THE CHASM – The Scars of a Lost Reflective Shadow (2022)REVIEW

After two decades of knowing the way forward, seeking and striking upon an elite brand of all-knowing, always signature-minded death metal it’d seemed the lauded underground energy of Chicago, Illinois-based (by way of Mexico) death metal band The Chasm had reached its most pure point of ascension. That ideal achieved would appear to serve as catalyst for years of quiet introspection beyond as various ventures into other realms sated the creative urge to simply do something else and do it just as well. In returning for an years long developed experimental instrumental feat in 2017 and an ‘end of an era‘ themed tour or two beyond it’d definitely felt like the influential band had signaled the last gasp of their original lineage, yet with the sudden emergence of their ninth full-length album it feels as if the exploration of the self in the interim has either renewed the spiritus that’d driven them beyond the 90’s, or, perhaps attempts to up a thousand loose ends in thrilling display. ‘The Scars of a Lost Reflective Shadow‘ is in fact the album which longtime fans of the band have been eager to manifest since the late 2000’s and there’ll be nothing bittersweet, unsure or cauterizing about it, here we find masters of their craft creating the original sound and experience they’re known for, a feat that others can still only ever hope to imitate.

The Chasm‘s main visionary, songwriter, guitarist, vocalist, bassist, designer, and engineer Daniel Corchado has made it clear enough over the last ~35 years that he will go his own way and do it himself the -right- way as a point of personality, always keen to simply and honestly present the best of his/the band’s collective ability in order to generate actual singularity. The fellow had immortalized himself in ‘old school’ death metal history with his presence in Damned Cross in the late 80’s and that crew’s mind-blowing frontispiece ‘The Gloomy Reflection of Our Hidden Sorrows‘ as Cenotaph, so, it wasn’t a matter of recognition or aiming for something more accessible when leaving to form The Chasm soon after that point. If anything the earlier releases from his new band were wildly esoteric, atmospheric mid-paced monstrosities that were ruggedly dissonant beyond anything else around at the time outside of formative stabs at melodic black metal (see: ‘Finis Malorum‘) and the deeper underground death/doom metal romanticism at the time. I’ve long felt that if you aren’t enamored with the clashing gloom and raised-fist striding of ‘Procreation of the Inner Temple‘ (1994) then you’d perhaps missed the most sentimental points of early 90’s extreme metal melodicism and its skronking, avant-garde progressive death metal underground mutations entirely since there is a continuum of majestic carnage dealt in full within any one piece on that album (and its follow-up ‘From the Lost Years‘ for that matter). Point being that The Chasm has built and rebuilt from the summation of entire worlds for decades, the condensed spirit of many interests splayed and threaded into an extreme metal format which evolved into something entirely original and truly forever underground quite early on — This continues to ring true today.

Of course I discovered The Chasm when everyone else did, in the late 90’s just as they’d broken into view beyond Corchado‘s feature in Incantation on their primal outlier ‘Diabolical Conquest‘ (1998). At that point the dissonant, hypnotic and entirely unique sound of ‘Deathcult For Eternity: The Triumph‘ (1998), the peak of the band’s Mark I Mexico-based era, wasn’t so readily available depending your go-to distro at the time and it’d been the far more refined ‘Procession to the Infraworld‘ (2000) that defined the new and most popular era of the band wherein elements of classic North American death metal aggression, Scandinavian melodic black/death metal’s heroically dark voicing, and pure 80’s heavy metal influences meshed into a sound which was entirely The Chasm‘s own. This description more-or-less carries on through the band’s material ’til today, though ‘The Scars of a Lost Reflective Shadow‘ bears its own sort of technical/progressive classic thrash metal edged bite to some degree.

This particular period of growth for the band was notably transitional, Corchado having found his unique run-on rhythm guitar style which developed in tightly-knit tandem feats alongside co-guitarist/sometimes bassist Julio Viterbo (Cenotaph, ex-Shub-Niggurath) as original second guitarist Erick Diaz moved on to Serpens Aeon beyond the third album. This was key because it’d not only defined the band’s sound but hyper-evolved it within a period of around half a decade, gaining some huge notoriety with tours for ‘Conjuration of the Spectral Empire‘ (2002) and landing on Earache’s short lived ‘new death metal’ imprint Wicked World for their arguably defining moment in ‘The Spell of Retribution‘ (2004). Though as a fan sitting down with songs like “Deathcult Arrival” on ‘Conjuration of the Spectral Empire‘ and learning them on the guitar is an all-time defining memory/experience on my part, I’ll have to hand the all-time classic award to their sixth album, if only for the sake of credit due to that Mark II line-up finding their absolute potential and public recognition.

