AZARATH – Saint Desecration (2020)REVIEW

Entzauberung, spiritual apathy and the inevitably brutal uprising of anomie posited as effective only among the truly sentient. The naturally, seemingly singularly achieved revelation and expression of anti-Christian sentiment by an individual thwarted within a society ruled over by an oppressive system of forced normative tradition lines up beautifully with the symptoms of Durkheim‘s “malady of the infinite” wherein disenchantment with norms should eventually turn one towards mercilessly applied desecration. Blasphemy, as it turns out, offers its own thrilling dimension of sub-cultural artisanship where the impact of refined attacks upon religion is rogue worship — A celebration of opposition rather than any forced or expected unification. Historically speaking we’ve only seen the total war of Satanic death metal supremacy advance most seriously as it passed from late 90’s perfection towards early-to-mid 2000’s megaton hammer-nuked forms of blackened extremity via the serious unholy firestorm of bands like Polish quartet Azarath, a Tczew-based group of fellows who’d seen the continuum of irreligious blackened death metal circa 1998 and have since sought to deliver something even more brutally oppressive and blasphemic beyond the realm of possibilities. This seventh full-length album, ‘Saint Desecration‘, finds the band maintaining their ruthless, raw-edged pedigree of subversive tongues and blasting blackened death metal while still retaining the performers’ intensely high professional standards.

Even if not by intention, Azarath originally resembled a sort of spiritual successor to Damnation by virtue of key members having left to follow perhaps one of Poland’s finest self-taught extreme metal drummers ever, Inferno as he not only joined Behemoth in 1997 but also co-founded Azarath soon after in 1998 with guitarist D. and vocalist/bassist Bruno. That doesn’t necessarily mean their first demo (‘Destroy Yourself‘, 2000) sounded like ‘Rebel Souls…‘ but that the influence from early 90’s Deicide and Morbid Angel still gripped them with possession beyond the late 90’s boon of this style shared between early releases from peers in Ahret Dev, Hate, Lost Soul, and Trauma as the next generation of death metal in Poland arrived. Consider the ensuing next couple of albums an exercise in steadfast artistic vision where the debut full-length (‘Demon Seed‘, 2001) would toy with the ragged edges of bash-heavy black/death metal and the second (‘Infernal Blasting‘, 2003) would simply hit twice as hard. At this point the addition of guitarist Bart starting in 2000 seems to have intensified the technical capabilities and range of expression to fully utilize the dual guitar approach but it was the third Azarath album (‘Diabolic Impious Evil‘, 2006) that would define their sound, leading many to compare the band with Krisiun and Immolation even though I’d probably have said Angelcorpse, (early) Hate Eternal or Centurian back in the day. Their first record for Agonia Records, ‘Praise the Beast‘, (2009) would refine that sound and more clearly infuse some of the atmospheric movements Immolation had been working out throughout the 2000’s. You will most certainly still hear those influences on ‘Saint Desecration’ but the one that sticks best is probably ‘Ageless Venomous’ from Krisiun without the compressed drum production and allowing for plenty more variation via groove-heavy pieces.

Where were you in 2011? I was mentally adrift between a boon of intense black/death metal boundary pushing, crypto-atmospheric death metal haunts, doom metal’s melodic modernization, and a handful of black/thrash metal innovations yet I seem to be one of the few still willingly wild-armed and spitting zealots for the inarguable greatness that was Azarath‘s fifth album, ‘Blasphemer’s Malediction‘. Seemingly recorded in a still-burning monastery, it was perhaps one of the best Polish death metal records ever recorded and folks still ask upwards of 60.00 USD for its limited vinyl run; Not just brutal death metal but a possessed and explosive blackened pulpit, preaching to a pile of scorched bones while slinging gunpowder against the burning walls, and a defining moment for the band. Anyhow, it’d be all the Azarath we’d get for about six years as line-up changes and other projects followed. If you’d agreed that ‘Blasphemers Malediction’ was underrated then consider the even more overlooked calamity of ‘In Extremis‘ (2017) which appears to have been intended as the most extreme and unrelenting record from the band to date still remains fairly underrated in its own category. This time around they’ve dialed back on the abrasive bulge of the guitars to retain control as they cut deeply into some mid-paced, groove-ridden riffs while still featuring the imaginative spectacle that the severe hammer of the drums provides. It is yet a third evolution, a honing of what oeuvre ‘Blasphemer’s Malediction’ broadened into, this time focused on a more present yet still fully shot-gunned death metal sound.

