We’re at an inhospitable time of year for the release of new music. Ardent metal fans tend to be looking backward in reflection rather than keeping their eyes on what’s coming from the near horizon or noticing what just dropped in front of them, and of course everyone is immersed, whether in joy or misery, in the distractions and chores of the inescapable “holiday season”.
And yet, as always, the end of the year brings musical gems, even if they sadly may go unnoticed, and The Sept‘s new EP MMXXIII is one of those.
But let’s be clear up-front: This isn’t a pretty, sparkly gem. It has many facets, but their edges are jagged and may leave you bleeding if you’re not careful, and the colors are obsidian. Staring too long may also bring about madness.
To switch our metaphors, this Irish collective’s work is a warlock’s cauldron of sound, boiling together elements of sludge, black metal, death metal, grindcore, and harsh noise, and the brew is often ugly, phantasmagorical, harrowing in the extreme, berserk in its violence, and hopeless in its outlook. Frightful to be sure, and alien to the familiar world, but also fascinating. Despite the distractions of year-end, it should not be overlooked by fans of extreme music.
Sometimes opening songs on an album or EP are chosen to provide a “mission statement” for the release as a whole. Maybe The Sept had that in mind when they put “A Nonmoral Sense” at the start of MMXXIII, because it sure as hell makes a statement — a very unsettling one.
The band open those 2 1/2 minutes with a chilling collage of inhuman and unnerving sounds, eventually joined by bursts of percussive mania. When they get to the meat of the matter, the drums run riot, voices roar and scream, and the other instruments dismally sizzle and ruthlessly jackhammer. Only a brief and intriguing spoken-word sample at the end pauses the melee… but not for long.
Almost right away, the drumming in “The Endless Knot” bludgeons, batters, and blasts with a furious will, while the grimy riffing spurts in manic bursts and feeds in vicious swarms and the vocals scream bloody murder. Near the end the music descends into a trough of filth and misery accompanied by dismal and demented voices.
By now you’ll know that The Sept dramatically switch things up, keeping the listener off-balance, but the discomforts extend way beyond the unpredictability of the pacing. “Fissures In That Which Is Reflected” reinforces that impression.
It begins by pounding the crap out of the listener while dosing the brain with some kind of diseased audio ichor. Heaving and groaning, with bursts of tremolo’d illness in the mix, and further doses of mad and monstrous vocal cacophony, the song is both brutish and ghastly.
Two more short songs follow that one. “Homini Sacer” feverishly throbs like an industrial die-stamp machine, convulses in bursts of weaponized percussion and corrosive, writhing fretwork, and brings pile-driver grooves and suffocating chords into play while the voices of the tortured howl and scream. (Seriously, until the end the vocals on the EP are scary as hell, blood-spraying and berserk.)
The next short track is the first part of a two-part ruination named “Nåla Ukhthaz“. The noises in Part I are inhuman and ice-cold and the drum blows are titanic, but again The Sept follow that with an emotional and instrumental seizure.
Part II of “Nåla Ukhthaz” is the EP’s longest track. Given how much The Sept pack into songs less than three minutes in length, you can guess what they’ll do with 7 1/2 minutes. They do a lot, creating audio episodes of explosive violence, harrowing dementia, emotional degradation, and alien nightmare.
Beginning near the song’s mid-section, it also includes the yowl and wail of a extended solo that unfurls in the midst of a sonic avalanche and the tolling of bells. It’s part psychedelic, part bluesy, and wholly transfixing. At the end, the crackle of static and those tolling bells provide the backdrop for a vocal sample, and that ending might be the scariest moments in a very scary EP.
One track left, “Four Walls“, the EP’s second longest at 3 1/2 minutes. And what have we here? A classical piano melody with a distraught and tragic mood and a wrenching duet of male and female vocals, with the feminine voice operatically soaring and then on the verge of tears. It’s the biggest surprise in an EP packed with surprises — and it’s heart-breaking and hopeless.
Now to the main point of this feature — our premiere of the EP in its entirety. Brace yourselves.
Philip Caomhánach is the leader of The Sept, but the EP includes vocal contributions by Liam Hughes (Soothsayer, Procession of Spectres), Nick Vahdias (Evocator, Hessian Firm), and multi-disciplinary artist Suzanne Walsh, as well as Alto-Sax performances by Cathal Roche. It was self-recorded over several sessions and was mixed and mastered by Shauny Cadogan of Last Light Recordings.
In its current form, we’re told that The Sept “harbours thematic sympathies for Gaelic antiquity and nineteenth century esoterica”.
MMXXIII will be released by Ireland’s Cursed Monk Records on December 18th. It’s recommended for fans of Full of Hell, The Body, and Napalm Death.