SÉPULCRE – Cursed Ways of Sheol (2022)REVIEW

The souls of the dead hang sans corpus in the suspended stillness of impenetrable darkness, voided of any notions of obsidian-glossed nether realms, no afterlife to live beyond their graven stoicism. Storied precedence for sanctioned, and likewise blasphemic, necromancy eat away at them ’til remanifested in flesh as horrors wont to report the truth of the realm beyond. Brittany, France-based death metal quartet Sépulcre offer their second darkest muse upon the cessation of life and the pulse of necromantic dread on this latest mLP, procuring lost souls in moldering vessels in order to divine the terrifying reality of nothingness. ‘Cursed Ways of Sheol‘ is a prime death metal statement in this sense, a riff-driven throat-kicker which reveals a bit more of their range than before, now brandishing death/doom metal eerie in hand as if sacrificial dagger. Equal parts morbid revelry and eye-gouging horror await the true ‘old school’ death metal fan.

Sépulcre officially formed in 2020 after K.D. (Venefixion, Deströyer 666) and J.W. (Scumslaught, ex-Skelethal) decided to jam on some ideas the former had brewing for his solo project Demonic Oath and their efforts effectively replaced said project with a proper trio, adding another former Skelethal live member and recording their debut demo tape ‘Ascent Through Morbid Transcendence‘ (2020). The outcome of their collaboration was very much in the tradition of early 90’s death metal uprising, somewhat complex and riff-driven death metal written for two guitars in feature of a harried and thrashing-hard dynamic with plenty of leads interspersed. The effect was classic yet they’re not emulating a certain sect or species of death metal, taking some nods from the more atmospheric lunging of Finnish death metal and a small tinge of death/doom which’d immediately impressed me, “Morbid Transcendence” remains one of my favorite songs from that year. You can read some thoughts and an interview I did with the band for the premiere of that demo back in 2020 for more details on their origins, intent, and how the band came together. Needless to say I met ‘Cursed Ways of Sheol‘ with great anticipation but also absolute trust that whatever they’d put out next it would rule and, hey, I was right to do so.

There are three key differences to be found here on this first official mLP from the band, a line-up change, a professional production value applied, and some additional dynamic worked into their sound. The addition of ex-Cadaveric Fumes and current Venefixion vocalist R.G. on bass marks Sépulcre‘s debut as a quartet in terms of recording, perhaps highlighting just how much work they’ve put into this group in the years since. All good things come in steps and stages rather than too-wild leaps when it comes to traditional extreme metal, so, consider ‘Cursed Ways of Sheol‘ a reasonable yet exponential step into realizing this band’s vision which becomes increasingly dark but certainly not cryptic in their menacing death metal launch. Fans of Mortiferum, Grave Miasma and Sedimentum should appreciate this approach, a crusted-over yet rhythmically adept sense of doomed aggression that’ll just as well pull in appreciators of Autopsy and (earliest) Amorphis. What they trade in punkish aggression they gain in atmospheric tension, doomed and lurking pieces which best illustrate the death worship and necromantic artes in mind.

The first half of ‘Cursed Ways of Sheol‘ offers the first act, two rousing and oozing pieces which showcase the direct to skull riffing Sépulcre always bring, fine guitarists who know their way around a horrified late 80’s/early 90’s groove and wailing whammy-abusing leads. From the start the ‘Ascent Through Morbid Transcendence‘ fan will notice a thickly layered, pitch black production value with prime focus on accentuating the aggressive hall-shattering guitar tone and its accentuation through the prominent but still supportive bass guitar presence. “Relics From the Unearthly Cult” is sort of the major action here in terms of the most coherent, determined and bullying thread of death metal riffs, this is basically where we get to the heart of the matter and summarize what these guys are all about as they slightly reprise the ideal found on “Morbid Transcendence” including the dreaming-dead ride in the last third of the song. They clearly excel at both ‘old school’ riff-obsessed hammering away at well-orchestrated and pushed at death metal rhythms but this whole mLP seems eager to dive into atmospheric dread, absolute doom and decay. So, the final two pieces do so brilliantly.

“Aethyr Emanations” is my favorite song on this record for the sake of landing the perfect throughway between thrashing riffs, groove-stricken bludgeoning death metal tradition and ominous, will-shattering death/doom metal. As they wobble into a proto-prog death riff around ~2:18 minutes in I’d not initially expected the full droop into gloom, the ledge into the maw of the netherworld to appear underfoot, which takes place. If nothing else we’ve gotten a hint of what else they’re capable in terms of dynamic on that piece yet they fully push into this realm as the 9+ minute closer “Foul Divinity Enthronation” arrives. From my point of view this is the type of song a band writes when they are more or less LP ready with a voice and rhythmic dynamic on display which could be fleshed into a complete and lengthier statement. A bit of Incantation-esque luring sets the cavernous mood upon arrival yet as the rhythms develop the song begins to sprawl, the vocals commanding the expanse and the leads particularly keeping the greater bluster of the song readable, it’ll be the sort of piece any fan of ‘Abyss of Wrathful Deities‘ will appreciate right away. Just past the six minute mark or so the roll into doom metal riffing isn’t the first time the band nail the death/doom metal dynamic but perhaps the best actual riff which soon includes haunting vocals emanating from the abysm as they let the final moments of the record dwindle for a few minutes. The experience is hellish, not in practical terms but in the sense that it effectively conjures a tormented well of souls stirring beneath the spectacle created.

Needless to say these are very different notes than I’d given the first demo tape from the band yet the work they’ve done in the interim yields a natural, related set of pieces which still focus on the same tenets of ‘old school’ death metal fealty. ‘Cursed Ways of Sheol‘ could very well be taken as movement in a death/doom metal direction, or, just as well a further exploration of their crypt-bound and death obsessed dynamic as we consider how the mLP might define the band going forward. The important thing is that here-and-now they’ve managed a completely pro result which is still exacting in its violence despite a very clean and well-enriched production value. It is a mad bonus that their gig is now thrillingly corrupted by a heavier hand of doom. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (80/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
TITLE:Cursed Ways of Sheol [mLP]
LABEL(S):Invictus Productions
RELEASE DATE:November 25th, 2022

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