APPALLING – Sacrilege (2022)REVIEW

If the willful ‘soul’ is to be perceived as the sacred nature of all men then the greatest sin committable against the spirit, the indefatigable and inalienable source of divine retribution by damnation per some imagined creator, is indoctrination of any sort. This irony is not lost upon modern man, who find themselves shattered of their natural social evolutionary state per antiquated religious texts repurposed over thousands of years for the sole purpose of breaking the spirit. This utmost sacrilegious act is the sole purpose of all Abrahamic cults today, a well-herded and truly idiotic self-deprecating majority who feign belief only to belong, and blindly follow laws (dictated by the wealthy) well outside of their nature. Insane heretics arisen in the grand tradition of death music against indoctrination Richmond, Virginia-borne blackened death metal quintet Appalling press the dagger to the nape of all lamb-kind here on their third and most cutting full-length album. The blood, the braying and the depressurization of the hatred fed mind all surge in excess from ‘Sacrilege‘ which is at once their most stunning visual, thematic, and musical statement thus far as the band reaches a still primal professional standard herein.

Appalling formed as a quintet circa 2015 featuring folks from the Richmond area stoner, punk and extreme metal spheres with the intent of playing some manner of blackened death metal. Their first demo circa 2016 was still entirely formative, a rehearsal check which’d captured all of their various influences colliding at once. This’d carried into the somewhat more normative structuring of their debut full-length ‘Secrets of the Adept‘ (2017) wherein their original idea had been sorted into a rocking war-metallic push. The sound and style of that record recalled the sort of rocking and grinding Soilent Green influenced tirades wheeling out of the late 90’s into the early 2000’s death-thrash/groove artists of the time albeit rhythmically unsound in general. It wasn’t a terrible place to start, likely more of a learning experience than a vital statement just yet, but it’d seems they’d figured it out in the process.

I’d briefly written about the band’s second full-length (‘Inverted Realm‘, 2019) when it’d released, suggesting the band: “come bearing the raw spirit of early Angelcorpse in their attack. ‘Inverted Realm’ is often a high-speed conqueror that leads with a death metal kick but there are as many moments where they show some meaningful personality through inspired black metal moments […] There was this sense that I was listening to a ’96 era death metal band” and this is still part of their personae and attack today as their line-up seems to have shifted towards the right people for the right job at this point, chiefly a drummer with triple the kick count in mind. Still, it begs the question of what to expect in approach of ‘Sacrilege‘ since the quality and consistency of past works has been average at best. Well, expect their best work to date and one which no longer lets any details slip in terms of keeping time, having plenty more riffs where those came from, and invoking an intensity well-worthy of their blasphemic credo.

Appalling have further steeped their sound within the irreligious candor of the nineties underground death metal reality for a more complete statement. We can now consider the full decade of development from ex-thrasher refinements to the dual guitar rhythmic early on toward the brutal blackened slashing of the late 90’s as we pick through the crypt-lain and cursed bones of ‘Sacrilege’. Though one shouldn’t necessarily expect militance on par with ‘Choronzonic Chaos Gods‘ throughout this the best reference to start as we consider bands like Centurian who’d begun to perfect what albums like ‘Hammer of Gods‘ had revealed mid-decade. We’ve heard this intent within all of the group’s releases per the guitarists but now it is realized to a brilliant riff-obsessed precision on “Life in Prism” and “Gilded Restraints” which kick off the album. This finds the first impression made unexpectedly on point, brutal, and coughing up some of the more incendiary sparks on the full listen.

There is yet a blackened side to these arrangements and though the melodies explored aren’t particularly original per the traditions of blackened death metal they are nonetheless effective. “Unwavering Feeling of Dread and Despair” is the piece to introduce this rhythmic torsion made available to the guitar work, each evolution of the main riff arriving at a thrashing-mad pace and in process of a new version of the swinging groove Appalling‘d intended on their first two full-lengths. This comes fully into practice on “Father Inferior” where we find the black metal influences of the band showing through more completely (and arguably reprised on closer “These People Need to Die”). On an aesthetic note, the vocalist’s delivery is distantly placed and compressed in a certain way which recalls the original mix of the vocals on ‘Silence of the World Beyond‘ to some degree, a “hollowed out” No Fashion-era touch which is broadly applicable to various black metal adjacent Peter Tägtgren engineering works in the late 90’s (see: Dark Funeral‘s debut), hence it catching my ear from the get-go. The development of the black/death side of the band is not subtle but does take a few pieces to spread its bat-winged furor to full extent.

Though it might appear condescending in hindsight, I definitely went into ‘Sacrilege‘ hoping their work had improved on par with their aesthetic, having great reverence for the mastery of Benjamin Vierling and the typically fine and profound work he puts his mark on. Of course I think most folks interested in the evolution of pure death metal and its inevitable blackening will be convinced that Appalling have reached a new high standard by the time the end of the record wheels around. The final third of the album essentially restates in finer detail their own corrosive musical language with “Pavilion” edging towards some of their likely Vader influences with a machine-gunned yet swerving thrashing death tirade which slickly slides into black thrash melodicism throughout. The big payoff at the end of the record in grand finale is “These People Need to Die”, a nearly eight minute ride which provides expertly cumulative statement. It’d been the piece to wake me up to the details of ‘Sacrilege‘ and encourage I go back in for a second, third and several more listens beyond, appreciating their easing of black metal influences into classic death metal brutality throughout.

The effect of sitting with ‘Sacrilege‘ is akin to a transformative event in witness where I’d find Appalling only became more interesting as they tunneled into their own stakes on sub-genre admixture, finding meandering and haunting melodies to direct their battery and distinguishing themselves at a higher standard. That said, this is not a supernatural event without precedence in terms of style or melodic directive and is best enjoyed as a refined, exemplar moment. The major point of mastery here is arriving upon an uncompromised result between stylized sound, invigorated riffcraft and a presentation which cannot help but stand out in mind for those who’d begin to feel they’d heard/seen it all. The average black/death metal record should rightfully have me wincing with tempered expectations met beyond a few weeks of listening yet these good folks’ve managed an invigorating result, a repeatable and ruthless spire I hope they’ll continue to nurture unholy. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (79/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
LABEL(S):Personal Records
RELEASE DATE:December 2nd, 2022

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