BAXAXAXA – Catacomb Cult (2021)REVIEW

The sweet stench of erosion-revealed corpses drives our elder ghouls back to an infamous grave, to dig up and feast upon the dust of bones and decayed robes still enchanted with a most hungered-for ancient magick. Beholden to the coffin-sleeper’s spell of endtyme, these moonlit mirrors-over-water unveil all futures scorned, infuriated enough by the state of this ominous black craft to sprout keratinized spires, bloody daggers of hatred from their very temples. Physical prongs of arcane knowledge threaten aglow from a gaseous, makeshift crypt as the full force of German black metal reliquary Baxaxaxa muster what was once impossibly contained and return their ‘Catacomb Cult‘ to its unholy glory. Doomed and blasphemic as the earliest ordo of their ilk, every step beyond the quartet’s well-preserved cemeterial gate recalls a time before traditions were set and once-primal Satanic art became legacy exploited into hapless fodder. Today we embrace a history of early ‘second wave’ black metal defiance (and Baxaxaxa‘s place within it) not for the sake of marketable exploitation but to cast a shadow of dissent across the slovenly, infantile and hapless nowadays standard for the artform; A reality which fifth column folks can certainly thrive within but never belong to without reaching for the stirring, inspirational knowledge of old.

Doom is the keystone of our death worship. Typically reduced to a light comparison with ‘A Blaze in the Northern Sky’, it’d be more fair and true to suggest that Ungod were the only functional and worthy black metal band to accomplish an underground black metal classic within Bavaria ’til (arguably) Tha-Norr finally managed their brief but potent discography in ’94-’95. The most important side-note to the rabid perfection of ‘Circle of the Seven Infernal Pacts‘ being Baxaxaxa‘s formation and dissolution in 1992, with members soon absorbed into Ungod and the oft-overlooked Vangelis-kissed Fulgor beyond. Baxaxaxa were infamous for their one-off ‘Hellfire‘ (1992) demo tape and not just their associations with early south-east German black metal but because it fit within an unholy and rare niche of early second wave black metal inspired by Hellhammer and classic doom metal, the sort of bands that first generated what we now accept as black metal atmospheric traditions and anti-sound design. The late 80’s/early 90’s works from Samael, Goatlord, Barathrum, and even deeper outliers like Christ Agony, Black Crucifixion, and Alastis give us a window into the strong appeal of that first tape. It’d be reductive to directly compare or suggest Baxaxaxa as another “one of them” for the sake of their own disintegrated sound featuring somewhat unique keyboard tones, a few surprisingly melodic outbursts, and an almost Hellenic/Czech quality to the plod of songs like “Church of the Antichrist”. Of course three decades gives fools like me more than enough time to overthink what was probably a feral act unhindered by too-deep thought back in 1992; Much like the works of Xantotol, ‘Hellfire’ is well remembered by the cult but typically for the sake of seeing the reality of second wave black metal (and the impetus for black/doom metal paradigm crossover) before Scandinavian traits became normative ambitions, er… phenomenon worldwide. The major point here is that what was done back in 1992 was actually worth reprising with respect for the old ways and their timeless appeal.

Likely re-firing the crypt forges around 2017 and revealing the smoke resultant at 2018’s Destroying Texas Fest the resurrection of Baxaxaxa features original drummer Condemptor along with Ungod bandmates Cryptic Tormentor (Predictor) and Sulphur Irae alongside vocalist Traumatic whom doesn’t need an introduction but we could hear him doing this sort of black metal as early as 1993 in Nema‘s ‘A Step Into the Darkness‘. At this point it’d be fair to say that all of the new material from Baxaxaxa has been consistent in its invocation of the spirit of their original work but speaks more broadly to that period of time in German black metal and doesn’t keep it simple for the sake of pandering or feigned naïve state, instead we see their whirling of key ingredients as if this sort of conjure never left their spell books. ‘The Old Evil‘ (2019) demo actually recalled that first Ungod record ’til I’d taken a closer listen in early 2020 when the vinyl version released: “I particularly appreciated their using similar imagery for the cover art, it ties into the first demo as a direct continuation and retains that early 90’s first wave aesthetic. The music itself is exceptional stuff; A crazed, morbid, spontaneous and way over-the-top shot in the arm.” and I would redouble those statements as I approached ‘Devoted to HIM‘ 7″ in late 2020 and ‘Catacomb Cult’ today, though I’d say this is the true and timeless nature of Baxaxaxa bursting through the fleshy walls of the past and delivering a record well worth musing over today beyond “retro” interest or rose-colored ideation of better days. It was not a corpse that had arisen but the ghastly spirit of a long-dead culture, unconcerned with past-or-present bullshit beyond the pouring of their own unrepentant darkness.

