AMG’s Unsigned Band Rodeo: Sar Isatum – Shurpu

Back in the primordial days of this here blog, we attempted something called “AMG’s Unsigned Band Rodeo.” The basic idea was to select a bunch of unsigned bands and give them the collective review treatment to find the most worthy buried gems. It was our humble effort to remind folks that the metal underground is still an important part of the world of metal.

After several years of self-righteous elitism where we largely overlooked unsigned acts, it’s high time we make amends. And so we’re bringing AMGs Unsigned Band Rodeo back from the dustbins of history with a fresh paint job and a butt-load of new reviewers! Every other month we will pluck a band from metallic obscurity, review the holy Bejesus out of them and leave them to the mercy of you, the fickle masses. At year’s end we will crown the best in show and shower them with accolades, cheap beer and day old sushi. Now that you know the score, welcome to the Rodeo, mofos!

We’re a wee bit late with our bi-monthly Unsigned Band Rodeo, but nothing can stop the running of the unsigned bands permanently. They just keep running and running and someone’s got to wrangle em’. That somebody, is us! The first of our two November broncos is the debut album from Denver, Colorado black metallers, Sar Isatum. Their fledgling full-length, Shurpu releases on November 17th and is available via their bandcamp page. Tackling this Rocky Mountain blast of frigid black metal will be Team Vardan Embargo (notoriously high maintenance metal divas all). Buckle up, spit that chaw and enjoy of bumpy, grumpy ride.

Steel Druhm – My days of black metal appreciation may be teetering on the precipice of oblivion, but when done correctly, the style is a potent kick in the arse. Sar Isatum may be unknown, but they know how to kick derriere and that’s exactly what their Shurpu debut does. Taking a base of Dimmu Borgir (before they descended into symphonic poo) and incorporating the razor-sharp riff-work of Ofermod and Dissection, they clearly mean business. Rare is the 8-minute black metal tune I can stomach, but opener “Sar Isatum” is a gleefully frenzied delight, and “Black Gate” is even better, sounding like the gates of Mordor collapsed with all manner of orcish impropriety spilling out to harass mankind. Symphonics are kept in check and riffs and rasps carry the day. No weak tracks, decent sound (especially the drums); it’s the whole suspicious package. Hell, I even hear some Dark Tranquillity influences at times! How are these Denver demons unsigned? 3.5/5.0

Dr. Fisting – Considering that it’s not 1996 and I’m not an angsty teen anymore, my recent exposure to black metal has been minimal at best. However, Shurpu is not a bad way to get reacquainted with the genre. The band wisely avoids the more raw/kvlt approach in favor of a polished sound, reminiscent of Mayhem’s Grand Declaration Of War and perhaps Demigod-era Behemoth (again, my reference points might be somewhat dated). The result is hardly anything groundbreaking, but these guys have riffs and aggression to spare. This is only enhanced by an ice-cold, atmospheric production (although the drum triggering is maybe a little much). Good stuff here though, and I’d be very surprised if Sar Isatum didn’t find themselves with a record deal in the very near future. 3.0/5.0

Diabolos in Muzaka – To my ears, this is what would happen if we threw Sworn to the Dark, Lawless Darkness, and Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk into a blender for a while and diluted it a bit whilst stirring in a pinch of death metal to taste. Watain’s style of beefy tones and production make Shurpu accessible, and while the music isn’t up to par with the above records it’s still a largely enjoyable effort. This is a quintessential good record, containing the makings of a band a lot of people like but nonetheless lacking a passionate fan base. Don’t let that deter you from Sar Isatum though; they write coherent songs, have some above-average Emperor pilfering going on, and the vocals are quality. Good metal is underrated; this is digestible stuff that will probably sneak into quite a few rotations despite not being essential or great. 3.0/5.0

Mark Z. – Now here’s something I wouldn’t have expected. With debut Shurpu, Sar Isatum deliver something like a mix of Keep of Kalessin and Emperor, with the blastiness and riffiness of the former combined with the symphonics and theatrics of the latter. While this style is far from my cup of tea, the quality is undeniable: the riffs whip with a frenzied dramatic flair, the songs are turbulent and exciting, and vocalist “Demothi” delivers a scream harsh enough to peel the Dimmu Borgir posters right off your wall. Though the loud production makes it a bit too easy to tune things out, moments like the backing choirs and thunderous riffing of “Black Gate” or the frenetic fretwork of “Chenoo” and “Vanaspati” are good enough to shrug that off. With how great the metal coming out of Denver has been lately, maybe we should just go ahead and legalize pot everywhere. 3.5/5.0

