“Forms without bodies, and impassive air. / Hence to deep Acheron they take their way, / Whose troubled eddies, thick with ooze and clay, / Are whirl’d aloft, and in Cocytus lost. / There Charon stands, who rules the dreary coast / A sordid god: down from his hoary chin / A length of beard descends, uncomb’d, unclean; / His eyes, like hollow furnaces on fire;” Virgil, The Aeneid
We souls muster to cross into narcotic ceremonies, held in the grip of this alembic-decanted night we surrender to communal imbibe beyond solemn blood-shed of the braying lamb. We descend the chthonic crypts, our sweat and death carved into plaster-held and irregular earthen weave. From post-molten corridors to putrid caves we saunter through darkness to the light of Acheronian tides, casting all manner of stinking offal and trinket to tribute our offering of flesh to the Gods at each of these eight gates of iron. As suppliant horde to the halls of Hades we dissolve in slow, deliberately horrendous form not so much decaying in natural waves eked by time but witnessing our torturous dissolve under flame-ridden cloth and melting jewelry, as if projected from beyond the corporeal eye to a singular, heinous stream. This is no descent into damnation but a return home, a portal to a fearsome elemental realm where passions exist in timeless ever-flowing alchemical recreation of rare greatness honed from the chaff and splinters of mankind’s mediocre persistence throughout time. What spawns today finished and impractically forged for ages to sate the perfectionist creator’s self-abusive standards is a work of irrefutable, perhaps nigh untouchable quality by the hands of thrice great Norwegian thrash metal trio Nekromantheon, they who’d now heave the weight of ‘Visions of Trismegistos‘ upon the unwitting public and in doing so unburden themselves of its cripplingly applied transformative alchemic qualities. Launched far beyond the typical volleys of worship and formative examination of classics, it is as if the Kolbotn-based troupe have tasked themselves with the seeming impossibility of freshly founded aggression in revision of classicist forms and, by chance or maddening drafts, strike fiery purity far more serious than any potential ancient one could’ve been.
Though this won’t initially make much sense if you are a long lapsed and previously very engaged fan of Nekromantheon, we can now speak to this project as comprised of fellowes who value quality over quantity. Sure, this is an abuse of a cliché on my part at face value and it’d be fair to say that the business of life and aging into one’s third decade of life likely slowed each project and raised the stakes in tandem but we see this same ethos arisen in concurrent death metal project (of course, with some different actors) Obliteration where they’d likewise served the public a masterpiece several years beyond their last. Nonetheless, the yet invested fandom understand that artists who make each release count no matter the span of time do ultimately end up being the most appreciated, whereas the 1-2 year cycle attracts the type who’d glom to the overactive artist like a sports team. For a third album within a sixteen year span of time ‘Visions of Trismegistos’ lands quite far from the original burst of self-establishing recording activity from the project between 2005 ’til 2012. Although Nekromantheon are still entirely recognizable, this long-anticipated record is their first fully formed and unique effort to date, one which will survive beyond a few quick comparisons and leagues of hifalutin-but-fleeting words for its ferocity and cryptic conveyance of intelligence. This thought of ‘quality over quantity’ echoes beyond the macrocosmic consideration of discography, associated bands, and whatnot unto the microcosm of ‘Visions of Trismegistos’ itself, plating eight untouchable, nigh flawlessly achieved thrash metal pieces in just over a half hour; Not wasting a second of the listeners time with “filler”, tribute or unnecessarily protracted ideas. Each song is unmercifully dense with riff, movement, and lead by a prime vision of what Nekromantheon have evolved into — The obsessive standards of thrash metal met in purest essence.
By most any standard of the time the original quartet that’d released the ‘We’re Rotting‘ demo back in 2007 sounded entirely professional and, sure, at least half a decade late to the throwback thrash metal trend of the era. It’d been a bittersweet age for folks earnestly inspired by the sub-genre because the chaff was thick and the plagiarism a bit fucking ridiculous even compared to the ‘old school’ death metal slugs throwing their weight around today. Nekromantheon stood out to me simply because they’d clearly chosen a righteous lane via early Sepultura and Slayer-heavy movements with absolutely no fashion, desperation or pretense applied. When their debut full-length (‘Divinity of Death‘, 2010) landed you kinda had to laugh at its merciless bent, it was a predator amongst the legions of bad cartoon thrashers just kinda having fun nearby and they’d only get more aggressive and distinct when their second album (‘Rise, Vulcan Spectre‘, 2012) upped the intensity. Pick you favorites however you see fit but that sophomore record was and is a serious contender that’d appeared long after the trend (which they’d never shown up for) had died a market-flooding death. As such there aren’t going to be a ton of folks who’d stuck with the classic thrash underground since the early 2010’s who’ve forgotten who they were, despite the wealth of solid releases in recent years upping the ante in some serious ways; The finest example being the Inculter, Reptilian and Sepulcher trio of assemblages out of Fusa, which echoes the similarly formed circle Nekromantheon inhabit, especially in appreciation of the highest standards of death and thrash metal of old. At this point we could approach the band today as still-young fellowes speaking a context heavy third revision of thee ancient tongues, writing new curses into the history of thrash metal and once again obliterating the present (and well, healthier) thrash metal landscape with a singular, wildly detailed chain of explosives.
