Aug 142017


(On September 15, Luxor Records will release a new album by A Hill To Die Upon, and here we present Andy Synn’s review of the album plus a stream of its first single.)

There are certain artists who have, for whatever reason, become very special to us here at NCS.

Artists with whom we’ve built up a certain relationship, a certain rapport, over the years, to the point where they become essentially one of our “house bands”.

Illinois iconoclasts A Hill To Die Upon are one of them.

Having been fans of the group – now comprising original members Adam and Michael Cook alongside the newly-indentured Brent Dossett and Nolan Osmond – ever since their debut, following them through all the ups and downs, calamities and controversies, it’s been our privilege to watch them grow and evolve from plucky contenders into the veritable Blackened Death Metal powerhouse they are today.

It should therefore come as no surprise, if you’ve been paying attention, that the band’s fourth full-length album sees them continuing to develop and mature, stepping outside of the shadow cast by their forebears by, paradoxically, more fully embracing the blackened roots of their sound.

So hold onto your hats, it’s about to get biblical in here.



Whereas, on previous albums, the band’s primary touchstone was the swaggering sturm und drang of Behemoth, the material which makes up Via Artis Via Mortis showcases a notable shift away from the blast-furnace Death Metal which fuelled the group’s earlier works towards an altogether darker, arguably less extreme (but no less effective), approach which recalls – to a greater extent than ever before – the classic works of the mighty Immortal.

That’s not to say that the group have suddenly changed their spots without warning of course. After all, several of these tracks (such as “Jubal and Syrinx”, the album’s first full track, as well as the band’s pick for the album’s first single) still retain a hefty amount of Death Metal in their DNA – but there’s clearly a greater focus on song-writing and storytelling at play here than ever before.

Blastbeats, for example, are deployed much more selectively this time around, while the increasing use of menacing melodic lead parts (such as the chillingly effective solo work that permeates “Artifice Intelligence”, or the spellbinding refrain that crowns the triumphant “The Garden”) to accent the plethora of cruelly catchy riffs on display across these nine tracks adds a fresh new string to the band’s bow, one which they seem to have every intent on exploiting to its full potential.

Even the vocals seem to have taken on a slightly higher register, one more perfectly designed for conjuring compelling images and pulling hideously infectious hooks out of thin air (though, for those of you craving a bit more guttural gruesomeness, Mark Kloeppel of Misery Index pops up on the menacing “Sorcery and Sudden Vengeance”, which also contains one of the album’s rare moments of blast-driven bombast, to add some extra grit and grime to the proceedings).

Songs like the moody, keyboard-infused “I Was There When You Went Under” and the brooding, blackened textures of closer “St. Cocaine” epitomise the band’s increased focus on narrative and drama, an approach which is less about pulverising the listening into submission through sheer intensity, and more about drawing them deeper into the story, where they can experience the rough grain of the riffs and feel every note of every malevolent melody in intimate fashion.

Even the album’s simplest and most straightforward track – the no-nonsense “Mosin Nagant” – still offers a compelling enough justification for its inclusion, while the undeniable high point of “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians” is, wordy title aside, one of the most driving and dynamic tracks the band have ever penned, featuring some truly impressive interplay between drums and guitars, not to mention a wealth of utterly irresistible melodic and metallic hooks.

So are A Hill To Die Upon now the rightful heirs to the icy throne of Blashyrkh?

Hard to say really.

After all, the true kings of northern darkness, though currently divided, may yet return to reclaim their crown. Plus you get the feeling that AHTDU would much rather forge their own kingdom, than inherit someone else’s.

And, on the strength of this album, perhaps it’s high time for all of us to pledge our allegiance?


Preorder on iTunes and Amazon.





  1. I enjoyed “Satan Speaks,” but found it odd and disturbing that they tacked two stupid explanatory lines to the end of the CS Lewis poem they cribbed. That lead to dig into them more, and once I found out they were an explicitly Christian black metal band I lost all interest.

    Does that bother anyone else? Christian black metal strikes me as super-uber-lame.

    • I’m sure it bothers some people.

      I don’t think it bothers anyone here.

    • Actually, I think everyone should be entitled to enjoy (and create) good music. I’ve never heard them before, but I’m diggin’ this.

      • In fairness to Aaron, there is certainly a strand of Christian music (Rock, Metal, etc) that seems designed precisely to “minister” to the faithless, which has always rubbed me the wrong way. The main purpose being to reach out and “save” us poor, misguided heathens by using the music we love.

        I don’t doubt that those making it enjoy themselves, obviously, but it definitely comes with an agenda I find distasteful. Music should be about communicating emotions and ideas, not about converting people.

        Thankfully I don’t ever see AHTDU doing that, but it DOES happen.

        (Also, I’m not sure if Aaron understands that C.S. Lewis was himself explicitly a Christian apologist? But, since this is the internet, I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt)

        • I am aware of CS Lewis religion. One of the things that grabbed me about the “Satan Speaks” song is that the poem the song is based on is from before CS Lewis became a Christian.