L. Saunders – Earlier this year I heaped praise on the debut from California’s Highland. Their straightforward style of second wave-inspired American black metal pushed all the right buttons, led by a livewire delivery and fresh song-writing, minus bells and whistles. Hailing from Denver, Colorado, Sar Isatum follows a similarly icy template, paving the way through traditional black metal values and dynamic song-writing, backed by tight and fiercely exuberant playing. Sar Isatum’s song-writing is overcooked in places, but when it sticks the impact is forceful. The versatile and dynamic nature of the writing mostly sustains momentum at a steady clip, striking a keen balance of engaging melodies and ripping aggression. Thrashy speed and frosty blasts are frequently tempered by effective mid-paced gear shifts and melodic counterpoints, well executed on cuts like “Black Gate” and the excellent “Gormandizer.” Shurpu is an accomplished, confident debut, but there’s ample room for growth and improvement, with rough edges in the compositional department and a need for tighter editing. The clean production job is serviceable enough, but the loud mastering proves a tad fatiguing. Nitpicks aside, Sar Isatum have left a positive impression and placed themselves on the radar as a US black metal band worth keeping a close eye on. 3.0/5.0

Roquentin – Despite its orthodox roots, black metal has become one of metal’s most malleable variants. But while modern black metal inhabits many forms and bastardizations, often veering into the hermetic and experimental, there are a few bands that manage to create inspired music while remaining true to the genre’s basic constructs and familiar tropes. Denver’s Sar Isatum is one of those bands. Whilst their eponymous début often reads like a sampler of melodic and raw black metal’s best parts, their continued shifts in riffs, melodies, and rhythms make for an exciting listen. On songs like “Sar Isatum” and “Celestial Diaspora” they play with layered synths and symphonic bits that angrily morph into crude blastbeats and frantic tremolos. Elsewhere, they drown atmospheric and melodious passages in doomy waterfalls. Yet, Sar Isatum never sounds like a random pastiche. Competently performed and with a satisfying lo-fi production, this is one of the year’s best debuts. 3.5/5.0

Huck N’ Roll – As a rule, I’m not a black metal aficionado. But rules are made to be broken, and thus my love for this year’s Dodecahedron album. Can we put Sar Isatum in the same league? Well, of course not – but this band features nasty makeup (did they get that from Kiss?), nasty vocals, and some quite nasty black metal with ample servings of technicality and tasteful dollops of symphonic flourishes. Simply put, this is not your typical black metal debut, especially from a band with no label behind them. This trio from Denver has impressed me with compelling song arrangements, excellent performances, and a solid mix that belies Shurpu’s DR score. There’s a maturity in the writing that will serve the band well in future releases. This is Huck N Roll-approved black metal. 3.5/5.0

Treble Yell – At the risk of invoking Betteridge’s law of headlines, allow me to pose this question to you: Does the idea of a black metal album taking heavy cues from Alien-era Strapping Young Lad, Nile and early Arcturus have you slavering like a starving dog? If the answer is “yes” then start licking those chops as Shurpu by Sar Isatum is a plump little rabbit. Black metal hallmarks such as wiry chords, agitated percussion and raspy vocals are all present and accounted for but it’s the manic-yet-elastic riffs and metronomic double-kick in tracks like “Chenoo” and “Vanaspati” that reminds me of Messrs Simon and Holglan of SYL-fame. Other times a sense of quasi-Middle Eastern mysticism burbles to the surface on “Black Gate” and “Gormandizer” that channels Nile and Arcturus respectively. Shurpu is tight, focused and wastes little time on self-indulgent fat. Parallels to Cradle of Filth can be heard in pockets but meaner and stripped of the theatrics that the Brits are infamous for. The songs don’t always reach escape velocity and the production is squashed to the point of agony but there’s much here that merits a healthy recommendation. A pleasant surprise. 3.5/5.0

Dr. Wrvm – Leave it to the rodeo to serve up a head-turner just when I need two seconds off. Despite repeated protests that “this is a metal-free honeymoon,” Sar Isatum undermined my post-nuptial bliss faster than you can say “3am kimchi farts.” Debut effort Shurpu barrels through decimating riffs and devilish atmosphere at a whirlwind pace bent on compressing the record’s already compact 36 minutes into grindcore status. Symphonic textures imbue a sense of variety to quality change-ups like “Black Gate” and “Gormandizer,” but at its finest, Sharpu rides on the backs of its rippers. The blistering “Chenoo” crams ears down throats from its first bar, while the tongue-lashing savagery of vocalist Demonthi rakes the torturous lashes of “Vanaspati” across the backs of the now-broken. The record breaks no new ground, but buoyed by commanding performances and an understanding of pace and depth that easily best the average black debut, Sar Isatum produce a bonafide winner. 3.5/5.0

Master ov Muppets – Remember how awesome Dimmu Borgir were, up to roughly In Sorte Diaboli? Yeah, I ‘member, and apparently Sar Isatum do, too. These lads dole out black metal riffs in that diabolical vein for days and keep the orchestral elements dialed down to 10%, a Muppet-approved move which augments passages appropriately without miring the darkness in dairy. The vocals haunt the sonic territory between Dimmu and Amestigon, and the instruments more than match the hateful intensity of the shrieks and screams. There may be nothing particularly groundbreaking here, and I’m not convinced there’s a bassist in the mix, but the strength of this first stab is such that these issues are all but irrelevant. With the bones of their idols, these young Denver nuggets have built a black metal debut for all tid time, a (serpentine) offering of trve goodness sure to incite nothing shy of euphoria for you puritanical blackened misanthropes.

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