(Andy Synn reviews the second album by UK band The Infernal Sea.)
To say I’ve been champing at the bit to get hold of a copy of this album would be a severe understatement. To my mind The Infernal Sea are, without a doubt, one of the finest, filthiest, most utterly ferocious bands currently prowling this green and pleasant land of mine, having spent the last six years spreading their virulent strain of grim ‘n’ gritty Black Metal like a veritable Biblical plague.
However, as good as their previous releases (one full-length album, one EP, and two splits) were, it still always felt to me like the band’s full potential had yet to be realised, and multiple exposures to the band’s contagious brand of blackened intensity in the live arena only served to solidify this feeling.
Praise Satan then that the band’s second album, The Great Mortality, is exactly the sort of near-perfect realisation of their sound and vision that we’ve all been waiting for, fulfilling all the band’s nascent promise… and then some!
Spiritually and stylistically the quartet still recall (to my ears at least) Rebel Extravaganza-era Satyricon most closely, what with their focus on charred, abrasive riffs and tooth-cracking, boot-stomping blackened grooves, but The Great Mortality sees them putting their own acid-etched stamp on things even more deeply than ever before, whilst also throwing in a few surprising twists and turns along the way.
“Den Sorte Død” serves well enough as an introduction to the band’s sound for the unwary few who might not know what they’re getting themselves into, with the tracks groaning, industrial-strength guitar tone and ear for menacing melody paving the way for the bone-rattling assault of “Way of the Wolf”, with its scalding riff work and seething melodic undercurrent, backed up by the torrential percussive punishment unleashed by drummer James Burke.
Indeed, although it’s rare for drummers in Black Metal bands to receive the same attention and approbation as their band-mates (with some obvious exceptions of course), Burke deserves to be showered with praise (and whatever else he might be into) for his efforts on The Great Mortality, deploying wave after wave of strafing, explosive blastbeats with extreme prejudice whilst also indulging and demonstrating his impressive grasp of hook-handed, percussive grooves and agile, skittering fills in a truly powerhouse performance. At times you can practically hear the kit shaking and shuddering as Burke attempts to pound it into splinters.
The rest of the band – guitarist Jonathan Egmore, bassist Chris Revett, and vocalist Dean Lettice – aren’t exactly slouches when it comes to their chosen musical fields either, but what really helps the band stand out on this album is the sheer strength of their songwriting.
Perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than on the savage, yet insidious, “The Bearer”, which starts life as a shamelessly nihilistic thrill-ride of pulsating, feverish riffs and caustic, shrieking vocals (backed, in subtle fashion, by some nicely understated clean vocals that add a tinge of melodic desperation to the whole affair), but which eventually transitions into a drawn-out, moodily atmospheric mid-section, complete with some unexpected but unflinchingly bleak violin work, which makes full use of the song’s eight-and-a-half-minute run time.
Of course on the other end of the scale you have songs like the blast-and-burn “Purification by Fire”, which hits the ground running and refuses to relax or relent for the next five minutes, and the sickeningly infectious “Pestmeester”, whose unorthodox combination of sizzling, electrified riffery and eerie, clean/harsh vocal blending simultaneously reminds me of In The Absence of Light-era Abigail Williams and mysterious Norwegian Black/Thrash enigmas The Konsortium.
And whilst the devastating, death-tinged savagery of “Entombed in Darkness” certainly has shades of Necrophobic to it, you shouldn’t view these comparisons as a negative thing. There’s nothing derivative about The Infernal Sea. It’s more of an acknowledgement that the UK quartet have severely stepped up their game on The Great Mortality, to the extent where these comparisons are just as much a reflection on the outright quality and stature of their music, as they are to do with any superficial sonic similarities.
Surprisingly enough, I’ve gone this far in the review without making much more than a passing reference now and then to the thoroughly evil and utterly uncompromising vocals of Dean Lettice, whose performance on The Great Mortality is absolutely a thing of pitch-black beauty.
His vein-popping, banshee howls and throat-shredding, bloodthirsty growls (all delivered with a keen eye for a cruelly-sharpened hook) turn tracks like the grooving, grime-ridden “Plague Herald”, and menacing finale “Brethren of the Cross” into viral anthems of angst-ridden hatred and bile, and whilst his performance may not quite possess the same level of distinctive drama and authoritative menace as someone like Satyr’s magisterial proclamations, they more than make up for this in sheer, seething venom and rage.
I can confidently say that The Great Mortality more than lives up to the promises and expectations laid upon the band’s pestilential shoulders over the last few years, and thoroughly justifies both the long (and seemingly endless) wait, as well as the band’s hard-won and well-earned status as one of the leading lights of the UK’s often-divisive, often-provocative, Black Metal scene.
Consider the bar substantially raised.