(We present Andy Synn‘s review of the new album by Hong Kong’s Karmacipher, which was released on April 30 by Infree Records.)
Before we go any further, please indulge me for a moment, if you will (or just skip on down to the “Continue reading” button) while I go off on a little bit of a tangent.
It’s undeniable that a lot of Metal writing/reviewing tends to focus on bands from Europe and North America. Sure, South America gets an occasional look-in, while isolated outliers like Iceland and Australia have been punching well above their weight over the last couple of years, but generally speaking bands from Africa and/or Asia in particular still tend to struggle to get wider coverage.
Heck, even when they do, they’re often either treated with patronising condescension or exoticised for having some sort of cultural “gimmick” (see every band who’s been given a 10/10 review just because they use native instruments or sing in a language other than English), and it’s always struck me as a little bit off the way certain sections of the Metal media seem to insist that bands need to sound authentically “foreign” or “exotic” enough before they’ll cover them.
The truth is that great music, great Metal, can come from anywhere. And it doesn’t/shouldn’t have to fit into some preconceived notion of what music from a certain place “should” sound like.
Case in point, there’s nothing about the sublime second album from this Hong Kong trio which ties it to a specific location, nationality or culture. But that doesn’t matter. Because the only culture it’s trying to represent is Death Metal, and it does that phenomenally.
Wearing their influences loudly and proudly – Gorguts most prominently, but also Immolation, Morbid Angel, and, yes, Ulcerate, with whom they certainly share more than a few sonic signifiers – Karmacipher’s music dwells firmly on the dense, dissonant, and difficult end of the scale, and Introspectrum is easily their crowning achievement (thus far).
With its angular riffs, tangled technicality, and strangled structural dynamic – taut and riddled with tension throughout, yet capable of moments of surprising openness and cathartic release – it’s not the sort of album which simply bludgeons you over the head with its pure brutality (although it’s an utterly, and almost unrelentingly, punishing listen, as the belt-fed, blast-fuelled barrage of opener “My Spectrum” so perfectly demonstrates) but which instead wears you down through its sheer, oppressive weight.
You might even go so far as to call it “Atmospheric Death Metal” (although then you’d have to worry about the genre police writing you up for “unnecessary modifier abuse in the second degree”) such is the overwhelming aura of ominous menace and unsettling ambience which dominates every track.
Even in its quietest moments (such as the eerie, eye-of-the-storm interlude part-way through “Involuntary Converged”) you can still feel this weighty presence, this sensation of crushing gravity (and grim gravitas) only barely, momentarily, kept at bay, which makes these periodic passages of eerie calm even more terrifying in their own way – you know what’s coming, you just never really know, until it hits you, quite how devastating it’s going to be.
That’s not to say that, in spite of all this prodigious, portentous atmosphere, that Introspectrum can’t simply be appreciated as a masterclass of dissonant Death Metal in its own right – “None” is pure, edge-of-your-seat intensity and off-kilter, anxiety-inducing technicality, “Revertant” is a whirling maelstrom of chaotic drum work and complex, contorted guitars, and the discordant, doom-laden “Vessel” is unadulterated Incantation-meets-Deathspell Omega nightmare fuel – but the very best way to appreciate this record is to fully immerse yourself in it, to breathe it in and let it fill your lungs as it presses down upon you with overpowering force.
Heck, you might even want to be lying down when you do, because chances are you’re going to need to take some time to lie down and recover after experiencing forty-eight unadulterated, uninterrupted minutes of discordant devastation and disharmonic distress.
And then you’re going to want to do it all over again.