The main reason I’m taking so much space here to describe their discography is entirely for the sake of me being an ridiculously passionate fan of this music. This particular era of the band (alongside records from StarGazer, Mithras, Anata and a few others) being the reason I not only pulled myself out of “only old school, pre-1995” listening habits that’d dominated my exploration of heavy metal at the time but the spark that’d found me further exploring the history of countless sub-genres (80’s US power metal, melodic black metal, early black/death, etc.) for context on what’d inspired these groups. As I’d suggested before the need for independence, to strike out on their own was always something I’d admired about Corchado‘s vision and though the shift to self-releasing and licensing all post-2008 material via their own Lux Inframundis label was likely difficult to some degree, it’d probably been entirely worth it after handing a career-defining masterpiece to the wolfen jaws of Earache-adjacent kind previous. ‘Farseeing the Paranormal Abysm‘ (2009) was quite easily read as the result of freedom, the reigns taken and the next evolution of the band’s sound arriving upon its transitional vision with, eh, a bit of congestion of forms that’d actually helped it register as one of their best, if not the peak of the core trio’s musical development that decade; Drummer Antonio León had made a skillful leap into ‘Procession to the Infraworld‘ but his work beyond had ramped up to an exciting peak on that seventh album. It was perhaps the official end of that Mark III era and yes, a masterpiece by any measure.

The question in the mind of any artist at that point, having found some supreme independence in their decades-honed craft was exactly what you’d expect it to be: What else can I do? The answer being Corchado‘s initially doom-tinged experimental solo project Magnum Itiner Interius that’d eventually explore various soundtrack/ambient landscapes with various points of inspiration, and of course his pure heavy metal project Acerus a group which hadn’t really clicked with me until their recent third album (‘The Tertiary Rite‘, 2020) seemed to figure out their sound eventually becoming favorite of the year in hindsight on my part. Well, as a dickhead The Chasm fan I’d resigned to the idea that this project had achieved a real peak in 2009 and the lack of any releases for eight years beyond cemented their legacy as essentially sealed of its first two eras. As it turns out 2012-2016 had been spent working on an hour long “introspective aural journey” which was entirely instrumental. Yep, I definitely irritated a few folks with my entitled, fussed-up review of ‘A Conscious Creation from the Isolated Domain – Phase I‘ (2017), which was originally written for another site, but in hindsight it was a fine instrumental progressive death metal record which now resonates as a sort of uber-jammed set of riff adventures that’d discover the path beyond ‘Farseeing the Paranormal Abysm‘ in stunning detail, it seemed they’d had to exhaust those possibilities to find the way forward. Man it was cool, I’d eventually accept it as canon exploration and just good music and lose the petulant reactivity, but I’d definitely wanted to see what The Chasm would do next with vocals included, especially since their tours beyond that point almost felt like farewell shows.

In the years between it’d seem the development of Phase II, the enthusiastic celebration of their live setlist, and some meditation upon maintaining an iron-willed nature lead to ‘The Scars of a Lost Reflective Shadow‘ as a natural diversion of course, a set of songs which’ve founded the path beyond ‘Farseeing the Paranormal Abysm‘. The amplified narrative voice of the dual rhythm guitar work achieved on ‘A Conscious Creation from the Isolated Domain – Phase I‘ is now set in motion with a certain level of post-‘The Somberlain‘ sized grandeur, the energetic scourge of 80’s death metal’s almost playful brutality, and shades of technical thrash metal’s maniac riffing all of which serves to revivify the feral death metal heart we’d first witnessed back on ‘Procession to the Infraworld‘ in triplicate. This shouldn’t suggest that Corchado‘s vision for The Chasm is regressive but as the title suggests, the glorious past is boldly refracted within the loftier vision of his work today as we see the path forward generating this great work. The result of this diversion is perhaps the most masterfully, earnestly crafted death metal record of the year.

