MEFITIS – Offscourings (2021)REVIEW

I have described my protracted digging as idiotic, and such it indeed was in object and method.” Yet our protagonist dug open this empty grave that’d haunted his spirit and, for yet unclear reasons, kept digging beneath the coffin itself as a madman clawing away at dirt — Thinking himself an animal in the soil as the mud gave way to cavern and (in typical Lovecraftian fashion) a near-sighting of a creature that just barely avoids what further madness full view would have inspired. The developing wonder of this third chapter of The Lurking Fear amidst lightning, soil and shadow leaves little time to be concerned with fear or horror, instead egging on this exploration forward to a promise of torsion-wrenched meaning or satisfying collapse into madness; There is little wonder that the miraculous form-gathering teenaged enlightenment of (now) infamous late 80’s Swedish black and death metal circles would borrow this sense of movement in creation of their enthusiastic “naïve” craftsmanship. What made this period of history such a pillar was this chase of “What the red glare meant…” on the horizon of extreme metal as the 1990’s arrived unto limitless possibilities and damningly fecund commercialization in response. One could argue, and many have, that Scandinavian death metal shied from transcendence when the practicality of full-time employment as “serious” musicians became a reality for so many. Any passion for what they could have unearthed soon became resting potential for others to pull from. To think that musique concrète, Russian futurism, adventurous chromatic harmonization, contrapuntal composition and all manner of youthfully ambitious avant-garde inspirations would dump like a watery shit from certain artists once they’d met their rock idols’ underwings.

It takes some certain sort of trendless, willingly and socially unsheltered adult to become the animal burrowing through the soil for the sake rediscovering what potential energies a cynical, crystalline mind might’ve left behind and even more personal character to repurpose that mindset into original music. We’re impressed enough when it is done on purpose as worship, moderately charmed when old ideas are returned to in earnest (or, for profit) by originals, and flabbergasted into sputtering muss when an artist’d miraculously arise from the sea as a steaming volcanic font of freshened ideas gleaned from their appreciation (but not outright worship) of a most classic era. This is where we’d met Oakland, California-based black/death metal duo Mefitis a few years back when their debut full-length (‘Emberdawn‘, 2019) landed as such. An experience with a pristine carapace of ‘old school’ melodic black/death that’d chip away into their own form of obsidian “dark metal” abysm. It’d had me gushing profusely as soon as I’d heard, referencing untouchable favorites such as ‘With Fear I Kiss the Burning Darkness’ and ‘Nær sólen gar niþer for evogher’ among others in description of its compositional methods and wealth of detail. Where then, do they strike out on their own when I’ve already decided their debut was nigh perfection? The duo’s second album, ‘Offscourings‘, seeks to refine the practical aspects of higher-brained methodology while expanding Mefitis‘ unique perspective by stepping through a portal of their own design, one that’d embrace their otherness entirely without losing sight of where their legacy will conceivably count most: The cumulative state achieved via those glorious, razor-cut details.

As much as I would enjoy referencing about ten ‘old school’ extreme metal records in analysis of ‘Offscourings’ much of that’d skew the point and purpose of a second album that clearly aims to be more than what ‘Emberdawn’ was or, to build upon Mefitis rather than introduce whatever favorite album popped up during the songwriting process. In fact as I’d sit in appreciation for Side A or, the first half, it’d felt less like they’d corrected their old assignments and more like ‘Offscourings’ was cut from fresh cloth, introducing new techniques and amplifying the characterizing traits and touches that made their first album completely special. As “Wandering the Tideland” arrives we’ll immediately notice Mefitis are not wielding a blunt instrument as an impossibly long and thrillingly complete stretch of lead guitar threatens to never end its multi-directional spiraling flow, it takes nearly a minute and a half to resolve this central escalation before reprising into a set of arranged lead statements; The density of notes provides a strong initial point of focus which is rationally followed, directional and melodic with notable counter arguments from the second guitar as the vocals and ethereal synth/choral hum sets phrase upon this dazzling array to keep the tempo clear. Returning to just this one song a number of times in a row reveals a set of layers that express differently depending on any ulterior point of focus; Of course this multifocal sensation is not especially new if you are a glutton for various forms of technical and progressive death metal but we rarely see it achieved within this paradigm of style beyond 1998. Function, form and poetic statement align in this sense as we’re provided unrest and wandering spirit set nearby somewhat literal musical alliteration. There is the sense that no aspect of this opening song was simply waved on through, that the poetic imagery and arrangement all merged purposefully, cutting no corner to arrive at its effective statement. Of course we can already assume that if I’m stammering on and tripping over myself this much for the sake of the first song that I am absolutely impressed. Fair enough, yes, they’ve outdone themselves.

