ASTRIFEROUS – The Lower Levels of Sentience (2020)REVIEW

You awake with shattered leg beyond this fall from a high place, a brutal rope-flinging and screaming collapse that swings back into picturesque traumatic detail as headache and bleeding ear recall key points of impact. Slapped like a fish upon a wet market block, deep crimson blood gorges the already red gills and eyeless white craniums which swing in predatory response to a single waking scream. One thousand eyes light in reflection as the rampant troglomorph’s electroreception burns alight at the rare sense of prey. You can only hear the grinding of their slow-circular maws when they’d finally begin to attach to the neck and skull, luminous lamprey-like horrors without eyes breathing bloody water into a frenzied foam and filling their gastric tubes with your paralyzed red and yellow flesh. The only solace that remains beyond this grisly death is that you will not rot here in this subterranean abyss — The grinding loose snap of your broken foot at the bone’s articulation suggests you’ll be little more than a slimy layer of preserved cavefish shit at the bottom of this underground lake in a matter of hours. San José, Costa Rican death metal quartet Astriferous is the horror of death, the maw of the bone-grinding beast, and prime subterranean predator on their first official EP ‘The Lower Levels of Sentience‘, an impressive meld of early Finnish death metal’s cognitive cacophony and pre-’93 North American death metal’s riff-obsessed haunt.

Formed in 2018 and featuring folks involved with likewise impressive projects Bloodsoaked Necrovoid, Umbra Conscienta, and Deplorable, the major goal of Astriferous deals in the realm of classic early 90’s death metal, specifically the demo-heavy first era of Finnish death metal where tapes like ‘Unholy Domain’ and ‘Vulgar Necrolatry’ represented the country’s atmospheric advantage over all realms and provided endless inspiration for the craft by way of brutal, oft-doomed riff attacks. Abhorrence and Demigod are probably the most important references for the sake of understanding exactly who ‘The Lower Levels of Sentience’ will inspire but you’ll likely be able to pick up on the classic ’91 style of the band through Gorefest‘s ‘Mindloss’ or nearby analogues. That said, if you are familiar with their first demo tape (‘Raise High the Scepter of Indulgence‘, 2019), which I’d reviewed back then, you’ll notice this EP goes for atmosphere and gloom over the more biting technical numbers of the demo, such as my favorite “Mind Bending Distortions”.

This time around the major highlight is the transcendental alienation of “Necrohallucination” where sharp spikes of Crematory (Sweden) riffing presage the gloom-ridden death/doom drapery only could reasonably compare to Abhorrence or, possibly even Mortiferum. This is a fresh high point for a project that has thus far produced flawless example of ‘old school’ pre-’92 death metal, where the craft has demonstrate its superiority so thoroughly that it couldn’t help but burst above ground. The intent here isn’t pure demo-level basement slop or new ‘old school’ facade but a sharp balance of fresh ideas and skill injected into the auld rotten ways. There isn’t any of the smirking, shit-eating grin that a lot of retro-minded & faux ‘old school’ enlightened young men typically bring to the sub-genre, just authentic gimmick void attack with a real knack for ominous atmospherics, exciting riff structures, and a recording that manages clarity and filth at once. “Ghost Universe” brings all of this into one cryptid spawning pool between its wandering-eyed leads and the aggressive push felt in the second half of the song. Untamed blasts and group-rasped emphasis upon the final lines of the song feel pulled straight out of the Midwest black/death metal playbook circa ’92 and help to cap the song off with some unexpected, unbridled menace.

I’d hate to suggest Astriferous make rotten, cave-dwelling ‘old school’ death metal sound effortless because it is clear they’ve put quite a bit of thought into each composition and the greater sound design of each track. The details are there to dig up from the cave floor, such as the bell’s tolling before the swinging rip n’ roar of “Exercises in Tantric Sorcery” sets in or the rush of blasts and barks at the end of the opener. It isn’t as spaced-out and motion sick as Bloodsoaked Necrovoid and they’ve reigned in some of the extras to tighten up the impact of this EP but these guys have kept a remarkable thread going from demo to this broader release. The riffs are there too, for the umpteenth time, and that’d ultimately be the main reason to stick with Astriferous and hunt down their first demo. The nods to Finnish death metal’s cave-crusted side are there but the technical cosmic vomit the classics of that region have to offer likewise shows up in spurts. The four songs here tend towards a mid-pace in general, though, so you’ll feel the Demigod blur long before the more technical stuff and death/doom lunges present themselves. All the comparisons are for the sake of the right ballpark and I don’t mean to suggest they’re derivative or too plainly wearing their influences.

Supernal, subterranean, or supernatural? Astriferous manage to tear through each obscure dimension as astute pupils of classic death metal forms, mutating old blood into horrifying new spells. A very high recommendation for this one, it may appear straight forward upon a cursory listen but the layers are there for all death metal augur to divine from.

Very high recommendation.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
TITLE:The Lower Levels of Sentience
LABEL(S):Me Saco Un Ojo [Vinyl],
Pulverised Records [CD],
Desert Wastelands [Cassette]
RELEASE DATE:August 7th, 2020
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp
GENRE(S):Death Metal

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