(In this edition of THE SYNN REPORT, Andy Synn reviews all the albums released by Rites of Thy Degringolade, including their newest record slated for release on March 15th, as well as the band’s part of their 2004 split with Portal.)
Recommended for fans of: Immolation, Incantation, Deathspell Omega
One of the Extreme scene’s most undeservedly underappreciated acts, Canadian three-piece Rites of Thy Degringolade are one of the few bands who I can honestly say have the potential to appeal just as much to fans of hideously under-produced “War Metal” as they do to those who like their Black/Death Metal just that little bit more bold, bombastic, and… let’s be honest here… actually listenable.
The reason for this is the group’s surprisingly careful balancing – whether calculated or instinctive… and most likely a little of both – of filth and fury, chaos and confusion, with a plethora of savage (though rarely straightforward) hooks and cunningly crafted riffs which demand to be heard not just once, but multiple times, over multiple sessions.
A word of warning, however – this is some seriously nasty stuff, and once it gets embedded in your brain nothing less than a full frontal lobotomy is going to get it out again.
THE CARYATID – 2000
The rough and ready, unrefined sound of the band’s debut certainly isn’t easy on the ears, but the music remains undeniably compelling despite – or perhaps even because of – this. And while, in hindsight, the more overtly lo-fi Black Metal vibe of the album make it something of an outlier compared to the beefier, deathlier material which would soon follow, The Caryatid still remains an important part of the band’s history.
The slow-build intro of “Into the… Rise and Fall” eventually gives way to a chaotic cavalcade of scathing riffs, eerie, chanting vocals, and rampant, bone-rattling drum work, riding the bleeding edge between dissonance and dissolution with reckless abandon, followed in quick succession by the (arguably more traditional, at least in relative terms) auditory assault of “Adrift Amongst the Solids” which, for all its winding, strangle-wire tremolo riffs and dizzying, whirling-dervish drumming, betrays a much stronger regard for form and function than its more avant-garde predecessor.
“Six to Complete, to Complete Infinity” ups the weirdness quotient some more, adding some weird creative curveballs and doomy diversions into the band’s potent mix of blackened rage and mind-bending metallic riffage, which leads the listener right into the path of the lurching heaviness and blasting belligerence which makes up the majority of “The Rise and Fall of…” – a near nine-minute monstrosity of punishing power and arcane angles.
The twisted tangle of jagged riffs and morbid melody which makes up the title-track is perhaps the closest thing the album has to a “lead single”, its stripped-down structure and surprisingly catchy use of controlled chaos allowing the song to make an instant (and undeniable) impact, after which the warped, ambient distortion of “T’was a Product of Dipsomania” provides a momentary breath of fresh/filthy air before the mammoth “FMSVRHS” – part Prog-Doom deviance, part Blackened Death devastation – winds up the record in suitably savage style.
TOTALITY – 2001
Stronger songwriting, married to a clearer, more coherent vision (not to mention some seriously improved production values), is perhaps the main thing which separates Totality from its predecessor, which sees the unholy trinity starting to truly realise and unleash their full potential.
Opener “Twenty-Six Triumphant Years”, for example, is faster, more ferocious, and more focused, than anything which came before it, delivering a blend of manic blasting, scorched-earth riffage, and caustic vocal venom which sounds not unlike a mutant hybrid of God Dethroned, Deathspell Omega, and Immolation at their most vile and visceral.
“Sine Non Qua” introduces a hefty dose of creeping dissonance and skin-crawling anti-melody into the mix, while still retaining an unexpectedly headbangable hookiness to match its more avant-garde ambitions, while “The Feast of Reason” maintains this underlying sense of off-kilter insanity but marries it to some blisteringly intense, hyper-fast (and highly technical) riffs and percussion, all of which seems to teeter right on the edge between genius and madness for the song’s entire 7:22 running time.
The title-track’s 46-second burst of pure audio violence serves to set the listener up for the frantic blastery and chunky, churning grooves of “Thyhathbecomehim”, which sees the sonic sadists successfully stripping their sound back to its most basic, most brutal elements without losing an ounce of character or creativity in the process, while “Hail Pain” proves to be perhaps the most perfect distillation yet of the band’s calculatingly chaotic, mercilessly precise brand of metallic mayhem.
Concluding with the poisonous pairing of “To Toil in the Swamp of Psychosis” and “The Highest Form of Violence” – the former a nearly seven-minute monolith of chugging riffs, chattering blastbeats, and ominous, looming chords, the latter an aneurysm-inducing amalgam of technical tumult and disturbing, atmospheric abstractions – Totality is undoubtedly a dark, demanding, and at times draining, listening experience. But those parts of your sanity which must be sacrificed in order to fully appreciate it are nevertheless a small price to pay in order to reap the album’s malevolent rewards.
