Under muted skies of gray, you cobble together the hours, drumming up meaningless tasks and eating too much candy from the office jar. Somebody cooked fish in the microwave… for breakfast. Grab some chips, only to find “horseradish” inscrutably printed on the bag.1 Check your phone so often your battery dies before midday. Pick a loved one, or multiple if you like difficulty bonuses, to fight with about something inconsequential. Think a promo is going to pick you up? Not today, bub. Not when it’s Stahlsarg, a band that has got 2.5-black metal down to a yawn.
Our lovable cat-man Grymm described the Brits’ debut Comrades in Death as “frustratingly average,” with perhaps a tilt toward the “frustrating.” The descriptor fit the record’s unevenness snugly, as the offering straddled sublimity and snooze-inducement. Follow-up Mechanisms of Misanthropy smooths out Stahlsarg‘s wrinkled edges, but seesaws into “average” territory as well. “Raise the Dead” shambles through the graveyard with second-wave tenacity before settling into a decent mid-tempo approach that Stahlsarg put most of their chips on. Their war-themed blackness hits many of the same notes as Endstille and kinfolk Eastern Front, though Mechanisms often lacks the overarching viciousness. Their best moments encapsulate a certain pounding quality similar to Eastern Front‘s, which makes sense given guitarist Kreig and bassist Destruction are both former members of Suffolk’s other WWII-themed corpse-paint crew. The hard-hitting “Burn and Destroy” and “Aerial Night Terrorists” should catch the eye of any black metal fan, but they are not indicative of the album’s overall intent.
Stahlsarg subsist on their mid-tempo affairs. Some live. “A Will to Endure” proves the band can execute the direction properly, adding a bit of pageantry to boot. Some die. Far too much of the ten-minute “Blonde Poison,” meanwhile, is outright boring. Some do both. “Pharmaceutical Frontline” assumes an interesting identity early, discards it, and then embraces it. Some reject the notion of choice. “Far Beyond the Dragon’s Teeth,” like much of Mechanisms, technically does nothing wrong. Yet “far beyond the dragon’s teeth” seems to imply relaxing in a hammock, far beyond the fire-breath of some overgrown squamata with a proclivity for kleptomania.2 With average track lengths over six minutes, the record feels more like a testament to the ceaseless grind of war than the heat of battle or the pain of loss. While its heights will have you reaching into the invisible orange basket, Mechanisms‘ lows breathe the sterile chill of a museum, invitations to look but not touch.3 The B-sides perform outreach measures to an extent, but they can’t change the record’s core make-up.
Vocalist Eissturm doesn’t have Eastern Front on his CV, but overlaps Dani Filth and Eastern Front‘s Marder in scalding tone. His shrieks have thankfully moved past Comrades‘ shrillness, finding instead a deep pocket within Danny B’s (Lock Up, Eastern Front) improved production from which to bellow hollow agony and trickle through quiet tales of the worst of humanity. He conveys agony and pain in sections where previously his higher register would surely have caused eyes to water. The guitar tones sound fantastic, smoothly striding between the crunch of “Pharmaceutical Frontline” and “A Will to Endure” and the frosty grasp of the disheartening “Das Fallbeil” (featuring K. Dylla of A Winter Lost fame). Eisenfaust’s drums too have a fantastic punch that make his headstrong battering and delicious fills pop. However, the drums often overtake the definition of the guitars, contributing to Mechanisms‘ muted feeling. The guitars that sounded raw, yes, but so razor sharp on Comrades lose that toothiness here.
In a way, Stahlsarg deserve credit for subverting the expectations set by artists in a similar headspace. Mechanisms of Misanthropy does not grit its teeth and run headlong into gunfire. It’s the soundtrack to the never-ending march to war that every generation since beginning of time has endured. Providing an alternative to what’s on the market is never a bad idea. Unfortunately, Stahlsarg could stand to swap length for excitement. Mechanisms of Misanthropy ultimately does what it does well, just not outstandingly so.