Alkymist – Sanctuary Review

Alchemy: the process of transmutation, a magical process of transformation. For millennia alchemists have sought to achieve progression in their fields, leading to the unearthing of a higher elemental power. In this world of mysticism and occult infatuation, alchemists guarded the truths of their findings with violent fervor. For many, the quest would be complete with the creation of the philosopher’s stone resulting in the formulation of a perfect body and soul. Metal is alchemy: music created from chaos into another form of chaos. The quest –  a magnum opus of metal. Danish progressive four-piece Alkymist are here to enhance their own maturation of the progressive metal medium, imbuing a curious genre-bending identity to the extreme metal pot. Dragur are the undead – icy, chaotic, magical creatures risen from the dead to live a second life. They are the malevolence of alchemy and at the heart of this record. Sanctuary Alkymist‘s second full-length – is the sound of humanity in refuge, fighting against the twisted world of alchemy’s waste. 

A unique tone permeates the record from the beginning. Alkymist elicit an atmosphere of dread peculiarity as “Oethean” withers into existence. Peter Bjørneg’s ritualistic vocal approach is at the fore from the beginning. Crust-flecked throat-stinging gruffness alternates with a melodramatic semi-spoken gait that hovers through the record with curious weight. Instrumentally, this is cryptic doom smattered with touches of sludge and black – monotone riffs surge through the mix, a tenderness applied with subtle, mellow melodies. Breaks in the maelstrom aplenty uncover black holes, sound is commonly sucked from songs as interludes and breaks in the cataclysm of sound are guided by Bjørneg’s incantations. A psychedelic warbling of bass and vocal echoing splits “Oethean’s” core in two; the stomping throb of “The Dead” is swallowed by a vortex towards its end, vocals and shards of instrumentation sucked into a vacuum before being spat as sludge at its close; the stomp of “Astral Haze” is briefly visited by a flare of tender reflectiveness before, as in the previous tracks, a supernova of wailing solos and chunk riffing. These are the formats of the four longer tracks on the record: a magical ebb-and-flow of sound. 

Alkymist are not always aiming for the grandiose. The record is paced so that the longer 7+ minute tracks don’t collide into a mush of inexperienced sorcery. Mid-album instrumental interludes “S.O.Y” and “Gust of War” bookend the grinding four-minute inferno of “Draugr.” They serve to frame the central image of the record, that of malevolent transfiguration. “Draugr” has a real swagger to it, grooving with a thick bass-led menace, dribbling arcane melodies through its guitar work and spitting fire through its teeth as it builds to a droning slam of sound. It sounds thick and all-encompassing, measured against the soft wistfulness of “S.O.Y.”

Personal quibbles do emerge in Sanctuary. Riffs can churn with a one-tone flatness at times, obscuring the identity of tracks, as evident during heavier elements in “Desolated Sky.” Bjørneg’s storytelling vocals are clearly the main cog in the machine and it does unfortunately feel that the guitars don’t get a chance to really hook their claws into the fabric of songs. “Desolated Sky,” so captivatingly strong at the beginning, suffers as its bowels release during the two-minute closing stretch, loose and unravelling doom-sludge surging forward with no real thematic link to the beginning. Though “Astral Haze” has a unique touch with its cosmic, space-age vibe, it suffers due to its nine-minute length. Unlike “Desolated Sky,” “Astral Haze” is strongest when it unravels. The closing three-minutes following the song’s break is a dive into cranking melodic intensity, solos weaving between bending riffs that build exponentially. It’s opening falls flat, less impressive though similar in tone to the weirdness of the opening of “Desolated Sky.”

And then the record ends – a two minute instrumental swiftly beheading Sanctuary. My listening of this record has been a peculiar one. Sanctuary is a confident and creative amalgam of sounds that has a real identity. I can pin-point so much that I desire in music at the heart of Alkymist’s sound, however I’m left feeling like a forcefield is preventing entry. I would have devoured this record in the past, lauded it as the greatest thing since sliced draugr. That’s not to say this isn’t a very good record. In my growingly finickity mind though, intensified by the nature of existence at the moment with so much time alone, I feel like I still haven’t found what I’m looking for (thanks Bono) despite looking so hard. I’m looking for that philosopher’s stone of metal. Something denser, something even stranger, something that evokes even more malign sensations. In my desperate quest to find it I may be blinding myself. At least I can always seek some form of refuge with Sanctuary.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Indisciplinarian
Releases Worldwide May 1st, 2020

« »