No realistically quantified measure of transference known to scientific methodology can predict the success rate of a notable underground legacy ‘brand’ exchanging beyond the rift of decades with any real ‘earn’ of said position, a station eluding many on a regular basis. In this case we’ve concerned ourselves with the unsurpassed boon of extreme metal’s melodic voice during a most classic era for Scandinavian death metal, witnessing the transfer of vision between a twenty-something grouping of four affected souls, inspired during a time of great advent, unto the efforts of just one or two of those souls a few decades later. In most cases the cynical expectation of nostalgic pandering is assumed and even celebrated by a swarm of rat-like movement typical to mass fandom — Berated if successfully nostalgic, berated if unsuccessfully tuneful, and assaulted if not in delivery of instantly recognizable gratification per personalized fan expectation… and I’d assume these are all considerations that’ve held back on the delivery of a third Eucharist album since they’d reformed in the late 2010’s. That isn’t to suggest that the duo of today needs to be directly related to their well-buried classic melodic death metal era upon return, it being an underground side note to all but the most elite minds anyhow, but rather to suggest that it’d be a bit boring to have gotten a calloused throwback record. In fact we aren’t getting a stumbling rehash of an old sound nor anything so philosophically outlandish by comparison on this unexpected return, yet it’ll be hard to initially see ‘I Am the Void‘ for what it is beyond a melodic black metal album served cold in heaping, poisonous portion. That isn’t all that it is and there’ll be no easy conclusion found in a quick assessment of its contents — Yet it will all come together with patience, wherein taking the long and winding road towards a promised grand finale with a steadied mind will ultimately serve prime evolutionary statement to the listener, a transcendental monument unavailable to those cursed by their own thoughtlessly overbearing nostalgia.
Formed in a very small town about an hours drive south of Gothenburg circa 1989 Eucharist had already split up once before their infamous first demo tape (‘Eucharist‘, 1992) released, the first of several ‘two steps forward, one step back’ advances made by the group in the 1990’s. Despite their introduction into the greater Swedish death metal spheres having helped to set the scenic fingerprint for melodic death metal as a viable sub-genre at the time, their early works weren’t celebrated as their peers at the time. Re-stating their biggest ideas with an official single, the well-loved ‘Greeting Immortality‘ (1992) 7″ EP, must’ve garnered some notice but as far as I’ve read, and certainly not from any official source, the band had more or less been finished with their gig by 1993. Of course any run through early Eucharist‘s small pool of material will emphasize the power of “Greeting Immortality” as a standard bearer and the sort of banner statement from the band that’d carried over into the broader genius of ‘A Velvet Creation‘ (1993), their debut full-length that’d happened for the sake of a record label’s support beyond the grave. The criticism I’ve gathered for this specific release over the last I dunno, twenty-five years of listening to it is that they’d only just gone as far as realizing their baseline potential on that album and seemed to have no interest in expanding, or recognizing the incredible language conjured by the dual-guitar rhythms, a sort of contrapuntal extraction reserved for the deepest, dirtiest underground melodic death obsessed souls.
There is little evidence that Eucharist knew they were onto something special at that time besides a bit of wonky rhythm compared to most and this is evidenced by their keeping up with the new high standards of their melodeath peers with a second full-length (‘Mirrorworlds‘, 1996) largely spearheaded by guitarist Markus Johnsson and drummer Daniel Erlandsson (Arch Enemy). That isn’t to say that it was a lacking release and that it hadn’t contained the signature movement that’d highlighted melodic aspect of the prior album but that the neoclassic-derived complexity of ‘A Velvet Creation‘ was traded for galloping heavy metal rhythms and differently evocative guitar work, something much closer in phrase to the first couple of In Flames releases. That second album had been revelation to some, average to others and with Scandinavian extreme metal underground being a bit bloated at the time there is no major surprise that it wasn’t remembered on glowing terms ’til hindsight allowed as such. It is a much better album than many recall but also a different beast for a few key, if not admittedly small, reasons. So, where does all of this history take us? Absolutely nowhere ’til about 2015 or so when some reissues were long in the works, new material was being prepared, and a 2016 one-off reunion show made a solid impression upon all. Evidence enough that the name should not die and that those old songs still held up in a live setting and upon fresh ears.
There is no clear-cut enough statement to set the aged fan’s expectations exactly where they might best lie in terms of Eucharist‘s ashen sound today, though we could suggest ‘I Am the Void‘ is more-or-less generationally in line with early 90’s melodic black metal when it was still deeply indebted to the brutality of death metal of the time, just as the most recent Mörk Gryning was, though these performances often speak to the heavier, ruthless aspect of Swedish black metal beyond that point. Hammered-at with a colder black metal edge this album certainly finds its suggested ‘darker atmosphere’ while also exploring some light melodic black/death metal glances within its biggest-stated pieces. It’ll be hard to resolve that the same two fellowes responsible for ‘Mirrorworlds‘ largely wrote this album, but it won’t be such a stretch with a decent attention span applied and of course if you are a fan of black metal. Perhaps sensing a lack of ‘big deal’ commercial appeal in the sessions, somewhere within the 3-4 year process of creating ‘I Am the Void‘ Erlandsson left and current Marduk drummer Simon Schilling soon joined for the actual recording. I believe his brutal performance paired with a very patient hard-hitting set of opening songs will have some folks scratching their head for continuity to start. With that said, from my point of view the last thing I want from an artist is their younger, dumber ‘self’ revisited and I’d had no real trouble meeting Johnsson‘s work on its own terms and of course within a darker, far more intense headspace.
