What do you notice when you take in a Paul Gauguin? Do you admire the stark brush strokes and bold secondary colours? Maybe the uninhibited naturalism of the Tahitian subjects draws your eye? Or can you not get past the stunted proportions, flattened perspectives and homely faces? A similar divide exists in music. Some are pulled in by lyrical themes and instrument tone whereas others require a reproachless performance and complex song writing. Emotional stimulus versus technical ecstasy. Sator Malus, with their debut album, Dark Matters, are less concerned with peerless virtuosity than delivering a sombre mood suitable for an afternoon spent indoors carving runes. Atmospheric black metal is what’s on offer, but rather than meandering chords and gossamer musings, a smoldering paean to battle-hardened gods greets the listener like a Valkyrie on the battlefield. Is the band worthy to be spirited to Valhalla’s doors? Read on lest you sacrifice an eye for knowledge.

Precious little information about Sator Malus exists in any material form. They hail from the Netherlands, they play black metal and they scowl through corpse paint. That’s it. No light on who they are or what their manifesto may be. This is partly due to the band’s burgeoning involvement in the scene but the real reason is likely that the group would rather speak through their music than a press release. First impressions are everything when you have no expectations, so it’s heartening that Dark Matters opens in fine fettle with the instrumental “Ominous Overture.” Comprised of three stages, the track begins with a patina of rain, transitioning to morose clean picking and ending on a romantic string section. Although a stark contrast to the frigid primitiveness that follows, the intro is critical in setting the tone for the album, acting as a bugle call for the ensuing offensive.

Primal, yet nuanced and pensive, “Eerie Elemental Eidos” represents the central ethos of Dark Matters, a rumbling rumination of violence, death and rebirth. The tremolo guitars march with measured intensity, backed by tizzy cymbals, imperious bass and contemptuous vocals. This is viscous music that burbles and corrodes like naphtha on skin. There’s a coarse, unfinished texture to the album but rather than causing one to recoil at the touch, it is a strangely pleasing sensation that invites further exposure. “My Journey” is a testament to this, the guitars emitting a high-frequency buzz akin to an ill-maintained dentist’s drill that somehow makes for agreeable company. Think Taake, but rendered into slivers and then bound together like hessian rope.

Sator Malus have given themselves ample opportunity to, if I may pilfer from Tolkein, show their quality as the running time for most of the tracks spill into the double-digit range. The band succeeds for the most part in justifying such ample run times but the greyscale rendering of the music means that listener attention isn’t always ensnared. Closing cut “Endless Cycles of Life and Death” is free of such rot, slowing things down to a deliberate pace that underscores the solemn nature of the subject matter. It’s an emotional track, a point driven home by the surprising clean cries towards the end that are both harrowing and poignant. I couldn’t help but think of “One Rode to Asa Bay” by Bathory, a comparison I don’t make lightly. The rest of Dark Matters struggles to reach such lofty heights but it points to the potential these po-faced Dutchmen inculcate.

First blood from a nascent band often delivers jagged demos in arrested development or over-eager musicianship desperate for validation. Sator Malus avoid either pitfalls with a debut that although unrefined and even uncouth at times, presents a heady rush of snow-driven grimness. Artists such as Henri Matisse and Sidney Nolan were content to spurn the dogma of technical realism and crafted artworks that pushed emotion and symbolism at the expense of aesthetics. Dark Matters may not be a pretty picture, but if you don’t mind paint lashed against an untreated canvas designed to stir the heart and not the head then this might be just for you. I’m looking forward to seeing what Sator Malus produce next.


Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Forever Plagued Records
Websites: satormalus.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/Satormalus
Releases Worldwide: June 30th, 2017

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  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    Everything’s runed? Awesome! Tell me the truth, who did that? Was it you, Steely D? I wish I could upvote that.

    • Twas me!

      • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

        Awesome! You really runed it!

        • rumour_control

          Indeed. He be Runein’ With the Devil.

  • rumour_control

    A beaut sentence. Well-written, throughout. Thank you.
    “This is viscous music that burbles and corrodes like naphtha on skin.”

  • Monsterth Goatom

    I don’t know abour runes, but I’m always looking for some pleasing music to play while I carve baby animals out of soap (OMG THEY’RE SO CUTE AND THE INTERNET JUST CAN’T HANDLE IT). Maybe this is a fit?

  • Thatguy

    Noice.

  • Eli Valcik

    Fun fact: their next album will be called “Black Metal Matters. (Eli’s bad joke of the day No.34)

  • Nukenado

    Holy shit that enbed track.
    The video is cheesy as fuck (don’t hold swords and try to look intimidating unless it’s power metal!), but the music is beautiful.
    The intro hooks me in instantly, and the changeups make the track not a chore to listen to.
    Although of different subgenres, this reminds me of Harakiri For The Sky. That’s meant as a compliment, considering that I spin III: Trauma almost daily. The long ass songs, the depressing mood, and maybe the guitars?
    Will keep and eye on this band.

  • Ono Trümmer

    Kudos for referring to about half of our shared history. Thing is, I don’t really see it here. To be on par with Matisse and Gaugin, it takes a whole lot more of integrity. And I really don’t know why I should be comparing any of them at all.

    • Treble Yell

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. It’s not that I think Sator Malus are on par with Gaugin et al, but that they both elicit reactions from their art on emotion, subject matter and mood than technical perfection. I’m actually not a big fan of artists like Matisse but I appreciate their place in history and from moving away from realism, a necessary step due to the disruptive nature of the introduction of the camera.

      Edit: That’s not to say I don’t love technical masterpieces, far from it, but it’s good to have diversity even if styles like non-representational abstraction leave me cold.

      • Ono Trümmer

        Nicely put and I wholeheartedly agree. Reviews like yours are the reason why I enjoy reading AMG, even if the album in question doesn’t really interest me.

  • Kill The King

    Holy. Shitballs. “One Rode to Asa Bay” comparison??? I’m now laser focused on getting off work and checking this out immediately.

  • Ta2dlam

    If the rest of the album lives up to the embed then this may become my favorite BM release this year next to Havukruunu.

    • ArtifeX

      For some reason the embed reminds me a lot of Noenum. Good stuff. The song drags a bit toward the end though.

  • Planex

    Not to be confused with Devin Townsend’s Z2: Dark Matters

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    Awesome review, very well worded, very well crafted, very entertaining. But, judging just from the embedded track, I don’t think the review matches the music. If I was to put into words what I heard from the embedded track, it would read something like: “Regular-ass Black Metal”.

  • Tofu muncher

    the embedded track reads “easy listening”. Might spin this the whole album once or thrice. Any chance you guys will review Celtic Frost’s Innocence & Wrath, btw?