“Meriden Artefact” justifies this sense that the smaller successes on ‘Emberdawn’ become triumph-in-excess on ‘Offscourings’ as the needled, technical buzz of their swaying melodic rhythms meet with the exuberant and satisfyingly dramatic chorales that helped to make Mefitis stand out early on. These ascending chorales are functional swells but now take the place of keyboards in some sense, offering an organic and unique solution to up-swelling certain dramatic moments but a closer listen also reveals spoken layers and tribal chants. This is where the duo’s appreciation for 90’s technical death metal begins to express, knowing that this multitude of “one time” deeper layered details will appreciate in value over time yet they never become obnoxiously populated. At this point is is important to suggest the recording, tonal spectrum, and final rendering processes have all improved in consideration allowing less collusion with bass frequencies and giving the ear clarity with a most satisfying treatment of mid-range, negating the need for excessive distortion. This is essentially where I’d wanted the second records from A Canorous Quintet and Gates of Ishtar to land back in the late 90’s, in terms of capture at least. As we ease out of the prose that ends “Castling in Sediment” towards what could be considered Side B it is “The Witherways” that initially struck me as a great push beyond, echoing the chromatic tonal jumps at the end of the previous song and expanding this space-faring, cross fingered guitar mapping with even bigger chorales. This is is a satisfying piece in terms of surrealistic extreme metal modality but also a bit vexing because it feels like it reveals a dimension of the artist that appreciates an altered state or, that they’ve positioned this song not as a “payoff” moment (as would traditionally be placed around the halfway point) but as an amplifier or, generator of deeper wonder. Again we are found clawing away at the soil of auld graves, revealing the caverns and portals away from the skeletons we’d expected and this is the moment I’d first fallen into the cave below.

“Fenshaden Deeps” is that cave, perhaps a hint of prog-thrash circling their love for Demilich a bit on the way forward. So, before I wither into a jarred brain on a shelf trying to describe too much referential detail… you’ve gotten the idea that focusing on a track-by-track analysis is less a “rollercoaster” and more a trek through a surrealistic hill-thickened wilderness, camping very briefly in awe of our surroundings yet eager to scale every peak we cannot see beyond. The absolute tension of Mefitis‘ craft has its own maddening momentum full of notes, sheer notes that will be seen as convoluted if you’ve no certain love for early At the Gates, Dawn, and perhaps Unanimated where those fiddling classical music inspired arches of tremolo’d surrealism wouldn’t have lightly readied you for the militant barrage ahead. The peak where we can no longer see anything but clouds and the many-armed deities’ fists casting dread below is actually the first single, “Sonstead Blight” a barreling and roaring piece that captures the exciting core of albums like Sentenced‘s ‘North From Here’ and charges it with Mefitis‘ own characteristic electricity, laughing (literally) as if smiting in the midst of its first couple movements. As much as we hear mediocre black (and death) metal artists today suggesting they’ve got a bit of “the 90’s” in their dribbling, lazed tripe the ear will go on hungering for that feeling ’til it hears what these fellowes have done with this piece, as it embodies the ambition (not the referential fidelity) of that era of extreme metal and shocks the mind with very physical, “felt” bombastic energetics. It is an incredible way to finish off the greater musical statement of ‘Offscourings’, with this sense that they’ve understood and achieved what generations of halfway-interested folks were never ambitious enough to unearth: Character and ‘great works’ do not simply land upon us for our attention to microcosm, we must yet direct the macrocosm in tandem to ensure that realization matches artistic intent. Maddening as it must’ve been to pick and whirl this album together into a complete and sensical listen, it was certainly worth the result.

All of this said, ‘Offscourings’ is a masterpiece that will likely have its greater conversational value stifled by its relatively simple and very personal artwork, an illustration of the band by Pendath including the two live members. Knowing the definition of offscourings and positing it as the description of the depicted allows for this artwork to have its own meaning and I appreciate that it is artwork from a band who have embraced more of a do-it-yourself modus wherever they can. The aesthetic doesn’t blow my mind but it isn’t unprecedented, I certainly own albums from Necrophobic, Aeternus, and Decameron (not to mention a host of 80’s heavy metal acts) which are essentially band photos and yet I cherish them all the same. The only element of ‘Offscourings’ that I’m not sure I’ve fully understood is their cover of Stara Rzeka‘s “Nie zblizaj sie do ognia“, [which turns out to be a bonus track and not intended as the “closer” -GB 1/21] a uniquely aggressive avant-garde electric guitar forward piece from the Polish neofolk artist that Mefitis have sliced the most active atonal chunk from, cutting its length in ~half. In some sense this does musically align with the rest of the album but it might’ve made more sense set as the end of Side A (if this were a vinyl record, that is) or, before “Witherways”; I say this because it doesn’t feel like a final peaking endpoint as much as “Sonstead Blight” naturally does for my own taste. This only occurred to me after countless spins of the record, falling into its graceful and tormented surrealistic intricacies for several days on end to the point that it’d interrupted my usual workflow. ‘Offscourings’ demanded that it be heard, analyzed, and eventually just enjoyed as soon as the bigger picture it painted became less a fog of endlessly revelatory details. In some sense it simply takes me back to my exhaustion of early-to-mid 90’s Scandinavian death metal and the short-lived mastery of its crossing paths with black metal’s second wave but on the other hand Mefitis certainly push all of those boundaries to a more musically viable result, a logical but ultimately personal extension of a work ethic more than a literal transitive borrowing of a lost era. I am so rarely smacked in the jaw by music that so clearly “gives a shit” with absolutely elite, skull-draining standards of practice and I cannot help but act as a prism in response. A highest recommendation.

Highest recommendation. (100/100)

Rating: 10 out of 10.
LABEL(S):Hessian Firm
RELEASE DATE:January 30th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Hessian Firm [BigCartel]
GENRE(S):Melodic Black/Death Metal

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