Usurpress – Interregnum (2018) REVIEW

The thrill of discovering the bold experimentation of forward-thinking Swedish death metal band Usurpress as each album approaches isn’t lost on their fourth full-length ‘Interregnum’. The project has gone from ‘current’ with their d-beat crusted death metal 2012 debut ‘Trenches of the Netherworld’ to sludge/death mutants on ‘Ordained’ in 2014 with increasing progressive rhythms on the ridiculously overlooked ‘The Regal Tribe’ in 2016. It is kind of hilarious how on the edge of my seat I am for this band’s music where a lot of the death metal fans I commune with don’t click with Usurpress yet the progressive sludge/death of Slugdge still hits their radar hard. ‘Ordained’ is one of the most perfectly balanced takes on the savagery of death metal and sludge rhythmics that actually earns a progressive tag for feeling, concept and execution. ‘Interregnum’ takes this ethos to it’s most impossible extremes leaving sludge behind for death metallic 70’s phrasal progressive rock with jazz-fusion informed drumming.

The blur created by the growling beast of death metal in the ears is satisfyingly paired with wandering, sinister and decayed rock structures to the point of mystification. In fact ‘Interregnum’ seeks such a seamless blend of classic progressive rock and modern atmospheric death metal aesthetics that it feels like a hike spent chasing after a loose dog upon the first few listens. It isn’t so much difficult to follow moment-to-moment as it is obscured as you chase after it’s larger musical statement. Session drumming from jazz-fusion artist Stefan Hildman offers fluid, wind-swept rhythms like Morbus Chron‘s ‘Sweven’ voided of it’s King Crimson-ian urgency. I already know what you’re thinking, “Pfft, Opeth did that Camel/Death metal hybrid thing a while back, eh?” yeah hold on dude, this is entirely different in execution and tone and it delivers more of everything and is absolutely not retro in any sense. The performances here matter just as much as Daniel Ekeroth‘s non-linear, unpredictable songwriting.

In fact, to take a small detour and look at Ekeroth’s massive body of work in perspective with this latest album makes good sense for provenance. From his days as bassist and often songwriter for death n’ rollers Dellamorte and brutalists Insision Ekeroth has been an important voice and historian of Swedish death metal, essentially writing -the- book on Swedish death metal a few times over. That doesn’t even do service to his work with zines. For the sake of a timeline Usurpress is largely the project spawned as Insision and other projects had petered out post-Swedish Death Metal popularity. It seems to have been a project aimed at the future of Swedish death metal and having some hand in it. Hence as the new wave of progressive Swedish death metal seems to have partially died with Morbus Chron and Stench dissolutions, while Tribulation became turgid vampire goth metal… Usurpress have found their own unique sound with slightly less fanfare.

The heady concepts and performances of ‘Interregnum’ give me confidence enough that fans will inevitably take notice of the care taken in crafting it. Particularly the incredible versatility of Påhl Sundström‘s guitar work within Ekeroth‘s songwriting. That said the danger of progressive rock, jazz-fusion, and 70’s inspired music is that you’re almost always forced to strip away some impact for the sake of evoking the enlightened, stoned age. ‘Interregnum’ surely suffers from some spaced-out sluggishness amidst it’s hairier parts and won’t be gigantic and furious enough for some death metal fans. It should hold great appeal to death/doom, atmospheric death metal and death/sludge fans who might carry more patience, I would only caution against focusing so much on ‘where the giant riffs are’ and instead appreciate the intricacy of performances and rhythmic movements.

The vision for this record’s vocal performances is maybe too minimalist for how capable and expressive it can be. In some sections you get a hint of Head of the Demon style sinister tongue but never quite the occult rock vocals that might’ve gone one step further. A few more layers and something truly harrowing might’ve come from the clean-sung vocal parts. Yet it is what it is, and Stefan Pettersson is brilliant throughout whether he is a growling pile of guts or singing in a more subdued fashion. Clarity, rhythmic genius, and a skin-tight seal between prog-rock and death metal make ‘Interregnum’ a new death metal mutation absolutely worth hearing. It is best experienced as a whole and perhaps a few times over before you make any decisions about it. It is as compositionally dense as a technical death metal record but soaks into the mind with far more ease.

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Artist Usurpress
Type Album
Released February 23, 2018
BUY/LISTEN on their Bandcamp! Follow Usurpress on Facebook
Genres Progressive Death Metal

Standing above time. 4.0/5.0

 

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