Expectations can be an odd thing when dealing with hybrid genres. The more genres descriptors added to the band’s tag, the harder it gets to form a view of what you’re going to listen to, and it doesn’t just apply to blackened melodic industrigothic deathfolk. Take Infernal Angels, now releasing their 4th album in 15 years. Various sources I checked listed the band as melodic black metal, melodic black/death metal, or plain black/death metal. But what can you expect to be more black or more death metal? Will it have growls or screeches? Is the drummer going to pummel the bass drum or the snare like he gets paid by the stroke? One thing is for sure: whether the lyrics are about innards or demons, they’re likely hard to understand.
As it turns out, melodic black/death is a pretty good description of the sound on Ars Goetia. Chunky mid-range growls sit atop a barrage of melodic riffs that would not be out of place on a meaty Gothenburg album. If you steer Vredehammer 10 degrees further towards black metal you have a good idea of what to expect. Discarding the unnecessary atmospheric intro, “Vine” starts the album off properly with a rumbling tremolo, followed by a strong lead that honors the adjective in the band’s name. “Bael” and “Balam” contain equally mighty hooks, and it’s soon clear that melodies that are catchy as well as epic and evil are the band’s strong suit. On “Asmoday,” resident barker Xes channels Shagrath for some deep clean vocals, but otherwise sticks to his breathy growls, and the rhythm section is overall solid.
The problem isn’t as much with individual songs as it is with the album as a whole. Most of the tracks are fine individually. The catchy melodies and majestic pummeling give enough to enjoy, nothing fancy but enjoyable. Repeated listens of the full album peel back the top layers however, and what lies underneath is not so pretty. Prolonged exposure shows the structure of the songwriting to be of the collage type. This band writes riffs and leads, then arranges them and calls it a song, without any of the necessary flow to bring the tracks together. It’s less journey and more jigsaw puzzle. This is a lot easier to swallow on a single track than it is on 10, and it teams up with the other major flaw on the album: lack of variety. Minor variations aside, all tracks sound the same, from the cut and paste structure to the melodic tremolo to the breathy bark that barely changes pitch.
To top things off, there’s the other other flaw: awful, ear-assaulting brickwall production. The album averages a DR of 4 and regularly dips into a dismal DR 3. It shows, too: the wall of music barrages the senses and makes the lack of variety that much harder to swallow. Where black metal has their Second Wave of Treble, Infernal Angels has chosen to follow their death metal half and master this like Ulcerate. On several instances, I noticed the drums sounding a bit like drywall, and though the mix isn’t too bad, the whole of the production is like unsuccessful quicksand: too dense to suck you down.
Ars Goetia is proof that good melodies alone do not make an album. An album needs flow and variety, a sense of progression, dynamics between loud and quiet and major and minor. Between the brickwalled master, flat arrangements and general lack of variety, some of these tracks may work in a playlist, but the record, despite its promising start, is a slog of quickly diminishing results. Disappointing, because these guys clearly have talent, and they aren’t lacking in experience either, but the only conclusion I can make is that Ars Goetia is less than the sum of its parts.