2016 has been a banner year for black metal of all styles. If the world ceased to exist overnight in some unforeseeable apocalyptic event, I feel I could stare out over the burning horizon in my last moments and think “yes… this year has served well as black metal’s last.” All the same, I became absolutely giddy when I managed to snag Cryfemal‘s ludicrously titled D6s6nt6rro as it hurtled into the depths of the AMG Rookie Pit. A one-man Spanish black metal project from a guy who calls himself Ebola, (yeah, really) Cryfemal has existed since 1996 and has an impressive number of releases under its belt. I’m not familiar with the band’s work pre-D6s6nti6rro, but learning that the project was just resurrected after a five year hiatus (sans drum machine for the first time) and that it’s unapologetically and hilariously loyal to the genre’s satanic roots had me ready for one hell of a throwback.
Given Cryfemal’s productive history, it’s alarming that D6s6nti6rro’s is so debut-like, with Ebola never venturing from the path laid by his influences. His sound is decidedly steeped in the genre’s second wave, with simple tremolo lines providing the backbone for each track a la classic Darkthrone alongside basic drum patterns and blastbeats. Ebola’s vocal delivery isn’t mind blowing, but his drunken barks are convincing enough. The guitar melodies are about as bare-bones as can be for the genre, but the surprising use of choir synths (ripped straight from Emperor‘s In the Nightside Eclipse) complement the guitars well to create a grim atmosphere that feels authentic and somewhat unique.
Yet the discerning black metal connoisseur cannot subsist on atmosphere alone. While I have some positive remarks for D6s6nti6rro, each positive point bears at least one caveat. I like the jangly, unsettling guitar tone, but it begins to grate long before the album’s conclusion because the simplistic riffs almost never stray away from higher octave ranges. Most tracks employ a tempo change and an acoustic interlude in an effort to add variety, yet these tricks are utilized ad nauseum until the opposite effect is achieved. What ultimately kills this record though is a lack of variety, which becomes so frustrating that I’ve resorted to raw statistics to express my grievances. I broke out a calculator and a metronome and figured out that for 41 percent of its runtime, D6s6nti6rro plods along at 83 beats per minute with riffs that are structurally and tonally identical to each other. This means 16 out of 39 minutes of this album are basically indistinguishable, making most of the experience a mind-numbingly boring one.
Despite the dullness, Cryfemal is able to muster one enjoyable composition in “Requiem Eterno”, a maelstrom of blastbeats and dense, unsettling riffs that sports D6s6nti3rro’s most unique melodies. Aside from that number there are a handful of moments throughout which momentarily pique my interest, but as each track contains a max of three riffs the mundanity is never fully alleviated.
I’d like to think that if D6s6nti6rro were merely monotonous I’d be more lenient with it, but a glaring production issue compounds its problems. For the most part the instruments are mixed appropriately with clarity standard for modern black metal, and a surprising amount of room is left open for the bass to breathe. But then there’s that damned guitar. The lack of octave variation in the riffs is a problem that’s only aggravated by the guitar’s unbearably high placement in the mix. It’s not so loud that it obscures the other instruments, but by the album’s end the pervasively elevated tone made my ears ring to the point where I always had to meditate in silence for a few moments to recover.
If the best bits were carved out of D6s6nti6rro and made into a sub-20 minute EP, it might have made for a pretty decent throwback to second wave black metal, as none of the individual tracks are bad on their own. Yet the utter lack of variety in riff composition, tempo, and song structure makes for an utterly dull record that’s made a downright annoying one by the troublesome guitar tone that refuses to stray from the upper registers. It’s sad really, because I would love to see more fantastic homages to the genre’s Norwegian forefathers that can stand toe to toe with the scene’s current innovators. There are certainly bands that fill this void already, and alas, Cryfemal is no Spanish Inquisition.