Just as Nomad have found solid distinction and their own stylistic outlier throughout the years I would say Azarath have worked towards an identity that persists with similar evolving singularity despite some major line-up changes. This time around it is a fairly big change as vocalist/guitarist Necrosodom (Deus Mortem, ex-Thunderbolt) stepped down in 2017 after two major high-point records for the band. Skullripper (Embrional) steps in for this album and because the vocal arrangements are still quite involved the transition to his voice is entirely natural, though he will often hang onto the last word in a line to great effect. If you’ve not been listening to rocket-powered Polish death metal for the last three decades a lot of the subtleties implanted within ‘Saint Desecration’ might take some serious intent to divine as the album is presented with a very classic early 2000’s sensation of blasting blasphemic rupture but with undeniably polished engineer and render from Satanic Audio (Totenmesse, Non Opus Dei, Eternal Rot etc.) and finishing touches from Audiosiege. Of course this means the rhythm section sounds damned incredible and the vocal/guitar presence is set front and center on a ground level without any blurring between ’em. “Death at Will” makes sure we feel the depth of the recording readying a warning salvo before the barrage hits, wheeling into an adept atmospheric spiral around the ~2:00 minute mark and generally reminding us that Azarath are still a hard-slapping extreme death metal band. In pushing to the complete murder of “Sancta de Meretrix” the momentum of the listen is unscathed, it sounds as if Skullripper has taken a single breath and the tape kept rolling into the next piece. This sensation of seamless continuity really aids the “ask” of a ~40 minute experience delivered so brutally, pushing the first several tracks out as if they’ve all presented relevant threads in the same conversation. As we are building towards the peak of Side A all along, “No Salvation” ends up being one of the finest pieces on the album because of this logical order of events leading up to it. ‘Saint Desecration’ had already fired up as the opener hit but we reach an even more intense self-immolation as Side B arrives.

My personal favorite piece on the album “Life is Death, Death is Life” echoes the bombast of “No Salvation” with deeper chest-tunneling riffs and again reprises the foreshadowing of the opener with another sprawling atmospheric break around the two minute mark. It is a simple arrangement in this sense but also a fairly modern progression with an unexpected peak bookended by brutality. Yes, we are still reaching back to the virtues of ‘Blasphemer’s Malediction’ in some sense but also a bit of ‘The Apostasy’, too. From this point these three last songs on the album represent the great peaking of all collected momentum blasted into wrathful, harmonic-pinched, and less buttoned up movements. “Inflicting Blasphemy upon the Heavens” is immediately another highlight and the closer that follows is perhaps the one song that recalls Behemoth the most for its vocals, though I wouldn’t generally compare the two bands directly. The overall listening experience is insistent, consistently engaging with its malevolent energy and a little bit more “humane” than ‘In Extremis’ was a few years back. A few more rests between songs give stronger punctuation to a record that could’ve easily been too samey and it goes without saying that an increasingly atmospheric rendering of Azarath‘s irreligious and still classic style is always bound to impress. With consideration for the whole package the cover art from Marta Prominska of Hypnagogic Painting is especially fine, a detailed yet amorphously figured oil painting where blackest tones deepen the iridescence of the robed figures showcased, expressing both motion and intent via thier drapery alone. With all pieces in place we’re given a considerable bout of black metal influenced brutal death metal voiced with what I would consider a classic-yet-evolved Polish death metal expression. My recommendation for this one is high, though I would specifically target anyone who’d really keyed into this band’s material on their three prior releases as the provenance of a decade-long progression will best illustrate why ‘Saint Desecration’ is both mastery of forms and iteration upon signature modes.

High recommendation. (80/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
TITLE:Saint Desecration
LABEL(S):Agonia Records
RELEASE DATE:November 27th, 2020
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Black/Death Metal,
Brutal Blackened Death Metal

Help Support Grizzly Butts’ goals with a donation:

Please consider donating directly to site costs and project funding using PayPal.