Arcane Paths To Resurrection
Review by Ves on April 15, 2023.
Black metal bands hailing out of Greece, i.e. representatives of the Hellenic black metal sound and scene, are widely revered in the metal community. From the 80s titans such as Rotting Christ and Necromantia, to the younger acts like Yovel and Human Serpent (r.i.p. X), the Greeks have developed their own distinct niche within black metal.
One of these newer bands is Decipher, formed in 2017. Don't let the age of the band fool you though, for the music is as mature as anything put out by some of the more grizzled veterans out there. The band has an EP release under its belt, Of Fire And Brimstone from 2019. With a runtime of 16 and a half minutes, it was just a taste of the band's songwriting ability and musicianship. The grooves were chunky, the blast beats rapid, and the guitar and bass tones dark and dirty. While not necessarily groundbreaking material, the EP was a definitive show of force by the band, flexing their musical precision and the vocalist's range - from hellish grunts and growls to blood-curdling screams. The production was okay, if a bit too bland, and did a fine job of giving each instrument enough space in the spectrum to be heard. Overall, having heard the EP last year, I followed the band on *corporate music streaming service*, looking forward to their next release, and went on with my life. Fast forward to now.
The topic of today's review is Decipher's debut full-length album Arcane Paths To Resurrection, released on Transcending Obscurity Records. From the opening riff and screams of 'Chants of The Unholy', the unmistakable HBM vibe is there. While there is a healthy dose of all our favorite black and death metal tropes in the form of tremolo picked guitars and bombastic blast beats, the band also ups the gas with a whiplash-inducing riff hopping from octave to octave, before a groovy breakdown section straight out of the Swedish death metal playbook. This flows nicely into a slower melodic section before a final onslaught of blasts to bring the song home. The following track, 'Lost In Obscurity', opens like an old school hardcore punk mosh-pit builder, a trait it shares with 'Altar Of The Void', a few songs down the tracklist. The punkier riffing and elements such as group vocals are a very welcome motif, used just enough to be noticed but not so much to detract from the overall atmosphere. You may or may not be surprised to find out that 'Lost In Obscurity' is not a punk song at all, with some of the more melodic chord passages invoking an almost Deathspell Omega-esque feel. The track is followed by a dark atmospheric piece called 'Arcane Paths' which I don't care for much, in all honesty. Fortunately, the band doesn't dwell on it for too long and, just over a minute and a half later, 'Enslaved To Be' kicks off with a dissonant guitar riff which, with a few variations, comprises the backbone of the first half of the song. The second half is more melodic, with leads which don't feel superfluous and build on the sound established in the first three minutes. The melody flows nicely to the end of the song, with feedback and noise easing you into the next track. As mentioned above, 'Altar Of The Void' opens in a very crusty fashion. There's more to it though, as this 9-minute-long behemoth takes you on a multi-genre ride of the band's influences. From the crusty hardcore punk first half, via patient doomy riffage in the middle section, gradually building speed and sonic content into a raging maelstrom of uncannily off-pitch tremolo picked notes, disorienting screams, and blast beats. This culminates in a final minute which feels more like an intro, with the drummer counting off hits on the high hat and the stringed portion of the band hitting big chords to go with heavy crashes on the drum kit. This is where the song falls flat in my opinion, as I would have preferred to have elements slowly get taken out of the picture, rather than added in this way. The notes played by one of the guitars in between hits read 'gloomy fade away into nothingness' too well to have them overshadowed with heavy hits by the rest of the band. 'Penance' takes the first minute to build a sorrowful atmosphere with a slow beat, distant screams, arpeggiated chords, and a lead melody soaked in reverb coming in halfway through, before popping off into a thrashy riff. Considered as distinct entities, the intro section and the rest of the song are both strong showcases of the band's ability to create an atmosphere of disdain and to channel aggression through their instruments respectively, but the flow from one to the other does not feel logical, despite being executed well. The closer, 'Sanctum Regnum', is my favorite track on the album. The grandeur of chords in the intro, with drum fills gradually increasing in intensity in the dead space in between before the lead melody makes its way into the mix hit the spot for me. Pair it with some more dissonance in the verses, a dynamic song structure, and good use of backing vocals, and I have nothing but praise for it.
As a follow up to Of Fire And Brimstone, the debut album by Decipher improves on all fronts. The songwriting is noticeably better, guitar work just as interesting, vocals even more versatile, and the underlying groove of the band's first EP is present on most tracks here. Further, the production is much more in line with what I would expect from an extreme metal album nowadays, with excellent clarity overall but enough filth on the guitars and bass to warrant a wash at high temperatures. The drums are punchy and aggressive, and the vocals slotted into the mix perfectly to stand out as they should, given the excellent performances by K.G. and M.L.
Overall, Arcane Paths To Resurrection has some underwhelming moments but, as a whole package, is a very good debut full-length. I hope Decipher keeps progressing their songwriting further in their future work, since the amount of improvement between the EP and this album is encouraging. I can only be excited to hear about their next project.
Rating: 7 out of 101.27k