SLUGATHOR – Crypt of the Ancient Fire (2022)REVIEW

Trapped deep under the soil. — It is one thing to justify present greatness off the back of many years of hard work, an artistic legacy perceived as ‘earned’ certainly warrants some deafness for the sake of fealty to the most tenacious among us, but this only works if we are allowed to continue eulogizing a very dead and still classic entity. That’d been my approach to reminiscing about the history of Finnish death metal group Slugathor for the last decade’s worth of Desecresy releases, as guitarist/album artist Tommi Grönqvist essentially took the reigns in continuing down the path he saw fit beyond the original band’s cessation in 2010. What -should- be the implications of receiving (well, buying) a new album from a resurrected corpse? To hold a new full-length release up to a decade old standard might appear cruel in most cases considering many musical groups who’ve similarly stalled out, lost interest and moved on with their own gigs rarely return with the momentum of the past. What could get us to consider ‘Crypt of the Ancient Fire‘ on its own terms and without any particular sidling with the other members work since? Well, what if it were twelve years old, eh? Eh, I’ll rant on it a bit with some dumbass speculation herein but either way — Slugathor still do a fine job representing heinous, cavernous classic death metal ideals on this fourth full-length album, which serves to bridge the increasingly doomed atmospheric intent of their original run and extend their (still dead) apparition in the minds of fans for a bit longer.

You’ll find some anecdotes on when I began pursuing Finnish death metal (circa 1996) in a review of ‘The Mortal Horizon‘ back in 2017 wherein the nostalgia was still thick and likewise when I’d reviewed ‘Towards Nebulae‘ in 2019 you’ll find a bit of a eulogy for Slugathor‘s main discography therein but, in terms of conveying the progression of their ten year sluice towards crumbling death the gist of it is that they started out as a step-up beyond mid-90’s death metal’s rhythmic intensity and groove from folks who hadn’t taken their ears off of Incantation, Bolt Thrower and the insurgency of similarly worthy Finnish death metal around that era. They were more brutal than you’d remember to start and became increasingly deliberate, lo-fi and sonorous after their second album (‘Circle of Death‘, 2005). Whip out your knotty middle fingers if you disagree but ‘Echoes From Beneath‘ (2009) was very much a presage for the slower pace and coffin-encased style of Desecresy‘s ‘Arches of Entropy‘ (2010) albeit with very different production values and the obvious skill difference, Immu‘s drumming being far superior. From what I remember when their third album was announced Slugathor‘d already suggested it would be their last full-length with the exception of a promised early days rarities collection (‘Reviled, Defamed and Spat Upon‘, 2010) on the way. We can hit the pause button there and entirely forget everything else that has happened since 2010, and for good reason.

Of course I’d thought I was having some manner of occult-enjoyer overdosed insight in realizing ‘Crypt of the Ancient Fire‘ was likely recorded (and sidelined) around this time but in reality some members had said as much on social media and I’d taken in the trivia of it by sheer osmosis and the corner of my eye. Anyhow, you’ll find this fourth Slugathor record basically resembles the previously described 2009-2010 period of activity for the sake of it literally being written and recorded at that time. Judging by the production values, more specifically the mix/master’s scooped-out crispness and the layering of the rhythm guitars, I figure this was a mostly finished production back then which has been brought up to a current level of polish per the specs of the folks involved. I don’t personally hear any afterthought guitar overdubs that are too obvious (maybe the leads on the intro to “Cast Aside”) or any glaringly missing pieces beyond the natural step into slower, more atmospheric pieces beyond ‘Echoes From Beneath‘ via their usual engine of sound. Although I figure this is probably Antti (Cadaveric Incubator) on vocals rather than previous vocalist Axu due to the guttural affect and enunciation being notably different. Point being that this sound should be instantly familiar and instantly appealing to still-extant fandom and especially those who’d followed Grönqvist‘s continuation of this work.

Relinquish these folks as any sort of reformed paternal saviorship of nowadays underground death metal, you’re a dolt if you haven’t been touting Desecresy just as hard this last decade, as the best point of enjoyment here is getting to experience the succor of what might’ve been an alternate reality wherein Slugathor had kept going for one more record. As a revamped archive of their exact point of death twelve years ago it is a fantastic treat which serves to sew up their mouths forever and it buzzes with flies and dark sputum accordingly. If we consider it a 2022 return from a well-regarded band… Eh, it is a decent, largely serviceable riff-messiah for those seeking dungeon-tuned, chasmic death metal but the compositions do not hold the same complexity, groove and aggression of previous releases at least not at the same ratio. So, point made well enough. The only affirmation I’d toss in there is that if you are a Desecresy fan to the level that I am (see: ‘Unveil in the Abyss‘, 2022) then I think this will be a righteous missing link on your shelf which glues both discographies in a meaningful way and feels entirely worthy of said placement.

With three songs per side and no major surprises hitting within the ~35 minute pulverization of ‘Crypt of the Ancient Fire‘ this is a record explicitly for those who love this type of death metal, an increasingly narrow path of death metal primitivity which eschews showmanship and technical feats for the sake of truly dark attuned riff and rhythm, grooves which expand and contract in Giger-esque funnels of creeping noise. We don’t get a chance to full reminisce on Slugathor‘s past as the first few songs fire up, with the extended opener merely setting the scenic hellscape intended before “The Bottomless Pit” gets into these elastic, fidgeting and quick-turn swerving moments which’ve made past releases noteworthy. The guitar work and myriad development of it in a variety of expanding, psychedelic angled runs is essentially what ‘The Doom Skeptron‘ would best explore later on. My personal favorite track and Side A closer, “Steep Fire”, is where I’d most felt the path beyond the slower pieces on ‘Echoes From Beneath‘ had been found, where the jogging progression of the song functions as a somewhat laid back exaggeration of the Bolt Thrower-esque guitar work the band were championed for from their inception. This is where the full listen picks up most and likewise feels a few minutes too brief as we press on into the stronger lead-driven motions of “Faceless Icons” and the intro to “Swarm of Rats” wherein it feels like the album is just getting to its apex and “Endless Halls/Restoration of the Obliviated” plainly grind us out with an almost too simply cut exit, though I’d appreciated the outro looping squarely into the intro of the first song.

As an existing fan of the band there are too many unknowns, plenty of questions to ask at least, in terms of what the exact context ‘Crypt of the Ancient Fire‘ arrives in and I suppose that is for the sake of letting it simply be an album, a fine document of their creative sync without temporal considerations clogging expectations either way. If you’ve gone in expecting it to sound like Slugathor just as their death knell called, this is an appropriate experience but certainly not their peak all-time release. Even if they’d certainly done better before and since, I am more than happy to file this record between ‘Echoes From Beneath‘ and ‘Arches of Entropy‘ on my shelf and consider it worthier-than-most. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (77/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Crypt of the Ancient Fire
LABEL(S):Drakkar Productions
RELEASE DATE:May 27th, 2022

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