Israthoum put their mission statement right in the title of their new album — Channeling Death and Devil — and that is what they do.
These are grand, fearsome, and mystical subjects, and Israthoum’s music effectively summons all those qualities through a form of occult, atmospheric black metal that’s intricately plotted and relentlessly dramatic, delivering a changing soundscape that ranges from majestic yet chilling stateliness to maelstroms of shuddering chaos. Grandeur, mysticism, and madness are all made manifest in a stand-out performance.
The album was released just yesterday; this review comes later than I had planned, and now serves only as an extended introduction to the stream you can hear for yourselves at the end of this writing.
There is a kind of symphonic character to these compositions, in their surges of massive power, in their layering of instrumental textures, and in their changes of pacing and mood. The whine and whirr of distorted tremolo chords provides a backdrop of abrasion much of the time, with waves of desolate melody cascading through the tumult and high, skittering and flickering leads coupled with eerie, dissonant chiming tones providing sensations of unearthly mystery and terror. Interludes of hallucinatory strangeness lead to building crescendos of storming ferocity. The effect is intense, arcane, and disorienting.
In the album’s most powerful passages, the band build feelings of tension and terror and then boil over into near-cacophonous orgies of fury. But the music’s power manifests in other ways as well — through sensations of cold, ominous grandeur in more stately measures, and through glimpses of unnerving demonic derangement in the bleak, seething melodies and reptilian soloing.
Schooled in Qlippothic mysteries, Israthoum channel sensations of esoteric ritual as well, perhaps best exemplified in “Drudges of Ruination” (which functions as a kind of interlude), with its ominous organ chords, cascading keyboards, and clean choral voices creating a solemn but menacing air of ceremony. In the final minutes of “Walls of Penitence”, the band practice an unsettling form of hypnosis through deep, moaning bass tones and weird chiming notes. Clean vocals and deep, droning sounds reappear at the end of “Well of Bitterness” accompanied by bursts of tumbling drums. Arcane summonings and unearthly presences seem never far away, in an album that often strikes like a deluge, or a delirium.
Israthoum draw upon a range of black metal traditions, and I won’t attempt to catalogue all of them. Just as their methods change, the rhythmic drive changes even more frequently: There’s a very talented drummer at work here, one who changes things up almost constantly, and often in unexpected ways, creating contrasts as well as complementing the changing intensity of the songs. And the vocalist (and bassist) VxInfr is an equally vivid and chameleon-like presence, expelling sounds of shivering vocal madness that encompass bestial roars, gritty growls, vehement proclamations, and wild cries of ecstasy and agony.
In trying to come up with other reference points for the album, based on what I’ve heard this year, the one I come back to more often than others is Nightbringer’s Terra Damnata. And I do think fans of that band will likely enjoy this immensely impressive album, too. The music is below, and you can get it digitally on Bandcamp and in a variety of physical editions at the Altare Productions web store.