(This is the fifth installment in a seven-album review orgy by our man DGR, who is attempting to free his mind for year-end season by clearing away a backlog of write-ups for albums he has enjoyed in 2020. With one exception we’ve been running these on consecutive days, and today’s subject is the third album by the Egyptian death metal band Scarab, released last spring by ViciSolum Productions.)
It isn’t the most intuitive thing in the world, but I could’ve sworn that I learned about Scarab’s early-2020 disc Martyrs Of The Storm via ViciSolum Productions at this very site. We’d covered them previously so the Egyptian death metal group were already on my radar. But this specific album is one where I’m swearing up and down that we already wrote about it here – so much so that I’m somewhat scared that I may already be stepping on someone else’s turf by writing about it again.
That’s especially true when you consider that an album like Martyrs Of The Storm will generally find a solid foothold around these parts – partially my fault – because it’s a giant fifty-minute bear of a disc that plays well within the realm of the low and hammering brutal death traditions.
When you include the surprising number of guest musicians who tagged along for various guitar parts throughout the album, including such names as Karl Sanders (Nile), Joe Haley (Psycroptic), Paul Nazarkardeh (De Profundis), and Achraf Loudiy (Aeternam), and even a few others, you get an even greater sense that Scarab are really throwing their weight around on Martyrs Of The Storm. Fifty minutes and one flattened city later, and you’ll have the sense that musically…that is a whole lot of weight.
Scarab’s core is a heavy slab of death metal – you could easily draw comparisons to Nile’s method of bulldozing everyone – that shifts gears between riffs that are rapid-fire, complicated, and angular to the classic chest-pounding thud that comes alongside a blatant chugging section. They augment it with a variety of background orchestration and various ethnic instrumentation, though they keep that light in both the mix and throughout Martyrs Of The Storm so as not to overshadow the band themselves. It’s a refined approach, and those various parts weave together well with the band, who remain firmly up front throughout. Vocalist Sammy Syed has a weighty low as his chosen weaponry, his vocals near-tuned for an abyssal death metal style, but once again well-suited for the brutalizing approach that Scarab employ here.
You’ll notice within the opening moments of the album’s first song and title track what we’re discussing here. It starts with a pulverizing section that appears suddenly after a brief moment of atmospherics, bringing the listeners in before effectively dropping a meteor on them. Scarab’s opening song here is even a huge obstacle on its own, with a front half that moves the group through all sorts of hefty brutal death metal sections, slamming about like a creature trapped in too small a room before its back half seems to whip the band through the spheres of Hour Of Penance and Behemoth at the same time, as if they sought to aim for a full epic.
“Martyrs Of The Storm” is seven-a-half-minutes of monstrous lows that is a journey in its own right; it easily joins the ranks of songs perfectly suited for laying out the entire blueprint of an album in its opening moments. It is head-spinning and vast – and then you’ll have to remember that it’s just the opening of the album, and that Scarab plan to repeat it over and over again for another forty-something minutes afterward. “Necropotence”, clocking in at a slimmer four minutes, doesn’t change that either. It just moves with a stronger sense of immediacy, even as its various guitar riffs seem to dart in and out from every direction with a main lead that is terrifyingly skilled at worming its way into your brain.
Then you hit songs like “The Dwellers Beneath” and “Coffin Texts”, which show up in the latter half of Martyrs Of The Storm. “The Dwellars Beneath” is at the cross-section of all of Scarab’s elements, which translates into it being a very cinematic song – its opening a quiet break in the aftermath of what was five gigantic songs beforehand. “The Dwellars Beneath” is another highlight due to its longer duration – placed in the center of the disc so that it is one massive impact crater and a halfway checkpoint.
“Coffin Texts” is guitar-solo madness by comparison. Placed up against the mad, rolling sway of “The Dwellars Beneath”, “Coffin Texts” is more like an avalanche. It moves faster but still maintains the summoned-from-the-depths stylings that are the bread and butter of Martyrs Of The Storm. The guitar work, though, is the highlight, as Scarab make good use of any ‘lead’ time available to them to just whip up a hurricane of frenzied notes to go alongside the outright assault otherwise taking place.
Martyrs Of The Storm is both an actual storm at times but also a full-blown pressure system. The core of Scarab’s music is that of a monolithic, walking beast. Every step crushes something underfoot and the band’s taste for the grandiose at times amplifies that to the nth degree. They make huge music, so fifty minutes could almost have been expected, and after five years Scarab‘s death metal is packed for the whole of those fifty minutes. It easily stands alongside some of the bigger bruisers out there, and is just as good at throwing its musical weight around. In fact, Martyrs Of The Storm has been doing so since March, and it feels like the reverberations from it can still be felt now, some seven-and-change months later.