OPPRESSIVE DESCENT – Spite Is My Scepter, Blood Is My Crown (2022)REVIEW

A carnage too great and too bloody thorough to recall without smirking at the countless dead, their tortured faces comically gnarled in the aftermath of our spears, Ah! the sublimity felt in their conquering. — Satisfaction from cruel besting of challengers can yet be experienced again, recreated in stoic charge through streaming dread-handed riff and ear raking stride by way of Portland, Oregon-area black metal project Oppressive Descent‘s fourth full-length album, a delicate waltz through the hills in full armor, infinite fields to cleave artfully ye murderous horde. ‘Spite is My Scepter, Blood is My Crown‘ finds the artist tempered far and away from the irascible scumming of lo-fi/raw black metal spheres just enough to let the fellowe’s years of good work shine through in valiant, striding songcraft. What may be admittedly “straightforward” for the well-attuned ear to some degree is yet always within chest-beating distance, a rousing work which builds sensation and intrigue beyond expectation as it plays.

Oppressive Descent formed as a solo project back in 2008 by way of musician Grond Nefarious, it’d bee one of the earlier projects from the fellowe beyond his time in long-running black metal act Panzergod. The artist has been associated with a somewhat vast array of metal projects over the years ranging from brief stints in doom groups to short-lived black/death turns and such but his knack, or, passion beyond drumming in general most often shows in black metal. As much was clear as he’d begin releasing records under this name, starting with ‘Death Was the Only Path We Knew‘ (2016) a sleepier, somewhat depressive leaning style of black metal which could be considered the culmination of ‘phase one’ beyond formative constructs. It’d relied on raw and wilting strands of depressive melody for moderate interest though this’d not yet be the true signature of the project as I hear it. A lot would change in the interim as some internalization and development produced a string of several EPs that’d arrived starting in 2019, the artist’s guitar work now sporting a more triumphal, rousing use of melody. ‘Alchemy and War‘ (2020) would be the release that’d garner the most widespread notice and for good reason, it being a decent bar set for the often too easily balked at efforts of solo raw black metal acts in recent years, at least when it comes time to appreciate the effect of songcraft and performance beyond aesthetics.

In the couple of years since then Oppressive Descent‘s sound has been modestly placed next to everything from Lamp of Murmuur to Autarcie and while I’m not sure I agree with either, sure, we get both raw and triumphal enough sensations at a glance. I’d argue that there is enough inconsistency in their previous discography that the signature shouldn’t be too easy to peg but the guitar work does follow a certain thread through each release beyond the first. I was on board for that second album yet the third (‘Astral Projections From Beyond the Grave‘, 2021) seemed to be raw and obscured for the sake of it, adding very little to the experience and erasing much of the solemn presence of past releases. This is less a complaint about rawness, with which I have no issue, but moreso that the treatment of the guitars had been deleterious rather than effective from my point of view. Not everyone would agree with that assessment of course but, if you happen to prefer the slightly more melodious, slickly triumphal side of Oppressive Descent you’ll likely enjoy this fourth album most of all as it’d struck me as a reprisal of the foundation set primarily within ‘Alchemy and War‘ albeit with a tempered yet still noisome rhythm guitar presence.

The piercing horror synth organ that briefly sets the stone for the record amidst swords clashing and mayhemic shouting offers a rare case of the unnecessary yet good intro piece on a black metal record, just long and attention grabbing enough to steel the listener but not so long that it suggests key narrative beyond medieval butchery. Stomach level vocals and a ringing plane of scrambling, room noise inclusive frayed guitar distortion provide a clashing intimacy of narrator and wide-screen scenery set by the conductorial guitar, the rhythm section largely skittering under the weight of the banner-waving trot that soon arrives. Much as I’d figured I’d be comparing these feats to certain Judas Iscariot and Mütiilation records the stewing post-‘Under a Funeral Moon‘ nausea of those projects doesn’t factor in here at all yet the sentimental, square-jawed gait of the rhythms tangentially might, from a great distance at least. High-set lead guitars soon reveal themselves in descending layers, a chisel to shape spiritus into phrase on the next several pieces. The rippling guitar melody which arrives around ~2:33 minutes into the title track compounds this somewhat freshly profound face for Oppressive Descent, recalling the ear-worming moments that could be found on some of my personal favorite black metal records, such as ‘Nattestid Ser Porten Vid‘. Even if the lead melody that sparks up ruins the moment a bit the song itself keeps the momentum of the first half of the album strong leading into what I’d consider the best of the lot, the sinistral melodic strands of “Limbs Strewn Across the Battered Snow”.

At this point in the running order the flow of the full listen has already proven notable, a noxious yet proud sort of melodic phrasing which begins to present a progression in scene. As Side B topples into view with the stately swaying motion of “Victorious Funeral” the charm of the record is well-secured, readable and quaint at the very least. Despite the relatively high frequency of releases from Oppressive Descent they’ve still got plenty of novel enough melodic ideas for a respectable second half of this record, the dual (well, triple at least) guitar interplay on “Gates of Bitterness” serving one of the more haunting melodic black metal pieces on the album. Though I’d like to go on in much more detail I’m not sure it’d serve the album well to pick through what should be obvious enough within a single listen of the album; Each song presents a rousing, appreciably memorable feature of guitar work that manages key combination of commanding presence and bristling melodicism. Though there are hundreds, if not thousands, of bands who can look and sound like this, what makes this guys work special is an ear for delivering right up ’til the point of substantive listening served before moving on to the next idea, making sure each piece has a hook or a reason to return rather than droning on endlessly. Even if the “raw” black metal tag would normally send you scurrying I’d suggest giving this record a try for its otherwise accessible virtues and cohesive melodious (yet restrained) features. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (79/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
TITLE:Spite is My Scepter, Blood is My Crown
LABEL(S):Inferna Profundus Records
RELEASE DATE:November 1st, 2022

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