When reviewing music, every writer is tempted to engage in prose so masturbatory that they deserve full, lucrative sponsorship’s from Kleenex, Vaseline, and the local carpal tunnel treatment center. Convoluted adjectives, metaphors, and flowery descriptors are used with a startling vengeance, with that extra bit of feeling one puts into something like kissing their years-long crush for the first time. “Yes,” you can picture our imaginary writer saying aloud, breathing heavily in a dimly lit room populated solely by him, “I earned this.” And yet, all of the fanciful prose in the world or arbitrary mid-sentence switches to the preferred foreign language du jour can’t capture the very essence of Inquisition as well as a simple five-letter word can. The essence of Bloodshed across the Empyrean Altar beyond the Celestial Zenith, their seventh full-length, can be described by that magical five-letter word: riffs.
Contra the Spanish Inquisition which no one expects, everyone expects the American Inquisition. Fear and surprise are not part of their arsenal whatsoever; you know what you’re getting, and there’s little worry the band will fail to deliver. Predictably, then, Bloodshed is at once the logical successor to Obscure Verses for the Multiverse and a fitting companion to Ominous Doctrines of the Perpetual Mystical Macrocosm. Like the former, it allows itself plenty of breathing room in composition, embracing atmosphere and melody with slower songs and longer riffs; like the latter, it brings plenty of sharp, icy, and immediate riffs to the table. It’s a fitting synthesis, trying to capture the best of both high-quality worlds. The most obvious references for Inquisition’s sound are Immortal and Gorgoroth, but they frequently invoke early Bathory and Sarcofago in their riffing as well. Essentially, Inquisition is a mixture of the most aggressive elements of the first wave and the most melodic yet vicious aspects of the second wave.
Where Inquisition succeeds here and elsewhere is by recognizing and exploiting the relationship between the two waves, and this stylistic choice is the key to understanding what they’re doing. “A Black Aeon Shall Cleanse” is a good example: in its first thirty seconds, it starts with what sounds like a retooled version of Bathory’s “Call from the Grave” outro and then switches into At the Heart of Winter’s melodic triumphalism without batting an eye. Far from being disorganized non-sequitur nonsense, Inquisition plays with these building blocks and makes great riffs out of them for five straight minutes. “Power from the Center of the Cosmic Black Spiral” tempers the aggression of Sarcofago with an interesting take on Infernus’s melodic style for a convincing, memorable, and abnormally riffy black metal song. Dagon’s playing throughout Bloodshed is something to behold, as he convincingly adopts the playing style of a thrashy first-wave ripper, a melodically-inclined “sophisticated black metal art” type, and a confident if not arrogant guitar hero, often all at once. In turn, Inquisition’s sound remains unique, fresh, and hugely entertaining.
There’s very little to complain about here. Admittedly, Dagon’s vocals aren’t for everyone, being croakier and more one-dimensional than Abbath’s. They’re definitely limiting, but this only helps Inquisition as songwriters; Dagon’s riffing has to be unmistakably his for the vocals to work. The references to slow Gorgoroth tracks like “Sorg” and “Rebirth” in “The Flames of Infinite Blackness before Creation” have to be kept in line by nods to the first wave and Inquisition’s own style in the absence of a shrill vocalist like Pest, and they are. Due to this, “Infinite Blackness” succeeds by being quintessential Inquisition and essential black metal. The only thing that slightly bothers me here is the prevalence of intro and outro tracks. They fit well enough into the record as a whole, but it’s a bit disorienting to have a separate dedicated intro track on an Inquisition full-length. The four and a half-minute double-outro of Bloodshed isn’t, as Multiverse’s two and a half-minute outro was, part of the concluding song, which gives them a slightly tacked-on feel. Nonetheless, these are minor quibbles that didn’t hurt my enjoyment of Bloodshed in any meaningful way.
Ultimately, Bloodshed is another winner in a discography full of them. Inquisition is the crown jewel of American black metal, and as expected this record is a joy to hear in both music and production. The DR score is nothing to marvel at, but all of the details of Dagon’s riffing and the subtleties of Incubus’s consistently interesting drumming are all easy to hear on any half-decent set of headphones or speakers. It’s a bit chillier and tighter in production than Multiverse’s warmer and roomier sound, but given their contemporary style, they made the right choice here. They also made the right choice in making Bloodshed nothing more than another Inquisition record; sticking rigidly to form, it’s great.