In the context of reviewing an album, it’s surely one of the most cardinal of fundamentals to avoid the dreaded track-by-track format. The approach is dull, seems amateurish, and is usually indicative of a barrage of verbose superlatives, almost entirely allergic to the mighty Oxford comma. So what, oh what, is a Ferrous to do when faced with an album consisting of only 5 songs of spiraling, sludge-inspired doom? Especially when one of said spirals clocks in at nearly 19 minutes. Dutch four-piece, Ortega are here to lay down such a gauntlet with their brand of, self-styled “Esoteric Doom.” If you were considering a lazy scroll down the page to sophomore Sacred States’ allocated score, then think again, because this album is worth the read. So strap yourselves in and prepare for the verbosity, and I’ll tell you exactly why it’s quite so good.
Frankly, having never heard of, let alone listened to Ortega, I was entirely unprepared for what to expect. The band indulges in a heady brew of sludged-up doom with accents of post-metal and drone, so it should come as little surprise to find that Sacred States keeps it heavy; the album’s not so modest track lengths are riddled with tumults of planet-sized riffing a la Neurosis and Lazarus Blackstar. The opening combo of “Strong Eyes” and “Maelstrom” each showcase gargantuan rhythms and stripped down post-metal before building to devastating percussive crescendos. “Maelstrom,” Sacred States’ most accessible moment, thunders along like a doomed-out, lost cut from Chaos A.D, whilst vocalist/guitarist, Richard Postma, proceeds to ruin his throat – his voice an authentic, hoarse bellow.
Special mention must go to the epic (in the truest sense of the word) “Crows,” which was originally released as an EP back in 2014. Its melancholic bass intro eventually gives way to a My Dying Bride flavored lead before running the gamut of doom-heavy riffs and introspective, abyssal soundscapes. At 18 + minutes, it remains engaging and vital despite its enhanced run time. Sacred States metes out a compelling collection of darkly emotive odes to a solitary listening experience; as such, Ortega don’t write casual music and the audience this appeals to will likely be relatively specialized. Those with compromised attention spans [Read as: moss peepers. – Steel Druhm] need not apply. After the concussive quality of the album’s openers, the pseudo-instrumental interlude of “Descending Ladders” feels a tad self-indulgent – its lumbering pace, overlaid with warped guitar lines is, I’m sure, meant as a pallet cleanser, paving the way for album centre-piece “Crows,” but instead ends up almost entirely unnecessary – bolted on for pretension’s sake. Self-editing seems a lost art in metal today, and when three of the five songs breach the eleven minute mark, its absence is more glaring than usual.
A dense negativity resounds throughout Sacred States, and the production lends itself to the pervasive atmosphere. The down-tuning on the guitars almost occupies the same low-end frequency as Frank De Boer’s bass, and with Postma’s vocals sitting back in the mix, the album takes on a cold, celestial quality – his narrations seething up from the ether. With a cleaner and more compressed finish, much of the shading of Sacred States would be lost in translation. The abject drama of closer “Void,” featuring Mories of Gnaw Their Tongues, is palpable, thanks in no small part to the album’s overall sound. These guys put some serious time to make this as effective and affecting as possible.
Although an intense experience, and undoubtedly not for everyone, Ortega have created an incredible piece of art, earning extra metal cred for doing so from the very depths of obscurity. Is it perfect? No. Is it earth shatteringly original? Maybe not. It is, however, immersive, emotional and heavy as hell, and deceptively replayable. If you were one of the many chomping at the bit for new material from Inter Arma and Neurosis (and you should have been) then fear not – your 2016 sojourn into the trenches of heaviness isn’t quite over yet. Ortega demand you include Sacred States in your ritual ear bludgeoning. Be there, or thrice be damned as the proverbial square.1