A better machine, but a machine nonetheless. — Bergamo, Italy-based technical death metal quartet Maze of Sothoth return wizened and all the more wild-eyed on this frantically attacked yet long-awaited second full-length which cuts right to the point with a heavier hand, and to the point that it might surprise the returning fan that the most memorable points along the way will lean into mid-paced grooves. Stalling out into a few bigger moments ends up adding fleshed-out spectacle to ‘Extirpated Light‘ in a notable way, creating an even more imposing full listen than their somewhat typical yet still underrated debut before it. It is nonetheless an exercise of iteration, the heaping result of smaller changes, and this means it is still a record for fans of classic post-millennial brutality delivered with all the finesse of a shiv to the neck.
Maze of Sothoth formed circa 2009 by way of guitarist/songwriter Fabio Marasco around the time of his exit from long active brutal death metal group Brutal Murder, bringing along a few ex-members of that same band for a demo CD-r (‘Guardian of the Gate‘, 2011) which arrived a few years later. Their original sound was most clearly influenced by ‘Formulas Fatal to the Flesh‘-era Morbid Angel, Nile and Hate Eternal at that early stage but had expanded considerably in the six year void before their debut full-length (‘Soul Demise‘, 2017) released. That debut had recalled a nearly bygone era of technical/brutal death where their work could be slotted in a similar compositional headspace as Kronos, Hideous Divinity and Hour of Penance as modern semi-technical brutality which is still connected with the classic death metal canon. Bassist/vocalist Cristiano Marchesi (Riexhumation) and second guitarist Riccardo Rubini seem to have made the difference in taking what was at first a very standard, solid enough underground death metal idea into something decidedly modern and impressive in its brutal finesse on that debut LP. In most every way the quartet continues along the path forged back in 2017 as they break into ‘Extirpated Light‘ and recalibrate their approach in a few key ways.
At face value there are very few notes to take in reflection of the very straight forward experience ‘Extirpated Light‘ has to offer beyond the general sense that Maze of Sothoth have attempted to vary their pacing beyond their usual breakneck brutality by way of a few pronounced meditations upon groove. This gives the ~36 minute sluice of the album a few points of necessary punctuation which feel somewhat influenced by Polish brutal death metal’s evolution in the last decade or two, a smart though not entirely necessary addendum to the successes of ‘Soul Demise‘. Though the riffcraft on these easier-going sections don’t necessarily justify their own detours it doesn’t hurt to have some extra peripheral points of interest to interrupt the otherwise murderous flow of the full listen; Though “The Revocation Dogma” offers some clear foreshadowing of this phenomenon it is “Blood Tribute” near the end of Side A which goes full-on mid-paced, atmospheric in its crawling delirium as the band resolve some of those latent (and admittedly now even more distant) ‘Covenant‘ instincts in a song that’d at the very least gotten me to give pause and pay attention to what these folks were up to during the on-boarding process. The rest of the first half relies upon increasingly frantic lead guitar bursts, skull-blistering brutality, and a moderate level of technical guitar rhythms to generate consistent interest. The juxtaposition between the very tight rhythm section, very precise rhythm guitar work and the more free-wheeling, ready to freak out lead guitar presentation was awkward at first but quickly became an important strike of energy to an otherwise entirely focused killing machine.
For my own taste it’d been the Nile-esque trundle of the verse riffs for “Blasphemous Ritual” alongside a hypnotic bass guitar tone situated in the rafters and spiraling out of the groove that’d gotten me to first fully engage with ‘Extirpated Light‘ as a tech-death adjacent experience. Yes, a big dumb groove metal riff is the centerpiece of the song but at the very least it doesn’t feel plain or “easy” so much as it is appropriate. By the time we’ve hit the short and cutting “The Plague” we know the band’s rhythmic language, have heard all of their major vocal patternation and any continued interest will hinge on memorable riffs and this is where the full listen begins to coast just above average. The final two pieces on the album offer some salvation between an fairly accessibly stated mid-paced jog n’ jut, “Sanctae Inqvisitionis”, which likewise features some of the fasted blasted sections of the record. “Scorn of Flesh” shakes things up to start with a sort of Hour of Penance-esque use of keyboards in the intro to the song and a set of riffs and pronounced bass guitar runs which recalls the high of “Blasphemous Ritual”. I’d argue they’d needed to set this song mid-album to keep it lively but I nonetheless appreciated the big moment to close the full listen.
Just keep killing. — Overbearing, violently blasted, machine-fed from all inputs, and blasphemic at most every turn there is something decidedly late 90’s/early 2000’s death metal fueling the spiritus of Maze of Sothoth‘s craft and with this thought in mind there should be no surprise that I’d enjoyed my time with ‘Extirpated Light‘ from a point of sheer blade-dancing slaughter. That said, this is an album which thrives within its most chaotic and densely layered actions and these do not always hit. Nor does the sound design of the record set them apart in any particularly magical way, hitting a high standard for arguably too carefully balanced sound which is yet sub-genre apropos in presentation of such a tornado of forms. Though not every portion of the record holds up under a microscope these folks nonetheless create an appreciably intense and somewhat tuneful set of big grooves which help to define the listening experience beyond a simple follow-up to ‘Soul Demise‘. A moderately high recommendation.
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