OUR DREADFUL SPHERE – 2004
Now, normally I don’t tend to feature split releases as part of The Synn Report. However, considering that Our Dreadful Sphere (a split with Australian audio-alchemists Portal) was where I first discovered Rites of Thy Degringolade, this one felt like it needed to be included.
“Chronophobia” is easily the most overtly melodic, technical, and groovy song the band have (at this point anyway) ever released, and yet it still retains that same sense of “anything can happen” unpredictability which underpinned both their previous albums, constantly shifting and mutating as smoothly as a snake sheds its skin.
Similarly, “Our Dreadful Sphere” is the closest thing the band have ever produced to a straight-up (Blackened) Death Metal song, hammering home its steely hooks, ballistic riffs, and dense, Incantation-style heaviness with an almost primal level of focus and fury.
“Dominions, Thrones and Power” is much closer to the chaos and catastrophe of Totality, however, albeit perhaps just that little bit more controlled and constrained by the band’s growing experience and expertise in channeling their most vicious instincts and impulses into murderous musical form.
AN ODE TO SIN – 2005
Skipping past the unsettling (though arguably unnecessary) “Intro” track, “In the Name of the Rites” showcases that the band are still as raw and ravenously intense as ever… in fact the sound on this album might actually be a little bit dirtier, a little bit filthier, than Our Dreadful Sphere.
It’s certainly thicker, and meatier – particularly the lower frequencies, which allow J. Wroth’s pendulous, undulating bass lines and Kressman’s pounding kick drums to cut through the metallic murk with more power and clarity than ever.
It’s also noticeably more balanced and more coherent than their previous work, interspersing the cascading blastbeats and finger-mangling, fret-warping riffs with moments of sinister pseudo-melody and honest-to-god groove, with the harrowing, yet hypnotic, “Of Purist Impurity” being a prime example of the band’s new and improved grasp of structure and dynamic.
An unexpected re-recording of “Thyhathbecomehim” – which adds both an extra dose of melodic menace and metallic might to the original’s already prodigiously punishing performance – serves as a perfect showcase for the band’s ongoing evolution, amping up both the heaviness and aggression (particularly in the vocals) without losing that uniquely bizarre edge which has always characterized their music.
“Totality’s Reign” is two minutes (and change) of pure, unbridled brutality which seems purpose-built to pre-empt any naysayers who might try and claim the band have gone soft, its lunatic speed and ear-gouging technicality often bordering on Grindcore levels of manic intensity, while “Asylums” finds Kressman and co. reeling and lurching between swaggering, priapic grooves and spine-snapping spasms of savage velocity, all while Wroth and Malevolus weave in electric threads of cantankerous, contradictory melody amidst the chaos and calamity.
With “Thirst”, the trio harken back to the band’s early days a little more, demonstrating that they haven’t lost their knack for producing ugly, uncompromising works of blackened art, even as they infuse their work with a little bit of extra melody and malice, after which the album’s climactic finale “Release the Flies” provides a final testimony to why the band are, were, and will always remain, one of the most distinctively destructive, insidiously infectious, forces in the underground scene (as well as a prime showcase for Kressman’s hideously underrated and underappreciated skills behind the kit).
THE BLADE PHILOSOPHICAL – 2018
Returning after a decade wandering the wilderness, the newly reconstituted band’s latest album (from which we premiered a song earlier this month) is well on its way to becoming my new favourite, showcasing what might be an even more progressive take on their signature brand of esoteric extremity.
Of course the term “progressive” might make it seem like the band have mellowed somewhat in the years since An Ode to Sin… and nothing could be further from the truth. Just one listen to the opening behemoth that is “Above the Highest” should be enough to dispel that notion. The riffage is still as relentlessly rabid as ever, the vocals still utterly voracious, and the drums still deliver an avalanche of explosive blastbeats and neck-snapping rhythmic twists with little to no regard for the listener’s safety (or sanity).
The atmosphere is thicker than ever, however, and the malignant melodies more deeply ingrained and integrated, seeming to seethe and slither across your skin like baleful fire even as the turbulent, chugging riffs and sledgehammer drums seek to shake and shatter your bones.
The title-track is nine minutes of grim grooves and deviously dissonant un-melody, with a central core of spiky, spiteful hooks which are as cruel as they are catchy, which only grows darker, heavier, and more horrific as it progresses, concluding in a climactic barrage of withering brutality and unearthly ambience, after which the doom-laden discordance and nerve-scraping lead guitar work of “The Universe in Three Parts” acts to pour salt in your wounds.
“Totalities Kompletion” is a sudden detonation of dissonance and distortion that barely scrapes past the two-minute mark, and leaves only devastation in its wake, which then gives way to the thrashy blastathon of “I Am the Way, the Truth, and the Knife”, whose bloodthirsty exterior conceals a subtle array of poison-tipped hooks, before the convulsive blasts and sinister, stomping riffs of the aptly named “The Final Laceration” bring the album to a fittingly crushing and gruesomely compelling close.
They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder. But, in this case, it has only made it grow even darker than before.