ARROGANZ – Morsus (2020)REVIEW

A howl to locate common prey — Wherein instant vampiric deterioration dulls the eyes, bitten and gnashing in sympathetic display of imitation of the iron teeth that chip away at flesh-minded men, aspiring to robotic precision yet merely losing autonomy. Weakly pressure-bent will amongst dogmatic men lines them up in a polite row to be snorted and fanged away by the ruthlessly evolved methodology of those who’d trade art and culture for packaged swine shit and synthetic testosterone-fed soldiery. The front lines of imaginary wars yet devour the innocent and the ignorant with considerable exclusivity. Showers of wave-formed and too obvious dissonance now prunes and weakens those willfully strapped in and acting out this fantastic puppetry, writhing and clutching at their bolted on headsets suddenly aware of the tubes that fill every orifice and the specific dignity of their situation. To discover an odd outsider cult worth following only to find their major inclination is evolutionary mindset rather than steadfast devotion to any prescribed ideal is ultimately thrilling for the riskiness of contortion it make take to stay on track; In the case of Cottbus, Germany-based trio Arroganz breakthrough and major paradigm shifts arrive in irregular bursts for seemingly practical reasons; ‘Morsus’, their fifth album since forming in 2008, bears some precedence in its considerable divergence yet its realization lands far beyond any sort of normal mutation. Should it be seen as a line deviously crossed or, an unpure and freed reaction to changing environs?

That’d be a choice that speaks to very few people to begin with as the band have certainly been known within German death metal circles for years due to their compelling black/death metal beginnings followed by a few records for the well-regarded classic death metal label F.D.A. Records, but they’ve yet to break into the oft self-obsessed zeitgeist of North American metal journalism. In fact there is a rich back catalogue to delve into here and well, as much fun as it will be to quickly describe most of it, almost none of it does a good job of presaging the condensed and angular grooves of ‘Morsus’ today. If you’ve heard the first couple of Arroganz records you’re likely German or nearby as they’ve never been easy to find or import though the second album (‘Kaos.Kult.Kreation‘, 2013) is well worth hunting down for perhaps the peak of their Mark I formation’s activity where I believe original guitarist/co-vocalist -M- was still providing some of the songwriting, or at least providing some overtly black metal style. The third album (‘Tod & Teufel‘, 2014) caught my eye back in the day via its striking cover artwork alongside the admixture of old school death metal, black metal and sludge-toned bass driven stabs within. This was the point where Arroganz had quickly found their distinct personality likely due to vocalist/bassist -K- essentially taking over the songwriting process and creative control entirely at that point. This would lend itself to groove/industrial metal precision edging out much of the black/death metal on the following record (‘Primitiv‘, 2017).

I don’t think most folks would listen to ‘Primitiv’ and see direct precursor in relation to ‘Morsus’, unless you’d consider it as a corpse with its skin removed. It’d seem 7-8 minute blackened death metal pieces with increasing adornment from doom, sludge, and groove metal aesthetics had found the band at a certain endpoint on the previous album. It was a peak and perhaps an endpoint ’til the ‘Erzketzer‘ (2018) EP appeared to have found a crack in the very foundation of the band worth uprooting — A chance to demolish and reliance on auld structures and reconsider the floorplan of Arroganz. You can decide for yourself if you feel ‘Morsus’ is such a dramatic shift into the unknown, as I said there is precedence in their legacy for these black, doom, groove, and industrial metal elements which now take center stage in conglomerate, suited as death metal but certainly forward-thinking, not ‘old school’ in the typical sense. If we look to the grand tradition of experimentation it’d be customary for a band to fully exit from extreme metal after a record like ‘Morsus’, but they’ve certainly not created music that is plainly commercial within. Heavy music’s indirect inculcation of rhythmic Killing Joke-isms and early Head of David-esque deadpan lead us here to songs like the unforgettable “Aurora Arroganz” but the overall timbre of the record could be likened to an album like ‘Ceremony of Opposites‘ or Celtic Frost‘s ‘Monotheist’ all the same.

Death metal realized from the perspective of a bassist can lend itself to angular movements and some extra sense for blended tones yet rarely does it arrive with a (non-progressive) bass-forward sound. This is where Arroganz has stood out in the past and where -K- shines on this album alongside increased use of effects-laiden clean vocals. The title track that kicks the album off is one of a handful of songs that leads with the bass’ suggestion of main rhythm before the guitars fully develop the major statement of the piece, in this case the main riff lands somewhere between 90’s Voivod and earlier Valborg, machinated but swerving in a moody sort of way. The result is something Arroganz‘ own but not unfathomable, hallucinatory grooves and adept play with effects that provide a sense of movement leagues beyond any chugging death metal expression. This makes it clear from the start that they’ve not engineered ‘Morsus’ from a puritanical point of view, there is no simple trick employed but an intensely thoughtful and menacing glom of stylistic thrones. In simpler terms, ‘Morsus’ offers a full transformation of Arroganz‘ style that is lead by grooves that are not obviate, stupid-assed mosh clichés. They are syncopated grooves, though, and this means traditional death metal is out the window by the time two key singles “Sleepless Forever” and “Dead Man Galaxy” have eeked out their place as the lungs of the full listen. This could be revolting, enlightening or at least somewhat polarizing for folks seeking the more obvious traditions of death metal, it certainly isn’t just another Asphyx clone.

“Sickpeopledie.” does crank the right classic death metal gear to start but more for the sake of pacing than pandering, offering a simple but effective death groove before leaning towards the key appearance of “Next Level Satan”, an exemplar piece for the new canon that arrives with ‘Morsus’. At this point in the running order I’d honestly surprised myself, I’d normally slam anything with such a basal focus on sleepy grooves off pretty quickly as I’ve no real love for slow-moshing groove metal and its modern variants since uh, No Return‘s ‘Seasons of Soul’ at least. “Praise Death = Feast Life” ultimately helps to build a sound defense of this album from my point of view in the sense that the closer they lean towards the five minute mark the more valuable the piece tends to be. In this case the second to last track on the album begins with a riffs most bands would interrupt themselves with, lazing into a blackened death furor as the song reaches a central apex, a descending arpeggiated riff that slides right into a death/doom metal crawl and back and forth. The construct that frames the piece is simple but if left to play out unanalyzed the waves on offer are undeniably effective… And then they uh, “I Dealt With the Devil”. Rather than go into why I don’t like the closing piece here I’d suggest its placement doesn’t make a ton of sense beyond the ability to circle around to the intro track with similar vocal/guitar effects. For whatever reason my mind snaps shut when the distorted moan of the vocals kicks in. If the track was important it’d have best been placed at the end of Side A rather than as the closer, a personal preference for thematic ordering on my part.

A bold paradigm shift that is yet relevant to thier extreme metal legacy, a step in a more accessible and unique direction, a fully non-traditional approach to death metal… However you end up seeing ‘Morsus’ it is undoubtedly the most bold and personality-rich release from Arroganz to date. I found most of the album infectious, thoughtful, and often buttoned-up and visceral in tandem. There is enough skill and nuance parlayed within (most all of) the songs here that will abate any potential hatred for groove-influenced death metal traditions and allow for an open-minded listen; The performances do ultimately impress when all gears are engaged. One too many good ideas among great ones and perhaps one step too far outside the box find the album occasionally losing focus but the trio deserve some considerable note for this ambitious and aggressive step beyond legacy and norms. A moderately high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation. (73/100)

Rating: 7 out of 10.
LABEL(S):Supreme Chaos Records
RELEASE DATE:October 2nd, 2020
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Black/Death Metal,
Groove/Death Metal

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