Review / Atramentus – Stygian

Canada’s Chthe’ilist established themselves as one of the most exciting bands of the modern death metal scene on their 2016 debut Le Dernier Crépuscule, so much so that a follow-up has been eagerly awaited ever since. Thankfully, if you prefer your riffs on the slower side the new project from Chthe’ilist mastermind Phil Tougas is sure to quench that thirst for the time being, even if it does owe more to the likes of Mournful Congregation and Thergothon than it does Demilich.

At times Stygian even comes across a bit like a slower Chthe’ilist, particularly when Tougas’ distinct growls first emanate out of the abyss on opener ‘Stygian I: From Tumultuous Heavens… (Descended Forth The Ceaseless Darkness)’. In truth, though, it’s doing Atramentus a disservice to view the project only through the lens of the members’ previous projects, not only because the band truly began back in 2012, but because they have their own distinct sound, one that conjures a vast atmosphere that wholly deserves to be commended on its own merits.

In a post-Mirror Reaper world, comparisons to Bell Witch are all too easy when it comes to any and all funeral doom, and the use of art from Mariusz Lewandowski is sure to earn Atramentus a few lazy comparisons, but Stygian is a far cry from the intensely measured Mirror Reaper. Atramentus’ music is comparatively focused, showing remarkable restraint for an album that features a 23-minute track. Its evocative, ruminative aura is adhered to at all times, ensuring each and every moment serves to bolster the expansive atmosphere.

Where Chthe’ilist are masters of diving headfirst into maddening extremity, Atramentus are all about breathtaking sonic vistas, be it the laborious riffs featured on the album’s slowest moments where the vocals take on a ceremonial weight, or when the album’s epic closer  ‘Stygian III: Perennial Voyage (Across The Perpetual Planes Of Crying Frost & Steel-Eroding Blizzards)’ takes on a dark ambient-orientated air as celestial synths and melancholy guitar drag things into even more sombre realms. The final cathartic release comes in the form of a blackened climax, where stirring blastbeats break free from their funereal shackles for a whirlwind finale made all the more ginormous by the 40 minutes of tension that precedes it.

Staying true to its epic but mournful tone to the very last, Stygian is a masterclass in funeral doom, showing a surprising degree of songwriting efficiency in a genre known for never doing things by halves. As a result it is about as dynamic as you could expect an album of its kind to be. Perhaps it’s the intriguing underlying narrative (the “nameless knight’s saga”) that keeps it so focused, but its various movements never overstay their welcome and slot together seamlessly to form a sonic tapestry worthy of full praise.

Stygian is out now via 20 Buck Spin and can be purchased here.

Words: George Parr

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