Flow, articulation, and instinctive performative sense have collectively held ‘The Scars of a Lost Reflective Shadow‘ as a fixation in mind starting with the first listen, wherein the duo’s steady stream of atmospheric scourge lands its brutally forward-charging epic heavy metal galloping salvo of opener “Return of the End (The Ancient Spirit that Makes me Aware)” and never relents. The voicing of the guitar and drums represents a pointed, almost mayhemic conversational narrative with stylistic rooting in fine classic heavy metal taste wherein the muscle memory of the band’s signature becomes amplified in frequent bursts of inspiringly stated wizardry, this breaks us out of referencing other bands and the genre-busting nature of The Chasm shines in its finessed melding of all. This is exactly the righteous sensation experienced when I’d fired up ‘Conjuration of the Spectral Empire‘ so many years ago and saw the classicist extreme metal continuum untied of its knotted strictures in artful presentation, yet in this case we’re years beyond that point as the interplay and evolving interests of Corchado and León as a duo reinforce the limitless potential of those forms when blurred in meaningful ways, limiting the song lengths to around ~3-5 minutes and making sure each one is entirely intentional in its effect and tightly performed.

“Spectre of the Arcane Cognition” particularly stood out to me up front for the immediate tension of its opening riff and the bestial vocal performance here soon giving way to an infernally blasted section, more or less outlining the major interplay of the song as the melodic run-on rhythm guitar phrases The Chasm are known for pushes between these incensed and slapping sections in a particularly rousing piece. It indicated the need to express a bit of internal fire on this record compared to the very zen, introspective sojourn of the previous two records. That’d been my initial takeaway after the first few full runs through this record, that this is certainly aesthetically and sonically along the lines of the band’s post-2004 works but this album exists for the sake of some passionate expression and not just for the sake of a thousand great riffs piling up around them in studio. The instrumental “The Constellations Stagger” most directly recalls the arcing dual rhythm guitar interplay which the band developed in the 2000’s, specifically that which featured a lead guitar voicing to direct the flow in and out of various refrain, this was the major achievement of ‘Farseeing the Paranormal Abysm‘ and the extra touch that I’d felt was missing from the Phase I release. The way that that particular song bleeds right into “A Chronicle from the Parallel World” and the very late 80’s/early 90’s inspired riffing that builds ’til ~1:19 minutes or so is masterfully done and makes an event out of the transition.

“The Paths that Led to the Abysm” was the clincher, or, the moment where all of the boxes had already been checked by this release yet it kept giving, albeit again providing an instrumental piece but one that’d continued the greater thought of the record. At this point there is certainly some objective consideration to be had, the judgement cast that this is more of a cumulative addition to their discography which reflects upon the past largely in the format which their seventh album had indicated in longer-form pieces. Nonetheless that point is somewhat dashed by the excitement generated by “The Nightfall Ills with Deathly Symbols” which is perhaps the most feral ‘old school’ death metal riff driven piece the band have written in ages, clearly feeding into the sort of death/thrash metal side of things in terms of its technical execution if only briefly. From there we’re granted our exit in a 7+ minute epic finale which ties the full listen neatly back to the introduction, making for a record I will likely infinitely loop for ages.

Needless to say The Chasm have crafted the exact album I’d wanted as a longtime fan when ‘A Conscious Creation from the Isolated Domain – Phase I‘ had felt like a curveball back in 2017, a feat which pushes at the limits of their rigorous compositional aptitude and creates a very ‘heavy metal’ spectacle in their own long-developed extreme metal language. I’d found myself unable to concentrate on other self-assigned listening for a certain spell of time beyond release, finding peak familiarity with the ride of ‘The Scars of a Lost Reflective Shadow‘ around spin number twenty or so, setting it in mind as clear continuation of their best aspects in a most lucid and contiguous showing, a step up from album number seven and a serious addition but nothing too unexpected or estranged beyond their signature sound. It is a pleasure to listen to, the sort of record I’ll obsess over for years to come just as I have each of their previous releases to some degree. In this sense “satisfied longtime fan” is as objective as I can manage to be here, and I figure folks whom have any love for the band’s style will appreciate this release for its delivery of their signature sound in an expanded and brilliantly detailed form. From my point if view it is one of the biggest events of 2022 and deserves some serious consideration amongst the best releases of the year thus far. A highest possible recommendation is warranted.

Highest possible recommendation. (100/100)

Rating: 10 out of 10.
TITLE:The Scars of a Lost Reflective Shadow
LABEL(S):Lux Inframundis Productions, [Digital],
Vic Records [CD]
RELEASE DATE:May 27th, 2022 [Digital],
August 3rd, 2022 [CD]

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