For an American who’s never visited, Australia seems like the coolest place on Earth. I get emissions testing done on my Toyota and listen to an old Army veteran reminisce about the beachy weather and beautiful women he met during his R&R travel there. I talk to a co-worker and hear stories about young women writing their phone numbers on tennis balls and tossing them onto the deck of his ship as it pulled into Sydney. I shotgun a Fosters while riding a kangaroo, wearing Globes, and blasting Deströyer 666 loud enough to crush my balls. I may have made one of those up. Point is, I love Australian metal, and Denouncement Pyre is no exception. Formed in 2003, this Melbourne blackened-death quartet impressed me with ferocious 2010 debut World Cremation, only to somehow top it with 2013’s Almighty Arcanum. Described by former AMG writer Noctus as ‘if Watain was good,’ Arcanum featured catchy and original riffs, grand compositions, fluid songwriting, and great production, leaving me giddy with anticipation for third full-length Black Sun Unbound. But does it stack up?
As the swirling riffs of instrumental opener “Abnegate” and first proper track “Deathless Dreaming” indicate, Unbound is quite different from its predecessor. Dense, ambitious, and stuffed with energetic fretwork, this album could peel the infamous ‘246 riffs!’ sticker off of Dark Angel’s Time Does Not Heal and slap it on its own cover without fear of false advertising. Over 49 minutes, guitarist/vocalist ‘D.’ unleashes a buckshot heap of sharp blackened death chords, majestic tremolos, and diminished clean picking. While Arcanum worked by marvelously building off one or two main riffs per song, Unbound smashes and stitches its ideas together with maniacal abandon. When this works, it’s terrific. Album highlight “Revere the Pyre,” for instance, is a glorious, stomping triumph that climaxes with battering Gospel of the Horns guitars, scorching leads, and an awesome boom-doosh drum strike/chord bash section in its second half. Likewise, “Scars Adorn the Whore in Red” weaves a clawing Watain-style progression, shrill notes, and eerie closing melody into a surprisingly digestible package.
Sadly, other songs attempt to cram together too many ideas, resulting in occasional jerky songwriting and irritating tempo shifts. Despite featuring the most badass song titles, ”World Encircler” and “Wounds of Golgotha” are hindered by their awkward tendency to stagger the rhythm to a halt every time the riffs change, preventing the tracks from ever locking into an enjoyable groove or achieving a consistent mood. There are no ‘fast’ or ‘slow’ songs on Unbound – nearly each of these 10 tracks regularly alters tempos – but towards the back-half there’s an unfortunate tendency for the songs to never exceed mid-paced at the quickest. Mind you, I don’t need my blackened death to constantly deliver a stream of Christcrushing hellfire blastbeats, but for every cool moment like the wonky My Dying Bride melody in the middle of the title track, there’s a tired waltzing riff that sounds too much like those that passed for the climaxes on the last Ketzer album. As varied as the guitar-work can be, at times I want to shout “Just two minutes of furious blasting over a half-decent black metal riff, please!”
Fortunately, Unbound sounds great, with a dry, clear, and forceful production that accentuates the biting guitars and intelligible rasps, while keenly layering the crunchy riffs and anticosmic tremolos. Songs like aforementioned “Dreaming” augment their freneticism with some interesting muffled-vocal effects, while the mix makes moments like the massive finishing riff and roared final lyrics of closer “Sophrosune” feel even more colossal (“I am the Wanderer/I am the Night/I am Forever/I am Death!”).
So while I can’t disguise my slight disappointment with Unbound, in the end it’s a quality, inspired package with a few hiccups. Sure, there’s some bloated songs and a few moments of shrug-worthy guitar-work, but the drumming is keen and active, and it’s clear Pyre are not afraid to try new things. As the Satanist-style riff of penultimate instrumental “Transform the Aether” and the malevolent chugging crawl of “Witness” can attest, there’s ample diversity here, and that – together with the record’s immense scope – ultimately leads to a win. Recommended for those who like Cooper’s Pale Ale, Nocturnal Graves, Koala bears, tossing another shrimp on the barbie, and anyone tired of reading half-baked Australian cliches from someone who’s never left the Northern hemisphere.