It’s no big revelation to state that music doesn’t exist in a vacuum, so in the spirit of spicing things up and non-sequitur literary devices, let’s talk hamburgers. Whether you want to innovate or go with the tried and true, what came before is almost as important as what you’re about to do. Putting cantaloupe on a burger is pretty inventive, but also stupid; the Liturgy Burger doesn’t sell very well at my hypothetical diner Diabolus in Moussaka, because while we bravely jettisoned traditional elements, we replaced them with something much less appealing, rendering this culinary innovation something worth tasting solely to say you did. Also floundering is the HM-2 Burger sans Great Riff Sauce, as why would anyone want to eat a vastly inferior version of something they’re familiar with that’s been around for decades when you can just enjoy the classics? Belgium’s Possession serve up the old fashioned Blackened Death Burger on 1585-1646, a concept EP about the life and death of a French witch. In the spirit of witches, let’s toss it into the cold lake of quality control and see if it floats, shall we?
Possession avoid the Nergal-core style of blackened death metal entirely, turning their musical clock much further back. The black and death metal they draw from tends to err closest to the “proto” variety, so expect to hear myriad nods to Bathory’s Under the Sign of the Black Mark, Hellhammer, and Mayhem circa Deathcrush. There are similarities to their fellow Belgians in Enthroned as well, particularly their 2014 monster Sovereigns. 1585-1646 eschews that record’s interesting melodic work in favor of playing a bunch of simplistic heavy riffs, aiming for a full-frontal assault instead of an exercise in nuance and subtlety. Such an approach is advisable if you’ve got engaging riffs to deliver, and Possession largely succeeds in that department.
The most rousing success is closing
witch barn-burner “Ablaze,” which parrots some of Immortal’s melodic techniques in spots and also draws on “Pure Fucking Armageddon” pretty heavily in the verses. While the manic energy of Mayhem’s early days isn’t captured, the riffing is good and slowing it down to close the EP in a mid-paced headbanging manner is a nice touch, as is the Satanic rock n’ roll stomp that comprises the midsection. I’m reminded of retro fetishists Impious Baptism and Apokalyptic Raids throughout the mini-album, especially on “Ceremony” and “Guilty” with their bouts of explicit and enjoyable Hellhammer worship. Vocalist V. Viriakh adds some charisma to these songs, coming across as a less experienced but more hoarse and booze-soaked Nornagest (Enthroned). I quite enjoy Viriakh’s throwback phrasing and approach, with his vicious rasping over the slower verses of “Ceremony” being particularly noteworthy.
Given that 1585-1646 is a mini-album and clocks in at a scant 25 minutes, you’d assume that Possession wouldn’t dawdle on an intro for nearly one quarter of the record. You’d be wrong, because that’s exactly what opener “Obscurity – Visitation” does. After nearly three minutes of a spooky Sounds of Nature review replete with chants, church bells, and stormy weather, a repetitive tremolo melody fades in and wears out its welcome before launching into the real meat of the track, a taut thrashy number that sounds like Bathory by way of Enthroned. There’s really not much else wrong with this mini-album, but having such an incredibly long introductory segment detracted from my desire to replay it and made 1585-1646 feel longer than it actually is in a pernicious way. I understand the desire to create an atmosphere, but the sheer amount of time spent on this section comes across as gratuitous.
Possession has wisely avoided one major retro pitfall with their production, handled by Phorgath of Enthroned. It’s dynamic, dirty, and live sounding, and given that the band’s precise and professional performance, doesn’t capture the tumult of early Mayhem and Bathory, I’m glad the production didn’t try to either. 1585-1646 is an enjoyable listen, but it doesn’t reach the heights of its influences or, in the case of Impious Baptism, its contemporaries. I’ll still return throughout the year sporadically, as these lads do bring some mean riffs to the table. Not quite necessary listening, but coolly recommended.
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Label: Invictus Productions | Iron Bonehead Productions
Websites: PossessionOfficial | Facebook.com/Possession
Release Date: Out Worldwide: 06.05.2015