If you consider yourself a fan of extreme metal and don’t know the name “S. Vrath,” congratulations, because you’ve got some great listening ahead of you. Emerging in force with Scythian’s debut To Those Who Stand Against Us… in 2009, Vrath has fingerprints all over the place, serving as the driving force behind Craven Idol ‘s vicious Towards Eschaton debut in 2013, along with working as a member of Crom Dubh, Sepulchral Temple, and numerous underground projects. I suppose it’s not much of a surprise it’s taken nearly six years for us to get Hubris In Excelsis, Scythian’s long-awaited sophomore album. Working in earnest since around 2012, Vrath stated it was his intent to “absolutely destroy” the debut, but To Those was a beast of an album – death-thrash that was primal, huge in scope, and savagely catchy. Can Hubris match that fervor, or…
…actually, I’ll cut the crap. Yes, Hubris lives up to the debut. And then some. In fact, it’s difficult to find any issues here whatsoever. In today’s metal landscape, where genre tags feel increasingly meaningless as bands endlessly cross-pollinate from subgenre to subgenre, Scythian is one of the brightest beacons of light. A gnashing-teeth blend of death, thrash, and black metal, with whiffs of the best elements of other fine artists: the intellectually primed thrash of Ares Kingdom, the triumphant grandeur of Deströyer 666, and the unhinged aggression of Angelcorpse. Whereas To Those was a solid album that was largely lost in the haze of 2009’s other great releases. Hubris lives up to its name as a boisterous statement of intent, brimming with spunk, ire, and bombast, and garnished by lyrics that flirt with topics as broad as Nietzschean philosophy and dark ecology.
Right from the onset, the monklike choirs and desolate acoustic strumming that augment opener “Beyond the Dust” and early highlight “Apocalyptic Visions” help attain a larger-than-life, almost biblical feel. It’s an effect furthered by the blazing leads that seem crammed into every free measure. The riffing is no slouch either. Take the frantic Melecheshian lead that propels the verses of the title track, the predatory progression and twisted tremolo riff of “Three Stigmata,” or the beat shift that makes the closing of “Penultimate Truth, Ultimate Deceit” feel downright colossal.
But ever since Death’s “Crystal Mountain” made my nipples hard circa 2008, I’ve always felt that one of the signs of a truly great album is how it saves its best moments for the second half, and that’s certainly true here. “The Laws…” apexes with a riff that’s the aural equivalent of getting sliced by a scimitar, while closer “Dystopia” lopes along with a subdued sense of melody in its verses before the choirs return for a monumental finish. And in a delightfully odd twist, penultimate track “War Graves” offers three minutes of spoken word underlaid by some of the most elegant guitarwork on the album, before the distorted guitars triumphantly erupt into the fray.
The biggest difference between Scythian and similar bands, however, is a feeling of looseness. Whether blasting or hammering through thrash beats, one gets the sense that everything is right on the verge of coming undone. As if Vrath is so manic he’s just making up everything on the fly while spitting out lyrics in his rapidly delivered snarl. Likewise, the guitar tone is equally fiery – buzzy, ragged, and clear, while retaining a piercing blackened death edge. Don’t let the DR fool you – the production is full and lively, and I could barely believe the range was really that low until I measured it myself.
Listening to Hubris gives one the sense that there will always be more to chew on, always another layer left to peel back. At nearly 47 minutes, it’s incredible how many ideas are stuffed into the runtime, and flaws are practically non-existent. I guess a few more standout moments in the first half would have helped, and the occasional spoken word feels a tad cheesy at times, but that’s it. It’s a paradox that such a barbaric and raw album obviously took such care to craft, and listening to it has me throbbing with pleasure knowing there are still bands that won’t settle for shitting out a new album every two years just to follow the norm. Sure, it may be another six years until the follow-up, but if that’s the case I think I already know what my top album of 2021 will be. Hubris In Excelsis is more than a great record, it’s a goddamn celebration of extreme metal that even casual fans should seek out. Bravo, Vrath.