          Check the poem out. It’s super bleak:

          It’s really remarkable. The Hill to Die Upon version tacks two lines on to the end of the poem:

          >I am Satan, accuser accursed.
          >Heed not my words, I was not first.

          That couplet, in my opinion, ruins the song. It takes all of the sting out of it and lets the reader totally off the hook. I was super into the tune before I heard that and said, what the fuck is this? They just tacked their two let-down lines on to the end of a stunningly bleak poem. Why would they do that? And then I realized they were an explicitly Christian black metal band that can’t even let a CS Lewis poem stand on it’s own without decrying the essential message of it.

          And that’s why I think Christian Black Metal is weak sauce.

          • Sounds like a you problem.

            • I’m disappointed that you don’t get it. I’m not trying to force my viewpoint on anyone, but you really don’t think that tacking those two lines onto the end of the song subverts the original point, weakening the force of the original poem? Maybe it’s my inner english major coming out, but it’s pretty clear that those two lines drastically reduce the impact of the poem, giving a soft landing and making sure the listener walks away thinking “oh, Satan isn’t really in charge, I don’t need to believe all of that scary black stuff in the first part of the poem.”

              To continue, that’s the problem with Christian black metal. I’m not anti-Christianity; I’ve got lots of friends who love them some Jesus. But black metal is supposed to be scary and depressing as fuck. Christianity is about redemption and salvation. Those two are not compatible — witness the difference between the original CS Lewis poem and the Christian-ized version of it presented by AHTDU.

              That’s all… I hope you get my point even if you don’t agree with it.

    • Yeah, it bothers me, but to each their own. It’s why I’m on the edge about anything Extol-related and so forth. It depends on the person. Because I left the faith, I really don’t want any part of it anymore, including most of its music. There’s just a lot of undertones, compromises, weird agendas, etc when it comes to Christian music that I try to avoid it anymore. There are some bands w/ Christian members that tow the line or leave their faith out of their music and those I can handle.

      Meh /shrug

      • As far as I’m aware although there are certainly references here and there, the AHTDU boys explicitly avoid preaching or proselytizing (phew, that was harder to spell than I remember it being) in their music. In fact I think they generally kick back against being called a “Christian band”.

        That’s always been my impression anyway. Most of their lyrics appear to be about mythology anyway, either Greek or Biblical. And I’ve always enjoyed a bit of mythology.

    • I generally have a hard time getting into any black metal that isn’t at least remotely about trees ‘n shit, with only a few exceptions.

  2. This was my first time giving this band a listen and I must say that it’s an enjoyable one. I will have to dig deeper. Great write up Andy! \M/\M/

  3. Oh noooo, that must of tortured your black wintered soul.

    • What can’t be mended with sarcasm… no, wait, that was duct tape.

      I take it you’re referring to one of the posts about christianity in black metal. Well, I for one think it’s a somewhat oxymoron joke by nature. I consider knowing that lyrics are religious as kind of a downer, cause I’m a proud antitheist who thinks of religion as ridiculous, irrational and annoying. Kind of the same thing as with NSBM.

      That said, if the music is good enough and the sanctity doesn’t shine through, I can live with it. I actually think I pledged my allegiance after Holy Despair, one of the best albums of 2014.

      • See I find religion endlessly fascinating, from a semi-objective standpoint.

        All the strange stories and myths that have arisen around the world from mankind trying desperately to understand things beyond their ken. And the strange way that somehow persists even today. I find the religious mindset itself fascinating too (though sometimes also terrifying).

        I feel like the urge towards religion is such a strangely fundamental part of the human condition, and it’s reflected in many different aspects of life (including, for example, our hero-worship of bands, sports stars, etc – after all, history is littered with tales of so-called “demi-gods” who rose from humanity to being worshipped, and I think that continues today).

        Anyway, long story short, though I have no belief in a “higher power” myself (we create our gods in our own image, not the other way around) I think the urge to do so says a lot about us as a species.

        • Agreed.

          A lot of the most spectacular events happening more than 2500 years ago made their way into the Old Testament, albeit with a religious twist of course, as primitive minds tend to interpreted unbelievable or awesome events as an act of god. The stories, myths and legends can be quite interesting once ridding of the god factor.

          The psychological quest for a creator to explain the vast aspects of life is beyond me, though. It only raises new questions.

          – Why is Earth?
          – God!
          – Okay. Why is God?
          – Oh, fuck!

    • I’m so hurt. You have wounded me to the core by seeing right through me. Wait, MOM, CAN’T YOU SEE I’M ON THE INTERNET NOW?

  4. I love this band. Their melodies, rasped despairing vocals, and grim lyrics make it black metal for me, whatever their religious beliefs. The black metal scene will never be overflowing with christians. But I think it is cool that people who are christians actually want to delve into an art and a scene that would seem abhorrent to most christians. Brave souls. Holy Despair, their previous album, is outstanding. I can’t wait to hear this new one. Great review by the way.

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