Opener, debut single and title track “The Visions of Trismegistos” speaks this ancient language with an unusually intelligent flit of the tongue, a forged and frustrated form of thrash metal riffing that could be seen as a technical and fluid exaggeration of the feverish guitar techniques on ‘Schizophrenia’ and ‘Beneath the Remains’ but, not in the most blatant sense. This is certainly refined but also trademark Nekromantheon action, an impossibly potent extreme notion braced within what is yet essentially classic thrash metal wares. Their echoing vocal, tempered beyond ‘Rise, Vulcan Spectre’ leads its advance with a bark they’ve adapted unto patterns of ignition and retraction that are universal amongst the “brutal” spectrum of late 80’s thrash wherein riff typically came before dynamic, as an opener this is the right level of bombast to lead with. Folks who paid attention to the wealth of refined madness Aura Noir brought on their ‘Aura Noire’ album back in 2018 will understand what I mean when I say that guitarist Arild Torp (Obliteration, Black Viper) has reached a level of skill and finessed brutality by some magic combination of talented ear and relentless work that lights Nekromantheon‘s ‘ready adept touch on fire during this opening salvo, transcending a lot of the ‘barely making it’ feeling we still find in modern well-meaning classicist thrash metal. The speed, detail, and attack is likely enough to sell the album to the unsuspecting fan of the style without a second thought but, it does make sense to investigate the entire album and suss out if the greater piece holds together after some intensive listening.
“Scorched Earth” begins with what is probably the lengthiest introduction of these eight songs lending itself to what I’d consider classic German speed metal guitar techniques peeled of their movement and hammered far harder than any ’87 Teutonic thrash metal record I can think of but at least on par with the angular whip of ‘Release From Agony’. This bleeds directly into the very classic Nekromantheon arrangement of “Seven Rulers of Fate” and the trill-heavy second single from the album, “Thanatos“, which completes this bridge to the end of Side A. You might’ve gotten the impression that ‘Visions of Trismegistos’ is all attack, all frantic and brutally axed pieces and well, that is the right instinct at this point. “Thanatos” stands out in my mind for a few specific riffs, the jog-along burst at ~1:55 minutes into the piece, as a clip this might seem like a detail that blends in with the rest of the equally hot riff action but the change-up there is the sort of genius movement that sets Nekromantheon‘s arrangements off next to a lot of similar projects, the ability to turn on a dime with purpose is a good sign they’ve poured over this work with a keen editing ear and a sense of what thrash metal can be beyond hitting 2-3 riffs and calling it a day. The final single from the album, “Dead Temples“, follows next and I don’t think it’d necessarily revealed itself with any obvious purpose beyond the tripped vocal effects, which are great. In the context of the full listen we begin to see the curation of forms from start to finish, by highlighting those two pieces in a row we see both the introduction of theme and then its transmogrification via variation into the next stage of technique. Intention or not, we can begin to see these eight songs arranged as interlocking pieces that run in an order that is purposeful beyond theme, but also compositional storytelling. You’ll notice the trills featured at least half of the riffs in the first third of the album have given way to a much heavier ‘Reign in Blood’ vibe by the time “Zealot Reign” hits and if you’re willing to chip away at the details of this thing note-for-note, the interlocking nature of each piece does arrive by some intent.
Such a tightly knit form must sacrifice something to achieve its major goals and this means Side A doesn’t arrive upon as singular experiences beyond the impressive introductory piece, from that point the next several songs tie into the greater attack of a of largely momentum-based listen. You could certainly enjoy ‘Visions of Trismegistos’ in pieces but it lands with its full hammer when enjoyed in a full and properly ordered spin. The album doesn’t fully spread into full glory until Side B reaches its deepest hits, ending on the highest note possible with “Faustian Rites” as a doubly resonant follow up to my personal favorite track “Neptune Descent”. The full listen is just as compact as you’d expect at ~33 minutes and eight songs but all is time well spent developing an album with strong personality, high-level technical craftmanship, and evocative ruthlessly energetic performance. When held to the current standard of the 2-3 year development cycle for your average ‘known’ thrash metal entity, of course Nekromantheon benefit from the nine year gap between releases in exponential returns. If the third album from this had to be important and outdo what’d been accomplished on ‘Rise, Vulcan Spectre’ then of course job well done. At this point I’d feel confident naming ‘Visions of Trismegistos’ as the best release from the entity to date. That said, there are no punches pulled or hooking melodies present and this is an album that thrives on bewildering attack much in the same way Obliteration does, it won’t please folks looking for a catchy, blackened, or ‘fun’ thrash metal experience but it will read as pure thrash metal violence. Just as I’d recommended ‘Fatal Visions’ to folks seeking a master class in what potential evolution persists within the brutal spectrum of thrash, so would I present ‘Visions of Trismegistos’ as an important, vitally examined release for nowadays thrash metal. I could prattle on about lyrics, artwork (Zbigniew Bielak), and all manner of incredible details but you’ve gotten the point, an important release with conviction. A very high recommendation.
|TITLE:||Visions of Trismegistos|
|LABEL(S):||Hell’s Headbangers Records,|
|RELEASE DATE:||April 30th, 2021|
|BUY & LISTEN:||Bandcamp [All Formats]|
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