Sometimes the opportunities presented to us for premiering new music leads to the discovery of enormously good surprises — to become captivated by music we might never have otherwise found. And this is one of those startling instances.
Downcross are a duo from Belarus — vocalist/drummer Ldzmr and guitarist Dzmtr — and what we’re presenting today (only one day away from its release by Saturn Sector Rex) is their debut album Mysteries Of Left Path. The only description of the music we had before exploring it was “anticosmic”, plus whatever might be inferred from their ominous masked and torch-bearing visages on the album’s cover. This led to a few guesses about the music — which turned out to be largely incorrect.
Every one of the eight tracks on the album is emotionally powerful, and powerful in the production of its sound. They include magnetically attractive melodic hooks and shifts among contrasting moods within each song — from cold-hearted to glorious, from bereft to barbaric, and much more. There’s heavyweight heft in the low end, and tremendous, penetrating, gleaming vibrancy in the guitar sounds (without becoming completely “clean” in their tone). The drumming rocks and romps as often as it thunders and blasts, and there are as many hook-laden strummed chords as the dense wash of blazing tremolo vibrations.
And every one of these songs, at one point or another, also becomes a huge head-mover, making the album a headbanger’s haven as well as a turbine of emotional power. I should add that I’ve already added half these songs to our list of candidates for our year-end awards for Most Infectious Extreme Metal Songs.
“Where Illusions Sink In Accausal Fire” makes for a tremendous opener to the record. It’s explosively passionate, with a surround-sound intensity that wholly envelops the senses, firing the nerves and the blood. In what will become evident as a hallmark of the band’s compositions, the music is both soaring and gloomy, and introduces the listener to the rapid pulse of a heavy bass, the impact of thundering drums, waves of grand yet melancholy melody, and a cavalcade of mind-scarring bestial roars and incinerating howls. Rapidly chiming and gleaming chords mix with with refrains that seem reverent and moody when the drumming abates.
As mentioned earlier, the band’s “blueprint” is to combine contrasts in mood within these tracks, and they do so with great skill, making the changes feel natural rather than jarring. And so “Baning The Energies Of Creation” combines brazen, blaring, dervish-like melody that conveys near-delirious fervor (over a deep bass you can feel in your gut and skull-cracking drumwork) with cold-hearted strummed chords over a rocking beat, which seems punk-like at times, and “Reviving The Ancient Darkness” pairs a cold, bleak, anthem-like riff (which becomes more and more charismatic the more you hear it), over a mid-paced stomp, with waves of beleaguered melody that cascade over furious drum fusillades.
A slow, dismal reverberating melody launches “Black Flame Of Reason And Will” over a stately, head-moving drum rhythm, but the contrast here is with an explosive conflagration of rampant drum mania and barbarous yet desolate riffing. “Into The Formless Darkness Transforming“, on the other hand, creates a tandem of enormous drum and bass pounding and a through-line of thoroughly blighted melody that punches hard — but also rises in sweeping visions of perilous eminence, matched with scorching vocal fury.
The first five songs are all in the four-minute range, but “In The Name Of The Ruthless Azerate” tops five minutes, and the last two exceed six. “Ruthless Azerate” channels a furious, mind-searing melody that also rapidly twists and turns in a demonic frenzy and lashes with freezing cruelty, trading places with a bruising but blood-pumping, hard-rocking riff.
The first of the two longer songs at the end, “The Skies Of Stars Will Turn Into Nothing“, sinks, romps, and soars. The clanging riff that opens it seems steeped in misery — but the song quickly lifts into a hugely headbangable, pulsing riff and then just as quickly into a glorious, sweeping flight toward the skies. It continues to shift among these main components, while also introducing new ones, including a drum-less sequence at the end that’s enthralling as well as wretched.
To conclude this gripping album, Downcross create the sounds of epic tragedy. The sublime opening sequence of “In The Depth Of Masak Mavdil” is composed of slow, depressive guitar reverberations (over a slow drum rhythm and mountainous bass tones) that nevertheless shine with the painful yearning of forlorn souls. As Dzmtr elaborates upon the core melody and the bass becomes more vibrant in its accompaniment, the music grows increasingly captivating in its haunting moods —- and then the drums begin to blast and batter, and the melody rises into increasingly intense manifestations of pain (and Ldzmr’s extravagant screams are no less tormented).
It makes for a hell of a finish to a hell of a good album — one of the better surprises of this new year.
As noted at the outset, Mysteries Of Left Path will be released on February 21st, both digitally and on CD through Saturn Sector Rex. The same label plans to release the album on cassette tape and LP vinyl during the spring of this year. For more info about the release, check these links (not all of which are active yet, but will be):
SATURN SECTOR REX: