SULPHUROUS – The Black Mouth of Sepulchre (2021)REVIEW

For death is doubtless the last phase of the sickness, but death is not the last thing. If in the strictest sense we are to speak of a sickness unto death, it must be one in which the last thing is death, and death the last thing. And this precisely is despair.” Søren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death

A pronounced sickness of spirit, the deepest sort of mortal wound, hangs in the air like reeking stench as we traverse the dread-tones of Copenhagen, Denmark-based death metal band Sulphurous‘ sophomore full-length, an apex predatorial event amongst several as we begin our slow waltz towards the end of yet another year wherein this new renaissance of Danish death metal reaches a ridiculous level of brutal sublimity. ‘The Black Mouth of Sepulchre‘ is merely the portal in this instance, a broadened self braced in glorification of putrid death while taking full advantage of a certain set of highly evolved skills. There is no fitting arbiter for the level of confrontation the duo bring on this arguably defining statement and the only filter afforded the listener between horrifying modern classicist death metal style and the soul-splitting rip of this majestic bastard of an album is their fine taste in riffs.

Between Dominus‘ ‘View to the Dim‘, Konkhra‘s groove metal influenced mid-90’s start, and a couple of decent early burners from Illdisposed the existing nostalgia for the handful of rare spikes in quality for classic/early Danish death metal sorely lacks until we’ve fast-forwarded several years toward standout records from Exmortem, Usipian and of course Undergang. With this fish-eyed, brutally reductive point of view in mind using the term “new renaissance” of Danish death metal might appear somewhat incorrect in context — Frankly speaking, when was the first renaissance? In fact Denmark wouldn’t truly begin to build its own sustainable, non-trend centered underground death metal cults until the mid-to-late 2000’s and it wasn’t until the early 2010’s that they’d drawn serious fumes of interest. You can hear particularly dedicated work achieved with a high taste level and aesthetic via a couple of small circles of musicians beyond that impetus. Point being that we can and should certainly include Sulphurous as part of that greater movement and momentum though it’d all seem like a side-project until the first full-length released.

Although we have three quarters of Hyperdontia‘s line-up here today, and plenty of the same heaving riff-minded ‘old school’ death metal acumen, Sulphurous have always hauled a bit more post-‘Domination’ and ‘Here in After’ death-vapor in their blood, mauling all ears with precise, hard-hitting stretches of serpentine riffs which most often develop in descending stages of reveal. The band’s sound is intensely physical both in the sense of athletically timed percussive swings and the sheer weight which they dent the soft-skulled populace with. The major appeal of their muscled-out and despair filled death metal craft shouldn’t be so complicated to recognize if we can acknowledge their major influences as vague guidance from decades past, old and dead tomes that’d introduced major forms of reveal and spectacularly planted riff statement which Danish guitarist, vocalist and founding member Mathias Friborg (Had, Taphos, Ascendency) has singularly developed into his own writhing yet empyrean style. The original line-up circa 2012 featured folks who now run with Phrenelith and Solbrud among others and wasn’t vastly different than what we receive today in terms of tempered chaotic energy which still excites through pure death metal ideation; That original configuration produced three demos between 2012-2016 and the last of the three ‘Demo XVI‘ (2016) would be re-recorded by the core duo of Friborg and drummer T. (ex-Phrenelith, Apparatus) as the ‘Abomination Temple‘ 7″ EP. The two fellowes M. and T. have featured as the main songwriting and recording force up ’til ‘The Black Mouth of Sepulchre’ which recruits session bass work from Malik Çamlıca (Diabolizer, Septage, ex-Burial Invocation). This was the worthy path forward and the right working relationship to provide differentiation from their other nearby death metal projects.

Solid as those formative years of Sulphurous are the main reason some considerable buzz encircles ‘The Black Mouth of Sepulchre’ today stems from the incredible sleeper hit that their debut full-length (‘Dolorous Death Knell‘, 2018) had been; It was the kind of record that you wish you’d spent a couple months tearing through while in the midst of recapping the full year. The severe attack and claustrophobia inducing tweak upon (early) Immolation which bears the weight of that record produced a sound that is most often compared to Dead Congregation or, without much thought, to the musician’s own other bands. When I hit upon songs like “Dry Breath of the Tomb” bands like Sinister and even an early Bølzer‘s sense of reeling melody come to mind, though I’d personally rather point a half-raised finger toward Prosanctus Inferi when it comes to the actual riffs here, but the general quality of Sulphurous‘ own particular brand of elite yet hardly nostalgic death metal exists within its own peculiar ecosystem other wise. Getting a bigger picture of the experience might entail a lengthy doctrine on my part but this shouldn’t be necessary, the riffs reveal all, we can however sum it to a sort of demi-globalist sound which does not intend to emulate any other death metal band or movement but certainly has the atmosphere and work ethic of the most classic eras of death music in its blood.

Within about ninety seconds, “Shadows Writhing like Black Wings” grinds into a central verse riff which, along with a classic speed metal lead melody, reads as the sort of songwriting we’ve rarely gotten beyond ‘Gardens of Grief’ and thereabouts Therion albeit far more brutally achieved on the part of Sulphurous. Not only does this arcing riff and subsequent swells catch the ear but slaps it with a block of ice as said melody lulls into the surreal, doomed wasteland that ‘The Black Mouth of Sepulchre’ illustrates best. The sensation of landing within this moment feels as if the credits have rolled and the body sinks into the floor in preparation for deeper abysm. “Eyes Black Fury” essentially does it again, this time even more intricately stating its whirling melody around ~2:04 minutes into the piece in conjuration of what is arguably one of the more distinctly Scandinavian moments on the album. From there this harrowing spiral-cut piece once again widens into motif that punishes and enchants as it reveals in various circulation, demanding its position as the frothing pumace’d peak of the album. Sulphurous neither relent nor do they appear to intend any profound separation, or pairing, of these six six-minute death metal songs which sidle next to one another neatly. Though the strong melodic ideas developed in the mid-section of the album are likely to be the pieces that stick in most listener’s minds beyond the burst of riffs that opener “Emanated Trepidation” delivers, the album as a whole shows no remorse as it drowns the ear with ashen, riff-obsessed death metal attack from start to finish.

In direct comparison with ‘Dolorous Death Knell’ the ‘The Black Mouth of Sepulchre’ listening experience is far more nuanced, with fewer elements cranked to ten and shoved to the first column. This allows for some organic separation of each performance and of course the keyword for nowadays death metal is dynamism, which certainly applies here in terms of flexible sound design it being music crafted for effect rather than sheer bludgeon. We get a brilliant glimpse of this within the very last moments of album closer where “Gazing into the Patch of Darkness” leaves us with Friborg playing the final riff melody on a piano. This moment ceding itself into the impossible dark before the bombastic jagged-toothed bite of “Emanated Trepidation” rolls in eventually becomes a major source of momentum generation, that brief send-off is profound enough in relation to the respawn of the full listen that a repeat of the full album was often inevitable. Consider it death metal’s equivalent of a page turner or a short story so packed with details that re-reads only become more thrilling in atmospheric value or meaning. As for the general recommendation Sulphurous aren’t a catchy or gimmick-driven death metal band but they’ve done some fine work in making ‘The Black Mouth of Sepulchre’ their most memorable statement to date with a strong balance of brutal riff-focused guitar work, an eerie sense of movement, and sinister melodicism throughout. High expectations meant it’d take a while to crack the shell of the experience but the result was nonetheless stunning. A very high recommendation.

Very high recommendation. (87/100)

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
TITLE:The Black Mouth of Sepulchre
LABEL(S):Dark Descent Records,
Me Saco Un Ojo Records,
RELEASE DATE:October 22nd, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp
GENRE(S):Death Metal

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