STRYCHNOS – A Mother’s Curse (2022)REVIEW

Copenhagen-borne melodic blackened death metal trio Strychnos have been something a bit different within every formation, and certainly within each release, since 1997. Any perceived lack of consistency may be for the sake of it being a side-project with few official releases wherein the band built upon some manner of horrified black/death metal. Their first tape, ‘Promo 1998‘, seemed to mash together unintentionally folkish ‘epic’ rhythms with what some would consider dark metal proper, a morbid melodic black/doom sound not far from Denial of God in motion, perhaps due to the use of the organ. A punkish, goth metallic twinge carries through their early work which’ll be somewhat unexpected considering these guys would become known best for their work in Cerekloth and Usipian over the years. I could definitely go on for a while about their formative releases, most of which have been captured on ‘Lessons in Terror‘ (2011) compilation, yet none of it is truly relevant to what they’ve managed on ‘A Mother’s Curse‘ ten years later, like, not even slightly. So, all that I can figure from the exploration of their past is that hey, somewhere over the last decade they picked this back up and realized the original idea within their current skill set and a brilliant admixture of black, death and thrashing melodicism resulted — A feat which they’ve aptly suggested as tragedian in tone and atmospheric by design.

The swelling dissonant chords and dramatic rhythmic sway of opener “Traumer” offer a brilliant introduction to the unearthly, morbid energy which drips from every second of ‘A Mother’s Curse‘ yet it is arguably the only song on the full album that sounds exactly like this, a strident rhythmic flex of smooth-muscled motion that merely eases us into the fray. It’ll be a hard sensation to shake off once the rest of the album swings in with a dramatic welding of big classic heavy metal riffs, melodic death metal underpinning and a scalding spray of romanticist black-winged death metal poison yet it may very well come together for folks interested in what is essentially melodic black/death metal. I’d just as soon forgotten said opening piece by the time “Blessed be the Bastard Reign” had revealed its imposing grooves, built upon stamping layers of thickly intrusive distortion and echoed through distant shouted curses. The reveal of this song was way unexpected to start, I’d found myself wheeling back to the opener and marveling at the effect of the transition between the first two songs, expecting a storm-bound sea a la Taphos yet getting something a shade No Fashion (or, Katatonia-esque) by the time I’d hit the title track. All has been revealed, so it’d seem, in terms of their general codex revealed yet Strychnos have a good ten years of work to show here and there is yet much more to this morbid sensorial experience.

One of the major successes of ‘A Mother’s Curse‘ is this heaving guitar armature they’ve congealed into a singular yet dynamic marriage of tones. Just enough crisped-out overdrive at its edges to read sharp to the ‘old school’ death metal ear yet presenting plenty of distorted gravity in its downtuned and hurling affront otherwise. It allows for surreal death metal impact to land with force while taking some deeper swings into harmony driven black metallic melodicism, this is not an easy thing to balance and, hell, some bands have built personae over the years solely on the fact that their passage in-between the two realms simply doesn’t work on each side of the fence. No song presents this feat of a guitar sound in all of its glory better than “Horror Sacred Torture Divine”, an almost The Ruins of Beverast level of separate yet unified guitar voicing feeding an enormous wall which they utilize well between what is essentially one and a half ‘War Master‘ riffs in modulation for several minutes. In terms of the greater sensation achieved this song should perk the attention of the riff obsessed, striking back to the promise of the opener to some degree and provide a much needed push as we press on into the more involved and less memorable Side B.

Most of the songs Strychnos present in the middle portion of ‘A Mother’s Curse‘ bring this sense of existential questioning and resolve, not necessarily in terms of the lyrical themes but in presentation of a basic melodic idea (alternately, a simple groove) which they must then celebrate in excess and solve the riddle of “So what?” before the song ends. The pieces which reach beyond five minutes typically guarantee a satisfying resolve, a presentation which lands some manner of profound rhythmic statement or surprising atmospheric pull yet as we dip into Side B the thought process begins to overwhelm the impact of a couple songs, “Manus Nigra” generally snaps out of it before (my favorite song on the album) “Blind Eye Epiphany” kicks in. Of course their leveraging of ‘Clouds‘-era Tiamat loft and circa ’93 Renske-esque vocals for this song’s verses pings a very old part of my brain in the best way but the song itself takes much harder swings than expected, deepening the atmospheric hall imagined with the drum production as it finally begins to stand out in mind. Pairing “Blind Eye Epiphany” with simple yet (again) appropriately tragedian collapse of closer “The Doppelganger Stare” helps to cement Strychnos‘ debut as a reward for patience, one specifically for the listener who willingly steps into uncertain realms and lets the damned thing hit, if at all.

With a bit of patience beyond the very first impression made ‘A Mother’s Curse‘ manages to provide an experience which resolves the issue of where atmospheric death metal, melodic black/death metal, and Romanticist/gothic horror might meet with some manner of gratifying riff involved. The result is surreal as it gathers steam in mind, turning makeshift gears and generating mood which is well-considered but never cloyingly performative beyond the idea in mind. If extreme metal must be profound in theme, dynamic by default, and grand in scope of presentation circa 2022 then Strychnos will likely surprise many as a stunningly rendered ghost in the fog, seemingly coming out of nowhere as a fully realized threat. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (82/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
TITLE:A Mother’s Curse
LABEL(S):Dark Descent Records
RELEASE DATE:November 4th, 2022

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