of the word “heavy” into a mundane study. Yet it is still a massive dish of humongous and jarring guitar playing that seems to dart back and forth in the blink of an eye, and drumming that seems determined to bore into the center of the Earth. Long story short: Even if you’ve never heard a second of A Loathing Requiem before and are suffering burnout on the no-stone-left-unturned method of tech-death, you’re in good hands with Acolytes Eternal, and you can trust A Loathing Requiem for your latest dose of brutality.
Acolytes Eternal begins with “Lords Of Lavish Filth” — which has a basic bpm of around breathless for its four-and-a-half-minute runtime and pretty much lays out the entire structure of what the rest of the album is going to be like, save for the interlude known as “Clarity” that comes halfway through the nine-song set. And that means you get four huge, beefy tracks, a breather, and then four more huge and dense songs.
Occasionally, you will find a band who manage to pack every single thing that is going to be representative of a new album into the opening song, and A Loathing Requiem manages to do that within the four-minute span of “Lords”. The song itself is a shining example of what I was talking about in my intro bit about how skilled Malcolm is when given the whole smorgasbord of instruments upon which to dine. It’s hard to deny the amount of guitar work packed into this song. Almost nothing is re-used. Instead, it’s finger work and slithering note patterns all up and down the fretboard — and that is just the guitar alone.
The drums serve as a hammering metronome for much of Acolytes Eternal, and believe it or not, Hannes Grossmann of Alkaloid, formerly Obscura, and his own solo work fame, contributes on the song “Worthless Vessel Flawed”, adding some live drumming and vitality to the battery behind the kit.
Acolytes Eternal feels like the sort of album that needs to be done in one run, as some of the songs can be hard to distinguish form one another, but certain ones do contain some highlights and riffs that stick out in memory, so as to be returned to on their own. This is one of those situations where I imagine that if I understood even half of what was happening with all the instruments here (having experience on the drums means I’m largely restricted to terminology there), I’d be losing my mind. But from an outsider’s perspective, the work appears impressive, but can blur. The third song on Acolytes, “Withered On The Vine”, is one of the tracks that is marked for constant return.
“Withered On The Vine” gets its own bit of spotlight because the song begins with what sounds like A Loathing Requiem’s brand of tech-death crashing headlong into the Polish death metal scene, with an opening section that sounds absolute imperial. That huge, crashing section quickly gives way to a chainsaw of an opening lead that seems to stutter its way through the whole song. It’s the first mark on Acolytes where the album goes from being a display of technical showmanship to something that generates a bit of atmosphere. It also contains one of the two guest guitar solos credited on Acolytes Eternal, with an appearance by Andy Thomas to contribute to the overall swirl of sound that “Withered On The Vine” becomes.
It is one of the heaviest songs on Acolytes, with its massive slamming sections in the back half, and those are amplified by the number of times the song slows down to return to that atmospheric bit and allowing for another among the bevy of solos and leads to make itself known. Within “Withered On The Vine” alone, there is an insane amount of notes thrown out, as if fired from a machine gun mounted to the front of a helicopter.
“The Mortal’s Harvest” — the song that follows “Withered” — includes another one of the guest guitar appearances, this time by prolific musician Mark Hawkins. He hails from an instrumental project called Soul Cycle — which despite its commonly mistaken-for-exercise-equipment name is actually one of the few instrumental guitar projects that I have enjoyed over the years. Soul Cycle II is one of my favorite guitar-centric albums to jam out to outside of Paul Wardingham’s work, and Soul Cycle are one of the best at packing sharp grooves and huge riffs into a disc and keeping it interesting throughout.
So, Mark Hawkins’ appearance on “The Mortal’s Harvest” means that it was one of the songs to look forward to hearing, and it does not disappoint. “The Mortal’s Harvest” feels like a song that is going to be followed by an interlude — because it just accelerates and builds the whole time, stacking part upon part like a Tetris puzzle gone mad, eventually forming into a gigantic and dense square of headbang-heavy sound. It actually continues a bit in the same vein as “Withered On The Vine” with some of its slamming leads, but it is probably the only time in which something is “returned to” on Acolytes Eternal.
The album’s closing song, “Reaping The Earthbound Revelry”, makes sure to send listeners home hurting, with a violent display of destruction. If “Lords Of Lavish Filth” was the opener that spelled out of everything that was going to happen on Acolytes, then “Reaping” makes damn sure to be the closing argument. Its opening section is monstrously lead-heavy, and even follows the light-speed tempo in which pretty much all of Acolyte spends its time romping around. “Reaping” basically cuts Acolytes open and then barrels around in its insides for warmth. It is four-and-a-half minutes of speed that just wears you down into a pair of shoes with some stumps sticking out of them.
I can easily imagine that, right now, there are some Necrophagist fans listening to this disc and exploding with joy. Even in the limited sphere of tech-death’s boundaries, A Loathing Requiem may be the closest I have heard a project come to scratching that itch in some time. Malcolm has some insane lows within his lungs, and they are built for this style of music — A Loathing Requiem feels like a logical extension, and in some senses it’s frightening. It’s like each song was an expulsion of stuff that couldn’t be fit into the other projects he has been a part of, and yet even in the thirty-four minutes of Acolytes Eternal there is a huge swath of material.
The eight songs and interlude are a display of technical-death metal demonstrations that hang right up there with even the most talented of bands. It’s hard to imagine fans of Psalms Of Misanthropy being disappointed here, because this disc is one of those albums where everything A Loathing Requiem can do, it will do. Five years may have been a long wait, but holy hell, did this project deliver.
If you’re new to it, I can understand the “I’ve been burned before” feeling, but Acolytes Eternal is worth taking the jump on. It moves so damned fast that it returns to track one before you know it, and as much red meat as there is here, as much preaching to the tech-death choir as the album encompasses, there is something distinctive to be found and latched on to. Acolytes Eternal is worth taking the plunge into it. Especially if you’re salivating for more of this style of music, it may be one of the year’s highlights.