A quick glance at St. Louis, Missouri death metal quartet Cast the Stone‘s discography, and then each respective musician’s resume since, suggests the project was a catalyst and likely the earliest union for each involved (save for vocalist Andrew Husky, added in 2007). In their early twenties and hooked up with a short-lived label from a local promoter Cast the Stone put out their first full length ‘Dark Winds Descending’ (2005) to little fanfare. Scouring the internet today you’d think that debut was a history unworthy of preservation but it is no small tragedy to lose youthful ambitions when they came from an era of symphonic black metal and In Flames ‘riffs’. The past be damned and the impermanence of life accepted, it is a treat to see these musicians reconvene for a serious, professional release from a ‘simmering on the backburner’ sort of side-project. It is the metal equivalent of a high school reunion and a solid blend of the moshable and cheese-drained pompous Scandinavian flair.
So who cares if a Missouri death metal band releases an EP after thirteen years? That has more to do with those thirteen years and less to do with Cast the Stone. Personally speaking, I’m really just here for the Castlevania logo and Kristian Wåhlin lookin’ cover art but -most- folks dropping in on ‘Empyrean Atrophy’ are likely fans of Mark Kloeppel‘s work as guitarist in Misery Index since 2005, Derek Engemann‘s bass presence in Cattle Decapitation as well as all three original members taking part in one or all releases from Scour. Now while I loved Scour‘s ‘Red’, I haven’t followed Cattle Decapitation since ‘Humanure’ and apart from seeing them live (by association) back in 2010-ish don’t really jive with Misery Index‘ jam. No big deal, there is no home field advantage in parsing the style that Cast the Stone are employing on this EP.
The inspiration seems relatively clear at first: Blue tone painting, glossy logo, late 90’s semi-melodic black/death metal vibes, and the past would seem reborn until those knife-sharpened mosh-inspiring deathgrind riffs start outplaying the silky smooth Scandi butt they were flashing earlier. Herein lies the most interesting aspect of ‘Empyrean Atrophy’, that swerve between aggressive ‘mosh metal’ and a two decades removed sense of melodic Swedish metal’s gracefully dark spirit. Now I understand Cattle Decapitation‘s discography has changed a lot since ‘Humanure’ but I couldn’t suggest this as a related diversion as much as I can connect Kloeppel‘s guitar work in Misery Index to the heavier moments expressed by Cast the Stone. Folks likely showed up for some relevance and I think they’ll find a ‘hard’ take on modern semi-melodic death metal with some small Dissection-esque dribbles here and there.
Production from Dan Swanö alongside a brutal Infestdead cover speaks volumes of both Cast the Stone‘s intent but also leave me wondering why they left their sound so atmospherically dry. I can’t help but want to shove the whole EP towards the scraggly blackened darkness of Scour a bit more, and unfortunately I came into the experience expecting more obvious melodic guitar work. It took many listens to shake off that expectation of layered excess and self-obsessed melodramatic tension that defined the aesthetic employed here. In fact the melodic kicks that do pop up have the slightest post-hardcore feeling that works in defiance of expectations. I warmed up to ‘Empyrean Atrophy’ after several listens thanks to the subtle intricacies of “Burning Horizons” and the almost Arghoslent-esque gallop of “A Plague of Light”; Each track gave me what I wanted but I figure the greater appeal of their approach is that connection between ‘old school’ nostalgia and its modern approximation in bands like The Black Dahlia Murder. A ‘your mileage will vary’ sort of introduction to the band, but a pretty solid listen.
Cold as ghost’s skin. 3.5/5.0
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