THEOTOXIN – Fragment-Totenruhe (2022)REVIEW

A final contradiction to creation. — Stillness at the point of absolute death, the poisonous apocalyptic cult having successfully strangled and denatured the species of its essence within just a fragment of their extant history, is a point of victory for those who see eternity in death and wish to romance the fictive self into the pages of false angelic fantasy narrative beyond. Vienna, Austria-based black metal quartet Theotoxin haven’t bought into said fairytale debauchery so much as they have depicted the self-fulfilling prophecy of Armageddon as a very real result of monotheistic religion being a massively effective tool of control in the hands of greediest, depraved human legacy. Their fourth full-length album ‘Fragment: Totenruhe‘ describes the downfall with cold, undelighted and traditionally spun black metal in illustrative form wherein they appear to take neither pleasure nor pain in witnessing the slow death of human existence.

Formed in 2016 between members/ex-members of various post-black, progressive metal and death metal projects Theotoxin has been a decidedly straightforward venture from these folks from the moment of birth, wherein we can generally discern the parentage of their form of purist black metal nearby the ghosts of Mayhem and shadow-twins Dissection, or, the general zeitgeist shared between the most classic early second wave Swedish and Norwegian black metal. Upon closer inspection their debut full-length (‘Atramentvm‘, 2017) certainly had a shade of Marduk and (by some accounts, yeesh) Belphegor bound within its attack as their Massacre Records-released follow up (‘Consilivm‘, 2018) would begin to lean into black/death metal influences to some degree. I’ll be pretty up front here in stating that those first two records kinda sucked, they were just middling as possible and the lyrics weren’t there just yet. It’d been the main reason I’d generally overlooked their third LP (‘Fragment: Erhabenheit‘, 2020) to start, not realizing they’d pivoted to a worthy enough blend of melodic black metal influenced work by then. That new sound took at least a few chances along the way in presenting a dramatic blasphemic black metal record with some newfound dark allure to its shape. It serves as vital point of pivot for the band, a complimentary work which you familiarize with before approaching ‘Fragment: Totenruhe‘.

Sure thing if you think you’re up for it but I’d say don’t bother with this record if you aren’t a weirdo fanatic for mid-to-late 90’s black metal in general. There is likely nothing here for you if you’ve no deep-set admiration for the brutal aggression and transcendent melodic luster of a certain time-and-place wherein bands like Thy Primordial, early Enthroned, and even Gates of Ishtar thrived in presentation of willful romanticist works tangentially relevant to the now refined sound which Theotoxin sport. Even if you are well indoctrinated and prepared for full psychotic immersion into an “updated” past you’ll nonetheless find straightforward black metal music within, a release entirely for folks dedicated to the nuance of the craft who’d likewise appreciate variations in melodic focus, eerie atmospheric crawls, and some of the brutal battery they were previously aiming for in bulk. From my point of view it is a decent medium spread between modest melodic focus and some orthodox black metal militancy.

Opener “World, Burn For Us” paints a most vivid picture of the album’s bombastic presentation and lyrical themes beyond obvious stylistic focus, swaying into dramatic tides and tirades in tiers denoted by escalating rhythmic mode and beautifully integrated transitions between verses. This couldn’t be a better opening moment to convince the well-attuned ear to continue on as the dual rhythm guitar interest is above average and the Mille Petrozza-esque ragged squawk of vocalist Ragnar is brilliantly loud and readable right from the start, meeting the melodic sway of the piece yet still engaging in a properly confrontational way. “Catastrophe in Flesh” presents a logical throughway for this style, picking up a thrashing and interruptive spirit which’d quickly impressed during initial descent. That first impression should appeal to folks who’ve some great fealty for the continued development of classic Swedish melodic black metal, as I do, but it isn’t long before Theotoxin begin to stretch their musty wings and begin to strike at a few different irons.

“Towards the Chasm” is a slower burner, a somewhat wracked and grating piece wherein the narrative becomes even more verbose without any particular tact in its flatly rasped diction. The simple movement of the song drags on for several minutes, and though there is an entertaining restatement of the descent of mankind and the destruction of the world they’ve not generated any particularly valuable atmosphere in the moment. I appreciate the change of pace and the idea but shooting right into “Demise of the Gilded Age” would’ve felt like less of an interruption of their major thread to start. At this point the lyrics seem to demonize the few who hold the world’s wealth, naming the richest dynasties of the world to some degree and seem to speak the age-old idea of an illuminati type cult. I like this idea, even if it was was kind of humorous to hear a black metal rasp saying “Rockefeller” I still generally appreciate that Theotoxin‘s lyricist has quite a lot to say, is readable and hey some of it appears outside of the usual bullshit. Beyond this tangent on my part “Demise of the Gilded Age” is absolutely one of the better melodic black metal pieces on the album otherwise, presenting a strong thread of riffs up front and developing them into upward arching knots, a quick and effective statement.

As we reach for Side B a conscious shift away from melodically charged pieces towards brutality is eventually compounded by a well-placed cover of a somewhat recent Marduk song. I found this part of the album moderately reminiscent of the material on Theotoxin‘s first album with the exception of “…Of Rapture and Dissolution” wherein they finally get the slow-crawling atmospheric piece right, even if it admittedly kind of has nowhere to go beyond its general point of bloom. By the time the final peak of “Totenruhe” arrives to send off the album, with a bit of “orthodox” black metal foaming in mouth, the full listen presents one final bright idea for the roundness of the full experience. I’d regularly found myself reaching this point on the album feeling the middle portion disappointingly uneventful, a bit plain, even if I’d felt like the general lot had improved upon what ‘Fragment: Erhabenheit‘ had broken into. Iteration in the best sense but not yet an unforgettably achieved work.

The result of my trip within Theotoxin‘s preternatural apocalypsis is yet an above average takeaway, even if it doesn’t necessarily flatten my still very much classics-obssessed point of view into skull fragments I’d still recommend ‘Fragment: Totenruhe‘ to folks looking for an accessibly presented yet traditionally influenced black metal record in the Scandinavian semi-melodic style. These broader notions of melodic expression and the vitally brutal percussive force applied are of the best traditions and shouldn’t be discounted for their pleasurable yet confrontational listening value. As a black metal fan I’d like something even more personalized, though I’d found there was no lacking conviction or immersion here the whole ordeal seems to lack an esoteric or outrageous sense of individuality beyond the unique lyrical development within. A very fine work otherwise. A moderately high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation. (75/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Fragment: Totenruhe
LABEL(S):AOP Records
RELEASE DATE:October 28th, 2022

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