For this latest installment of the list I didn’t have any particular organizing principle that motivated the pairing of these two songs. Stylistically, they’re quite different, and so are the compositional strategies that resulted in each of them becoming so memorable and so personally addictive. I just felt it was time to give both of them the recognition they’re due.
Having already released such exceptional achievements as Swallowed By the Ocean’s Tide (2013) and Gateway To the Antisphere (2015), perhaps it wasn’t much of a risk that Sulphur Aeon‘s third album would be overlooked despite its release so close to the end of last year. Though it might not have been trumpeted through year-end lists prepared a month or two earlier, the band’s reputation had already become so revered as a result of those two previous releases that it didn’t require clairvoyance to know that word of The Scythe of Cosmic Chaos would spread far and wide by other means — especially because it is also a stupendously good album.
In fact, this newest album is so good that the trilogy of full-lengths thus completed establishes Sulphur Aeon as one of the truly great death metal bands of the last decade, and perhaps the best of all in translating the manifold horrors of the Lovecraftian ethos into music.
“Lungs Into Gills” is a fantastic example of what has made Sulphur Aeon‘s songcraft so distinctive and so compelling. It includes mountainous riffs and avalanche rhythmic power, truly savage vocals, forebidding harmonies, exotic solos that are both alluring and frightening, and minor-key melodies that ring and shine in displays of otherworldly magnificence. It channels chaos in ways that get the blood rushing, and it marries physically arresting chugging and shivering atmosphere — but it’s that ringing melody, and the subtle permutations of it in the song, that really stick it in the head.
(Of course, as those of you who’ve heard the album well know, this isn’t the only infectious song on the album. And if you haven’t heard it, please don’t waste any more time — catch up to it today!)
As forecast above, Windswept’s “Your Bitter Bread” is stylistically quite different from that Sulphur Aeon track, and sticks in the head for different reasons. It’s also more than 15 minutes long, which I think makes it the longest song on this list so far, and of a length that usually conflicts with the concept of “infectiousness” as I’ve tried to define it.
The track is one of two (the other one is also lengthy) that together made up Visionaire, the 2018 EP released by Windswept, a Ukrainian project whose three members (including vocalist/guitarist Roman Sayenko) are also in the line-ups of Drudkh, Precambrian, and Rattenfänger. As I wrote in a review of the EP, it’s magical, and this track in particular “picked me up, body and soul, and carried me away”.
The brilliant melancholy riff that launches “Your Bitter Bread” over a hard-charging drum and bass rhythm is immediately riveting, and the repetition of it, eventually joined by a sweeping synth layer that further elevates the music’s air of somber drama and lofty, almost mystical grandeur, is the main reason for its appearance on this list. That looping refrain is broken a few times by an ebb in the song’s galloping rhythm and a segue into a slow, heavy, head-nodding cadence (itself also addictive) — or haunting spaces of no percussive rhythm at all — but the song’s lasting impression is one of blazing extravagance. To quote myself again:
“Your heart would have to be as dead and cold as ice not to swell to the edge of bursting through your chest during this song, even as heart-aching as the music’s atmosphere is”.