I hadn’t paid much attention to France’s Aosoth until they dropped the captivating IV: An Arrow in Heart LP in 2013, a dark and crushing affair of malicious, dissonant black metal. Admittedly I have only flirted with the remainder of their back catalog since, with nothing much, to my ears, standing up to the colossal An Arrow in Heart. The album’s hefty production and outside elements almost made it sound like Aosoth were a black metal band, in a particularly evil and hulking death metal body, with the songwriting smarts to craft an equally punishing, challenging and addictive opus. Now, after four years, Aosoth return hellbent on continuing their twisted conceptual mission and hammering home the fact that no-one does black metal quite like the French. Initial perusal of The Inside Scriptures track-list may induce brief pangs of disappointment, with only six songs written in the four-year gap between full-length releases. But like its predecessor, Aosoth embrace the longer song format, with three of the cuts breaking the eight-minute barrier across an otherwise efficient 46-minute runtime. So can the weight of expectation, amplified by the lengthy spell between albums, prove too much for these Satanic ghouls of innovation and brutality to deliver the goods again?
Much like its predecessor, The Inside Scriptures features a prominent death metal influence, but it doesn’t interfere with their trademark blackened overtones, off-kilter riffs, shrewd use of melody, and cavernous bursts of aggression and grim heft. Although their pacing is often deliberately measured, there’s little in the way of subtlety when assessing the barnstorming fury of Aosoth at full throttle. Few bands can muster the kind of tremolo and blast fueled intensity or bleed as much seething malevolence as the band does with apparent ease. Atmospherically, it’s a stirring statement, especially when they allow their melodies to breathe the fetid air and in sections when Aosoth shift gears into a foreboding mid-paced crush. Blistering and terrifyingly intense opener “A Heart to Judge” wastes little time raising the stakes, but despite its unrelenting savagery, overall it lacks variety and anything particularly memorable to latch onto across its nine-minute duration.
Pleasingly, follow-up track “Her Feet Upon the Earth, Blooming the Fruits of Blood” is an equally brutal but more efficient, dynamic composition, wielding blazing speeds and foreboding atmosphere with pulsing tempo change-ups and lurching slower passages. The imposing growls of vocalist and lyricist MkM (Antaeus) are slightly pushed back in the mix but still form an intimidating presence, while guitarist mastermind Bst (The Order Of Apollyon, VI) along with fellow axe wielder Saroth (Hell Militia, Temple of Baal) merge black and death metal influences into an impressively diverse and imaginative combo. Some of the album’s more warped riffage and tweaked melodies recall Inquisition’s inventiveness, and that can only be a good thing. The first half of The Inside Scriptures features strong moments, dragged down by less memorable and monotonous passages, but during the second stanza, the album really hits its stride. Tightly wound blasting and dark churning grooves illustrate the devastating blackened death heft of “Premises of a Miracle,” while the lengthy duo of closing songs get the job done superbly. The penultimate song, “Contaminating All Tongues” is a harrowing and brilliant composition, carrying its weighty length with aplomb and skillfully welding Aosoth’s infernal black metal with charred doom-death, memorable riffs, and sick, immense vocals.
Despite its considerable strengths and gut-punching power, The Inside Scriptures doesn’t strike a chord quite like the exceptional and tough to follow An Arrow in Heart. Aosoth sometimes struggle to maintain interest during the sporadically engaging but flawed first half, while astute trimmings here and there in the editing department could have tightened up the end product. Another issue relates to the production. While ever-so-slightly more dynamic than An Arrow in Heart, and appropriately thick and suffocating, I’ve found it oddly ear fatiguing and the mix occasionally sounds unnecessarily muddied and out of whack, especially during the band’s speedier, blunt force bludgeons.
Flaws aside, V: The Inside Scriptures is a gratifyingly savage and atmospherically enveloping listening experience, requiring detailed listening sessions and considerable time to unlock its evil charms. And while I admit to being underwhelmed on early impressions, the album has gradually revealed its finer qualities, even though the song-writing and production inconsistencies limit the overall impact. Aosoth remain a top class black metal act and The Inside Scriptures is a fearsomely executed and artfully constructed weapon of deathly blackened destruction, despite the chinks in its armory.