Who truly needs to obscure their fidelity if they’ve grasped of their instruments long enough to find the shapes necessary to play darker music? You cannot machine this sort of blackened quintessence from artificial static and slow-fingered guess work but via a mind unquestionably attuned to the defiance black metal awakens at its core, be it Satanic ambition or whatever portion of the mind palace can be revealed through distortion, keyboards, and the exact right sort of kicking beats. We can observe elite divination of these aspects within Moenen of Xezbeth and perhaps Cemetery Lights per recent memory but it is another thing to sit with an album like ‘Catacomb Cult’ and see the true demon in flesh and blood. Not the most fair analogy or comparison but you get the gist. Baxaxaxa introduce us to their debut full-length with a title track is arranged as if it were the kick-off for a Dream Death record, buzzing in with a few trill-heavy doom riffs and soon swinging into its keyboard-draped, eerie mid-pace. It isn’t long before the verses deconstruct into slower paced breaks and the late chorus reveal delivers a primeval 1988 vision of proto-extreme doom that is appropriately set within a early second wave black metal arena. The song itself is not an imitation of youth’s primitivism but a sleek understanding of why the ancient ways worked within the vacuum of ‘competitive’ abnormality that shot for a unique sound and did so emphasizing creative but readable songwriting. Clear but not ‘clean’ production values allow the purposeful craft of ‘Catacomb Cult’ to shine from the first and through the last notes Baxaxaxa perform within, ensuring we are not getting a ‘trendy’ bolt of lightning but a record that counts when absorbed in full and set beside nearby achievement.

Thrashing doom is where they shine best across this fine ~50 minute record for my own taste but without the ‘Circle of the Seven Infernal Pacts’-esque roll of “As the Moon Inhaled All Sunrays” or satisfyingly punkish kick of “The Great Malicious Tongue” it’d be a less dynamic ride from piece to piece. Beyond the title track/opener the duo of songs that’d whipped both sides of the claw hardest against my face were “Flame of Redemption” and “Kingdom Ablaze”. The former descending from a funereal, doomed peak as it spreads it wings into the longest (~8 minutes) forays on the album and the latter featuring what I’d consider a quasi-80’s hardcore esque breakdown at the ~0:29 second mark, grasping a primal part of my brain and squeezing a scabbed-over source of ichor with it. Not a major event in hindsight but one of many moments along the way that’d won me over with substantive details that caused some musing over this type of black metal rather than directly recreating someone else’s old, dead magick. “Walpurgis Dancers” is my personal favorite track here, not only is it a fine example of the fearless, snarling vocal exploration on the full listen but the ‘cult ritual’ atmosphere the group vocals give certain parts of the piece (along with choral sections) create an impossibly ominous groove that still stuns me each time I pick the album up. This is something we’re only getting from Baxaxaxa and an important piece of my greater argument for ‘Catacomb Cult’ as well above par, transcendent of being “one of those” black metal records, and serving a bit of revelation outside of time.

Not too long ago I’d been championing a (perhaps “the“) legacy black metal band by way of what was one entirely sweet-but-brief bout of evil heavy/doom metal on their entire record and now I’d gladly feel any deserved shame for touting its value now that I’ve sat with ‘Catacomb Cult’ as a reminder that the truth of the old ways, and not an fuzzy imitation, must be kept afire in mind to avoid any such complacency. Beyond that this is just a damned good ‘old school’ black metal record, a riff-heavy listen with a vitally doomed affect that is easy as Hell to jump back into and roll with, stomping stuff that inspires within every second of its near-hour. A very high recommendation.

Very high recommendation. (85/100)

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Catacomb Cult
LABEL(S):The Sinister Flame
RELEASE DATE:August 6th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp
GENRE(S):Black Metal,
Black/Doom Metal

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