I, like a lot of you, I’m sure, have an uncanny, savant-like memory of where I was and, more often than not, what mischief I was up to when I first heard a particularly evocative album. I remember, clearly, being 17 and hearing Rust In Peace for the first time and how I sat open mouthed as “Tornado of Souls” bombarded me with the sonic equivalent of Gamma rays, cursed forevermore to Hulk out whenever a sweet thrash riff graced my ears. Categorically, I will never forget first hearing Bolt Thrower‘s “World Eater” whilst I sat in my friend’s room, dispatching copious amounts of cheap beer, and wondering if it was medically possible for my spine to re-calcify after the track’s locomotive thunder-riffs had liquefied it beyond matter. As it goes, it was sheer chance that the promo for American outfit Curse of Denial – formed from the husk of Descend – so happened to land in my possession. I would find myself sitting in a bar attempting to parse the first couple of tracks of debut, The 13th Sign, though to little avail, and eventually jumping to the conclusion that I was going to have to review a whole lot of average. It turns out, I was a whole lot of wrong and, I suspect not entirely unrelated, a whole lot of drunk.
The 13th Sign is, ostensibly, a death metal record, although in reality, the band play a heavily thrash influenced, melodic black/death hybrid. Opener “Ophiuchus the Winding Serpent” is a straight melodic black metal track, complete with retched vocals and tremolo verses, whereas “Pawns in Chess,” one of the record’s more riff-mongering cuts, features modern Testament rhythms, accented with a clear love of Dissection, all forged through a basic death sensibility. It’s difficult for any of those words to form a sentence that could be taken at all negatively, but it does somewhat represent a common theme on the album. As we stumble to The 13th Sign’s halfway point, its already been a sojourn through a multi-faceted landscape, although a pervasive black metal snow blankets everything in sight, despite the classic death/thrash and, occasionally, doom riffs attempting to disturb the frost.
Considering the mercurial nature of the genre splicing in the material, an overwhelming sense of polish resounds by the side of each track. “Night Terrors” hooks in quickly with its infinitely memorable thrash verses and shout-along chorus, whereas “Aphotic Zone” conjures mournful doom melodies and lusciously affected environs. Tracks like these have such a complete presence, which only hints at the intrinsic skill of the band. Requiring particular mention is guitarist Jeremy McLellon; his lead work is exceptional and serves to raise the material well and truly above the middle ground. His wailing arpeggios dance between Schuldiner-esque acrobatics and a more foreboding Jon Nodtveidt style, and, more often than not, serve as the real spine of the material. Black metal “Malthusian Nightmare,” features a huge solo with, of all people, Dimebag Darrell’s signature all over it. If that isn’t diverse, I don’t know what is.
The strength of the album does undoubtedly lie in the incendiary leads, but the band’s penchant to represent a diversity inside what can be a fairly limiting genre, acts as a particularly vorpal double-edged sword. “Haven For the Dispossessed” toys around with groove patterns and almost brandishes a tough guy swagger in its riffing, with vocalist Rob Molzan adopting a lower death growl than on previous tracks. “Curse of Izabel” undulates with an eastern rhythm that, although stripped back, wouldn’t be out of place on any Nile release, and, individually, is a great song. But the album’s occasional capacity to vacillate between styles can be a little disjointed, perhaps lacking a sense of cohesion at times, especially when the material is considered as a whole. Molzan’s schizophrenic approach to vocals sometimes exacerbates the issue, as he leaps back and forth between an effective rasp and a perfunctory deeper growl for the record’s more obviously brutal moments.
The 13th Sign is a fantastic offering, graced with ravenous fret-work and a warm, slick production to further grease the wheels. Since coming into my beer-addled grip, Curse of Denial have rocketed up my list of “ones to watch” and, minor quibbles aside – which almost certainly won’t be present come the follow up – have crafted a boundlessly re-playable album… and isn’t that the point? Don’t miss out.
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Label: Redefining Darkness Records
Websites: redefiningdarknessrecords.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/curseofdenial
Releases Worldwide: February 3rd, 2017