The trailing tremolo’d torment of opener “Shadows” is less a greeting than an invasion of our palatial expectations, a sinister yet stoic aggression siphoning the air from the porcelain halls of the mind. This is the first or many simply counted lead guitar melodies that frame the major statement of the album, instantly readable and only lightly modulated as their greater hypnoses spreads throughout the piece. The sort of rocking intro and kick into “Goddess of Filth (Tlazolteotl)” begins to imply more subtle yet complex-stated phrases, an inkling of melody but tuned to skulk rather than spray obviate movement; This is a grand contribution to my greater take on the album as a whole, wherein part of their modus involves a slow-striking beast staking out its surroundings. This is further evidenced by the anthemic yet somehow low-key poisoning of “In the Blaze of the Blood Red Moon”, a whirring and hateful pulse that bears an almost total rescind of theatricality yet achieves its understated lead guitar melody several times within its verses. This initial corridor of pieces isn’t yet the fully developed picture of ‘I Am the Void‘ but instead only its first movement, a mere third of its 77 minute, double LP worthy length.
“Mistress of Nightmares” should be the first minor shock (of several to come) for folks who’d gotten a bit lost in the dreary battering verve of the first half of ‘I Am the Void‘, largely for the sake of its intensely memorable hook and a refrain which is characteristic of Johnsson‘s rhythm work in the mid-90’s to some degree. Yet we aren’t too far from something completely new, specifically the deep-set wintry synth backing the atmospheric black metal expansion of “Queen of Hades” in its mid-section nearby. The suggestion that we’re in the midst of Eucharist‘s most potent examination of Swedish black metal features would be apt to some degree here but, with a bit of their own perspective applied, the most profound example for my own taste being the dramatic bleeding-out anti-balladry of “Nexion”. So, if your patience has run out at this point then there’ll be no convincing that the lines between black and death metal have been blurred here thus far, considering Eucharist‘s return a full on black metal album makes good enough sense and the surface-level skim that many will find their due diligence within will be done. I’d only argue that there is yet another half hour of the album left and that is where ‘I Am the Void‘ enjoys its most convincing bouts of intensity and most involved compositions within longer-form songs.
The final third of this admittedly overlong album is its biggest, most inspired moment and as I’d suggested earlier, it’ll be buried by the impatience of auld demographics as folks find all ‘easy’ melodeath punches pulled herein. Instead we find the space of twenty years filled by four songs which elevate the entire listening experience while speaking to the melodic voice of the artist over the years. Thriving within the ~7 minute format, “In the Heart of Infinity” isn’t the first song on ‘I Am the Void‘ to show its cards in terms of introducing complex rhythmic motions nested into strong melodic phrases but it does signal a certain awakening which’ll become more apparent as the tracklist proceeds. I’m not sure if breathtaking is the right word, perhaps ecstatic’d fit better in description of this song especially as it develops a handful of riffs beyond the ~4:10 minute mark with some real flair. “Lilith” pulls us further down the cordage of the noose, lead guitar harmonies firing in patient lilt as the song’s rushing rhythms accentuate the vocal patternation applied atop, soon finding chunking heavy metal refrains in between these battered verses to give some semblance of the old ways rethought in dynamic, a notion echoed within the memorable grooves of “Darkness Divine”. Of course the final piece, the nine and a half minute title track (“I Am the Void“) would be the piece to change minds in reveal as the third single prior to release, since it most distinctly echoes the final grand reveal of where Johnsson‘s songcraft has walked and transformed in the decades since the Eucharist name was last spoken in summon. All I’ll say about it is that this enduring moment is best enjoyed within a full listen of the album rather than as a preamble.
Huge and demanding as the experience is there’d end up being no better way to reintroduce Eucharist than an overstated, elaborate and overall memorable double album. While the broader strokes of ‘I Am the Void‘ are impressive in terms of tonal constancy, arrangement and coldest black metal leaning sound design it isn’t a flawless listen. The drums are set an inch too loud in the mix for my taste, the midrange shatter of the cymbals sounding intrusive on headphones but reasonable enough on speakers regardless of EQ tweaking. This’d be a non-issue for a black metal release if it didn’t dull a few of the bigger moments on the album, such as the last third of “Queen of Hades”. Otherwise I’d hope that any further releases hang a bit closer to the 45 minute realm, not that these weren’t an entirely potent 77 minutes but it’d required some willful preparation and the occasional break on regular rotation. A very high recommendation.
|TITLE:||I Am The Void|
|LABEL(S):||Helter Skelter Productions,|
|RELEASE DATE:||March 25th, 2022|
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