“At the end of time, a moment will come when just one man remains. Then the moment will pass. Man will be gone. There will be nothing to show that we were ever here… but stardust. The last man, alone with God.”
I’m not particularly invested in movies, but Danny Boyle’s Sunshine is one I recommend; an unlikely but enticing story of a handful of astronauts on a mission to restart our dying star. It has a compelling atmosphere, a beautiful minimalist score, and portrays scientists, for the most part, as real and diverse people – something that films rarely accomplish. Zealotry seem to like it as well, using the beautiful, ominous monologue from the film’s villain to set the tone for “The Last Witness.” Experimental death metal is a far cry from John Murphy’s beautiful chordal theme, but the slasher approach of the film’s much-maligned second half gets a step closer. Sunshine and The Last Witness are at heart very similar; forward-thinking and ambitious works, grand in scope but grounded by bloody, screaming horror.
“Arc of Eradication” splits open the album with its first chord. Dissonant and grimy, but with a rattle that betrays the album’s modernity, it’s immediately obvious that The Last Witness is anything but ordinary. Though “Arc of Eradication” and the following “Heralding the Black Apostle” are mid-paced numbers, their complexity makes for a compelling duo. Their riffs are bizarre but not flashy, relying on the bass to provide near constant counterpoint. True to form, both feature musty, screaming guitar solos that establish guitarists Phillipe Tougas and Roman Temin’s chops and make for some truly powerful moments, even among such angular and confusing riffs.
Angular and confusing though they are, these songs are far from messy; Zealotry‘s riffs flow into each other with a certain grace and intelligence, and you’ll hear leitmotifs from the first minute or two of a song spread out through the entire composition. Hints of the bizarre bassline introduced early in “Yilaster” crop up again and again even as the song slows to a crawl in its final moments. But this doesn’t mean there aren’t standalone moments of excellence; the screaming pinched leads above Tougas’s distinctive snarls in “Mutagenesis” are a mid-album wonder even among other great songs.
Fans of Chthe’ilist will find a lot to love in The Last Witness as well; Phillipe Tougas plays a more supporting role in Zealotry, complementing frontman/guitarist Roman Temin, but his style is immediately recognizable, and his solos and snottily snarled vocals are among my favorite parts of the album. But if Le Dernier Crépuscule was too outré for you, The Last Witness may still charm you. The sharp distortion, cavernous vocals and unabashedly progressive sounds touch on everything from Incantation to Atheist, and the addition of acoustic guitars (“Silence”) and film samples recall both the salad days of melodeath and the scrappiness of the ’90s Swe-death scene.
In line with its classic inspiration, The Last Witness sounds decidedly un-modern. There’s plenty of reverb to be had here, and the mixing of orchestral elements on closer “Silence” gives off a bit of a Scenes From Hell vibe. All of this adds up to a record that sounds great; it’s appropriately dynamic and well-balanced across the board, and highlights the album’s best features. Lavadome is building an impressive catalog of inventive and well-produced death metal, and between Zealotry, Apparatus, and last year’s incredible and perfect-sounding debut from Ad Nauseam, it’s the label to watch for innovative death metal building on the legacy of Gorguts and Demilich.
The Last Witness is a progressive album that’s both forward-thinking and backward-reaching, neither modern nor nostalgic. The band combine the sound and riffing style of classic death metal with a progressive approach that’s undoubtedly indebted to the death metal scene’s recent interest in all things dissonant. It’s a strong follow up to the band’s much-lauded debut and a remarkable album even among the crowded release schedule of 2016.