EXCURSE – Sitra Ahra (2022)REVIEW

Excurse is an A Coruña, Galicia-based (northwest Spain) solo project from M.S., a musician active in various projects since the early 2010’s who is best known for the nowadays largely inactive blackened death metal group Arkaik Excruciation and more recently his work in atmospheric bestial death metal group Suspiral. These are not crucial bookmarks for figuring our way through their debut full-length ‘Sitra Ahra‘ but they do provide provenance enough for the artist’s long-standing interest in the darker, subterranean occultist climes of experimental music. The somewhat unique brand of spiritual doom metal M.S. produces here exists absolutely in the moment and particularly for the sake of its atmospheric undertones, this turns out to be key in figuring what contributes to the repeatable, sometimes lightly unpredictable nature of this experimental ritualistic channeling of the riff and the dark ripples which arise within the mind, again, within the moment to moment events taking place. The project, or, process appears to have manifested entirely personal, potentially spiritually driven and without expectations from the start.

From 2014 ’til 2017 what this meant in practical terms had likely been nothing more than an idea made flesh from singular mind into personal ritual, a method for capturing a mood more-or-less. I say this because the first release from the band (‘Veiled‘, 2017) who were then a duo per session drumming from a fellow known as S.L.K., was untitled and virtually unsigned of any brand or ego. The music wasn’t so much ritualistic as it was jammed to a certain degree, or, perhaps improvised within channeling sessions centered around droning psychedelic rock beats and doom metal riffs. It is the sort of music we find naturally coming from the freed minds of drone and psychedelic doom expertise, counting into slow turns with a feeling-forward approach. In hindsight that first tape felt a bit more tailored to what I’d consider extreme metallic neo-psychedelic music, with elements of stoner doom’s more occult spiritual and atmospheric side a la Saturnalia Temple, while also featuring influences from drone/doom metal (Earth) and funeral doom depending on the piece. The caveat being the aggressive vocals and darker-than-thou ambiance otherwise, perhaps a bit more dark-attuned in atmosphere than countrymen Pylar but tilted towards a similarly obsidian energetic result. ‘Sitra Ahra‘ appears to have been a direct response to the success and/or notice of those results at the time, though it would be shelved for quite some time before we’d get to hear it.

Recorded in late 2017 through early 2018 within three sessions intending what they’ve called a “chaos invocation” the bulk of ‘Sitra Ahra‘ appears to have been the result of a thought process akin to ekāgratā, absolute focus upon one idea in order to attain the austerity of a spiritual goal, being, or state. In this case the artist makes references to deities whom represent temporality and realms of ancient evil, either as keyword functions or later addendum used to describe the result. What does this all mean to those not so prone to crookedly intellectualized spiritual esotericism? Haunting, droning music which is generally formless beyond its traditional yet brutally slowed doom/sludge metal influenced basal riffcraft with emphasis on bass guitar presence as well as feedback, looping drone, and some expanded interest in the deeper niches of warmed-over funeral doom ambiance.

If you’ve got ‘Veiled‘ nearby for direct comparison the major leap made at the time of recording will not appear all that drastic in terms of composition or performance, it can however be summed between an easily noted uptick in two important areas — The first being a generally higher fidelity recording with considerably built-up sonic depth, using more instruments and more professional tones to achieve music with layers enough to communicate experiential movement rather than the bones of the idea found on that first demo. The drums do admittedly rescind more often on ‘Sitra Ahra‘ but thankfully for the sake of eerie, imaginative drivers which should reveal through repeat listening unless you’re a drone-enjoyer pro at this point. The soured organist hum on “Sacred Dance” and the amp-shaking higher necked plinking of the bass guitar at apex of “Behind the Nile of Sleep” being two of the more notable details early on for my taste.

Because the actual doom metal guitar work is sparse here and the vocals provide very little directive the major appeal of this album quickly becomes its moody ride. As we consider Excurse‘s towing of the line in dredging ecstatic psychedelic sludged rouse through desolate, crumbling drone-adjacent doom the exuberant yet indoctrinated tribal militancy which opens “Séance” certainly paints a defining enough picture for the listener as the ominous turn of the song takes its time to arrive within the 16+ minute piece. Although I personally prefer the more active, jamming doom metal side of ‘Sitra Ahra‘ on pieces like “Death Chant of Aion” the bulk of the experience exists to prolong the seething, tensile groaning of its rituals and in this sense this is likely not going to be the doomed riff album it initially, or eventually, appears to be. Though the improvised feeling and the illustrative riffcraft achieved therein never fully impressed that part of my brain the full listen proved repeatable and generally memorable for its dark psychedelic sensibilities. It is a tough enough thing to explain the appeal of, much less recommend, but I’d ultimately found myself appreciating the fixation and invocation available to the full listen, moreso as an effect in the moment than a lasting stamp. A moderately high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation. (75/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Sitra Ahra
LABEL(S):Dying Sun Records
RELEASE DATE:September 1st, 2022

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