The bronze seer, an augur and haruspex attuned to so diligently to grand-father Apollo that he could divine the tides by studying the flight of birds and calculate the sway of battle whilst picking through the entrails of slaughtered Trojans, Calchas was so revered as a hieroglōssos of the Myceneans that he’d die of shame (or, measured inferiority) as their crusade crumbled into infamy by his own dowsed consult. Tales of the prophetic-tongued and ‘god-like’ men positioned as wretched or delusional soothsayers is an eventuality in the literature of war-obsessed cultures of conquer, where a holy war eventually reaches an ill-advised point of ruin by way of a snake. The remnants of these dominant, widespread theistic cultures persists throughout every corner they’d conquer in the form of ‘dead’ languages that serve is the basis for the eternal loop of paraphrasal between congealed cultural bodies. No, I don’t intend a linguistic examination of theocratic manifest destiny by way of translation throughout the recorded history of forcibly combined cultures, but I would spend a fair amount of time figuring the assumedly dark bent that a title such as ‘Hieroglossia’ would suggest. The prophetic child spewing an arc of eldritch miasma on the cover of Melbourne, Australia based death metal act Ignivomous‘ third full-length infers well-enough the intended meaning of the word as duplicity among the prophesied divine. Compelling use of ornate language is a constant among the lyrics of this troupe but the average death metal fan seeks this Australian quintet out for their amorphous, dissonant and atmospherically inclined death metal ways.
‘Hieroglossia’ is exactly what you’ll know to expect if you’d picked up their two previous albums, which were also under the Nuclear War Now! Productions stable, but also so much more. For the uninitiated a description is uncomplicated if you’re already familiar with the mid-to-late 2000’s death metal movement towards ‘caverncore’, which I do not intend as a derogative in this case; Underground death metal had conspired globally to adopt the atmospheric oeuvre pioneered by the innovative, long-running masters of death metal in Incantation and Immolation to fantastic results. It wasn’t as if this sort of band didn’t exist prior but at the time brutality, blackening, and all matter of nonsense demanded a focus upon the deleterious thread of lo-fi, harmonic-wielding atmospheric death (and death/doom) mania. Ignivomous were not the earliest innovators of the style when forming back in 2006 but they’d soon arrive upon a distinct black/war metal influenced pacing that was just different enough to never adopt the ‘war metal’ or ‘black/death’ tags with any seriousness. Consider the shared traits between Impetuous Ritual, Cruciamentum, and Teitanblood and you’re at least somewhere in the ballpark of what Ignivomous do in the realm of Incantation-afflicted death metal.
This sort of group has long been a point of frustration for the unshakable ‘old school’ death metal fan who’d fill online depositories with the suggestion that ‘caverncore’ was the death of the riff in death metal. The term is meaningless anymore but the sentiment was an easy way to keep the worldview narrow among the supposed ‘elite’ fan. Point being that the riffs were always there, they’d just meander and evolve through simpler movements while ultimately ‘worshiping’ the altar of pre-‘Diabolical Conquest’ Incantation. In fact it wasn’t until the release of ‘Contragenesis’ in 2012 that folks would start to shake my shoulders and suggest I wake up and pay attention to Ignivomous and sure enough, the ‘Dawn of Possession’ meets ‘Dawn Bringer’ (Order From Chaos) description was actually more apt than anything I could’ve come up with. It’d be a favorite from 2012 thanks to some impressive allusions to death/doom and a murky-but-heavy production. As I’d stated earlier very little has changed when examining ‘Hieroglossia’ seven years later, the same general voided structures and bouts of doom and mania still define the listening experience but there are some meaningful differences that justify this return.
The addition of Inverloch bassist Chris Jordan and (the very underrated) Altars guitarist Lewis Fischer since 2016 suggests that the band were looking for a new dynamic (or capable touring crew) after a long hiatus which saw releases from Abominator, Whitehorse, and Cemetery Urn in their collective wake. What does this mean for ‘Hieroglossia’? I’d say time and some deeper collaboration have produced their finest album to date. Yes, ‘Death Transmutation’ (2009) is brutal and frantic and ‘Contragenesis’ was a defining record for the project but they’ve not yet released as dark, heavy or considered as this latest spin. The guitar tone is probably my favorite aspect of this release not only its mid-crisped bottom end but the choice to place it a step louder in the mix than previous provides a meaningful protagonist for their dirges’ twisted and wriggling descent beyond expectations on songs like “Gaunt Redemption Parasite” and “Thalassophobia”. Dissonance should be an intoxicating directional element, a horizon to bleed out into psychedelic and chasmic landscapes that moves in meaningful ways and in this sense Ignivomous‘ guitarists accomplish something righteously satisfying within repeatable and moderately challenging threads of dual-woven death metal riffs. In fact, that’d also be the most careful point of recommendation for the average death metal fan; The impatient and surface-skimming actors won’t likely find the ‘sweet spot’, the thread of rhythmic voicing that comes with familiarity, that defines ‘Hieroglossia’ and good portion of the best modern Australian death metal release within these last two decades.
‘Hieroglossia’ wasn’t an immediate hit with me and largely because the opener/title track expresses like “Dawn of Possession” without “Despondent Souls” for context and “Circle of Scythes” takes a while to ease into its groove. These opening tracks serve to reintroduce Ignivomous’ sound and reteach their subtle-but-brutal death metal language and the truly impactful songwriting strikes a bit harder on each track after that point. This meant I’d pick up the thread on the doom-stricken “Cloaked in Resplendent Perdition” and typically listen to the album twice in a row as I’d become enveloped in Side B. I am even today slightly torn because ‘Hieroglossia’ isn’t fashioned as a memorable sort of music but within the moment-to-moment it is an intellectually gifted barbarian sledge that’ll leave you thrashed after each listen. It is a different sort of death metal record and primarily one for folks who’re prone to nuanced, textural, and brutally intense forms. Highly recommended. For preview purposes I’d suggest that this is an experience of concerted induction and not a meaningful passive listen but “Thalassophobia” and “Gaunt Redemption Parasite” were immediate hits for my taste.
As all angles turn asunder. 4.0/5.0
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