BONES – Sombre Opulence (2022)REVIEW

The bestial protector of death atop a mountain of decay, a cynocephalus tending to the heaping and encased corpses of the ancient ones. — By obsession with cruelty, or, with respect for the long-dead attributed in timeless incantation Belgium-borne ‘old school’ death metal quartet Bones have learned the elder tongues and now wag them as if bronze-tipped spears, tending gate with an elite mastery which is not unheard of but so rarely achieved with such enthusiasm. ‘Sombre Opulence‘ is the long-awaited first apice from the band a decade in the making, a spire and procession from folks who’d bravely tasked themselves with upholding the standards of the most pure era of death metal, and succeeded within.

Unified in 2011 as a trio for the sake of true death metal alignment between folks who’d featured within the black and thrash metal scenery in the Antwerp area for a number of years prior, Bones were soon at work on an inspired rehearsal level demo tape (‘Demo‘, 2013) before being quickly picked up by Blood Harvest and Pulverised for their impressive, defining debut 10″ mLP (‘Awaiting Rebirth‘, 2014) before a long hiatus wherein they were soon joined by new bassist (L.J. Oostram formerly of Witch Trail) since their original bassist left to revive the now very well known speed metal band Bütcher. The way I see and hear their formative discography is a band which’d been recognized and appreciated before they were properly geared up with representative style, their ideas were there and songs like “Adulation of the Spheres” hint at future work but the shambling zombified corpse of ‘Acts of the Unspeakable‘ wasn’t as far as they could push their then still developing sonic identity.

Bones would emerge in 2020 with a 12″ mLP (‘Gate of Night‘, 2020) with several years of insight under their belt, far more technically demanding patternation and an emphasis on lead guitar work guiding their blaze through. The same way we could see cover artwork from guitarist/vocalist Jeroen had evolved in leaps and bounds but sustained aesthetic, so had Bones‘ music. At the time I’d found ’em still Autopsy influenced in terms of the garaged-up wilding energy and vocal work they’d put into those two songs but they’d more importantly hit upon an entirely respectable Vorum-esque sound (see also: Sadistic Intent, Superstition et al.) which, of course I am a fanatic for without fail. The late 80’s death metal boon, arguably defined by early Morbid Angel‘s speed metal theatric sound and blazing riff precise aggression, continues to be the locus for all that these folks do and this very much decided-upon focus means they’ve honed said skills to a razor-etched attack here on ‘Sombre Opulence‘.

Sumerian magick, death worship, visions of eternity conjured, all that Bones raise in classicist death metal ritual uses tradition as the brace and pivot for what is essentially (and literally) riffing upon a specific time and place in death metal which longtime ‘old school’ fandom will immediately identify and appreciate. Just as groups like Sijjin find the point where speed metal influences fully arrive upon death metal heaviness without sacrificing the clever, highly-skilled guitar obsessed lean of the nascent sub-genre so do Bones elongate those frantic and complex structural feats into potent extraction of the best pockets of style. As such, yes, you will palpably feel the ‘Abominations of Desolation‘ through ‘Altars of Madness‘ spectrum of groove (“Deserts of Eternity”) and excited wrenching of evil speed metal virtuosity (“Twilight Divination”, “Execration Rites”) within the best parts of ‘Sombre Opulence‘ and no, it shouldn’t be reductive to suggest as much but there is more to what Bones are up to than just that bit of recognizable mood and motion.

The roar of the guitars and the well-fleshed balance of the drums which drive ‘Sombre Opulence‘ all rely upon solid lower end tones here, allowing for quite a few layers to work their way into each song and temper away the expected compressed and canned sound one would expect from this style of death metal. The render is sharp and intensely delivered but ‘organic’ in the sense that the barrier between human and performance is never prominent. For such active and intensely detailed works, especially as we reach the ~8-9 minute mark on “Deserts of Eternity” and “Great Altars of Ascension”, the knotting of riffs and tensile grooves only build momentum despite the run-on sort of referential phrasing which dominates the overall thread. In this sense we could peg Bones as ‘old school’ in influence and modus but these are deeply considered evolutionary statements rather than plainly regressive works. Otherwise I believe this record will serve its purpose best if not relentlessly analyzed track-by-track as it is redeeming in effect rather than when parsed to pieces, very much an adept study of more than just “the riff” meant for die-hard death metal fandom. A phenomenal debut and easily one of the best records of the month. A very high recommendation.

Very high recommendation. (83/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
ARTIST:BONES
TITLE:Sombre Opulence
LABEL(S):Invictus Productions
RELEASE DATE:September 9th, 2022

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