As much as extreme metal is known for its ability to bludgeon listeners, the ability to also find poignant beauty within the maelstrom never ceases to amaze. Whether it’s the “good cop, bad cop” approach of melodic metalcore or Deafheaven’s harmony of melancholic post rock and black metal’s darkness, there always seems to be someone doing it just a bit differently. So it continues with France’s Epitaphe

Their full-length debut, I, appears simple enough at first. ‘Smouldering Darkness’ begins with crumbling doom before drifting into grinding death metal that sounds simply crushing. The instruments come through with well-tamed grit and a cavernous atmosphere, but the guitar leads and programming glimmer like light dancing across the surface of a subterranean pool. Most of the first track’s twenty-minute run time continues in this vein. Effective, sure, but mostly just hinting at other things for now. 

‘Embers’ captures an intriguingly ritualistic vibe at first, but ultimately settles for a caustic blend of Autopsy-like ferocity in between bouts of stomping doom. ‘Rêveries’ is the first surprise, a short interlude featuring somber acoustic guitar passages and stuttering drums. Through the remaining 30 minutes Epitaphe steadily push the tension high only to pull it back when needed. The intro to ‘Monolithe’ is muted and mysterious, steadily reeling listeners in to another burst of vicious blast beats. This time though, the storm gives a little after the mid-point to allow clean guitars into the fray, setting the stage for an explosive climax. 

Exhaustion is the first feeling to emerge when I fades, but satisfaction is felt too. Epitaphe skip quickly between death metal, funeral doom and ambience, but do so with elegance. I is a surprising mix of moods that are not commonly executed so well among the death/doom crowd and though they don’t necessarily let their ambition lead the way completely, it’s a dynamic and promising debut they’ve produced all the same.

I is available now via Aesthetic Death and can be purchased here

Words: Brett Tharp

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