Listening to Sacraments to the Sons of the Abyss fills me with equal parts excitement and dismay. Excitement because, for a fan of Angelcorpse-style blackened death metal, Sacraments is a pretty impressive debut. Dismay because, let’s face it, trying to convey the value of an album like this can be a daunting task. It’s a bit like listening to your beefy friend describe a particularly good hamburger he had last week. We’ve all consumed one before, we all know the ingredients: fiery riffs, relentless blastbeats, enraged rasps, and a pace that doesn’t let up until you’re rolling on the floor begging for some Enya. But what is it that sets this one apart?
Well, just like that hamburger Señor Beefcakes won’t shut the fuck up about, it’s less about what sets the record apart and more about how well it executes a tried-and-true formula. This French quintet has obviously been uttering their Incantations and praying to their Morbid Angels in the 11 years since their formation, and it shows. With labyrinthian riffing twisting and bending over drumming that alternates between hammering and blasting, Sacraments may be the best showing this sub-sub-genre has had since Perdition Temple released The Tempter’s Victorious in 2015. This is like if Angelcorpse and Morbid Angel were engaged in a back-alley brawl, while Incantation stood nearby shouting “Yeah, get ‘em!” while swigging a Miller High Life.
While this style has always been more about relentlessness than riff-craft, tracks like “Last Rites to the Damned” buck that trend with a sudden and frantic sequence of notes in its second half, sure to incite headbanging. “Genesis to Your Curse” and “The Graveyard Coven” both employ slow and immense Incantation segments amidst their firestorm tremolos, while “Beneath the Sepulcher” stands out for its bullish opening riff that returns at just the right moment to highlight the group’s songwriting chops. A gent named “Warchangel” provides vocals across Sacraments’ 44 minutes, uttering a deep, dry rasp that sounds like a less gurgly and more layered version of Incantation’s John McEntee. His spitfire pace matches the battering drums of “Blastum,” who strikes his kit like he’s being zapped with a cattle prod. Ritualization are also smart enough to embellish the proceedings with just enough tempo shifts and 45-second bits of creeping ambiance to prevent things from getting too exhausting.
Given my description so far, it doesn’t take a Ph.D. in blackened-death to guess what Sacraments’ production sounds like warm, dry, and loud. While the DR5 isn’t too crushed, a spacier mix may have reduced fatigue a bit without sapping the potency. Nevertheless, the snare pops with a satisfying and bouncy thwack, while the guitars and bass churn together like molten lead. While the drums may be a tad prominent in the mix, my biggest quibble is actually the lack of lead-work throughout these ten songs. While an eerie melody creeps up in final proper track “Heretics” — along with some frenetic solos throughout the rest of the record — a few slower and more atmospheric leads would have helped enhance the mood generated by the “descent-into-hell” ambient intro and harrowing strings of the outro.
And while you could fault this record for being a one-trick pony or not having more memorable riffs, that almost feels like missing the point. This is a record firmly entrenched in the Exterminate-style Angelcorpse school of blackened death: fast and unforgiving, with guitars that alternately jab, cut, and scorch your eyebrows off. Sacraments isn’t a record for everyone, but those with a craving for the style who relish Azagthoth-inspired riffing will find a lot to like here.