I imagine that some — alright, most — of you are only here to check what the actual fuck is going on with this album title. And if I wasn’t writing this review, I’d be right there — here — with you. There is no getting away from the fact that *dʰg̑ʰm̥tós looks like I just face planted on the keyboard. So, first things first, let me explain. As much as I can.1 Arkhaaik have, for reasons best known to them, decided to write and perform this in proto-Indo-European (PIE). The PIE tongue, last spoken several thousand years BC, remains only partially reconstructed. And this, according to my extensive Wikipedia research, at least explains the asterisks, which are used to mark reconstructed words. What’s that? Enough linguistic history? Well, there’s more but, if you’re sure. The thing is, I actually now know more about PIE than I do about Arkhaaik, who hail from Zürich, Switzerland. I believe them to be a three-piece, comprising M., K., and V. And that’s about all I got for you.
Well, now that we’ve covered that, perhaps we should discuss the sepulchral doom sludge that presents itself on *dʰg̑ʰm̥tós. What Arkhaaik offer is quite hard to define and, for once, the promo blurb may actually be the most accurate take available. This bills Arkhaaik‘s debut as “the excavation of rites long forgotten, of primitive worship and ancient deities that ruled long before man dominated …” Close your eyes for a moment and try to picture what that might sound like. And there, you’ve now listened to *dʰg̑ʰm̥tós, congratulations. In three tracks, spread over 33 minutes, Arkhaaik deploy sparse, pounding drums, and numerous other percussion “devices;” horns and bells; something that sounds suspiciously like a tambourine; howled, chanted, and grunted vocals; and, yes, even a guitar. The title track is the most overtly ritualistic, and least metal, of what’s on offer here, mesmerizing percussion, horns and plaintive, chanted vocals.
Although I imagine that Arkhaaik view “u̯iHrós i̯émos-kʷe” as the centerpiece of this record, given it takes up half the run-time, the highlight is the album closer “u̯rsn̥gwhé̄n.” Still incorporating the primordial, bestial feel that makes up the rest of the album, Arkhaaik briefly impersonate a metal band on “u̯rsn̥gwhé̄n,” actually allowing a riff to slip out, and it’s a good riff too, with a churning, blackened-death groove to it. Indeed, it’s the sort of thing you might get if you crossed In Their Darkened Shrines-era Nile with Unearthly Trance. And if you think that sounds like a good thing, you’re right: it is. “u̯rsn̥gwhé̄n” is a stonking track, with the roared, guttural vocals complementing the filthy riffs and mighty percussion perfectly. And if the rest of *dʰg̑ʰm̥tós were along the same lines, then this record would be scoring very highly indeed.
But, it isn’t. On the title track, as I’ve said, Arkhaaik have gone full sepulchral ritual, while “u̯iHrós i̯émos-kʷe” sits somewhere between the two. Clocking in at 16 minutes precisely, it switches between rather forgettable funereal doom, a rumbling bass-heavy death metal groove (which I like a lot), all interspersed with the archaic chanting, bells, and horns. Overall, this feels like three or four different songs rolled into one for no obvious reason. Take away the meandering, directionless feel and the components are strong. The production gives Arkhaaik an appropriately cavernous (as in, played in a cave) sound, with mountains of reverb and echo, pushing the drums, other percussion, and bass to the fore. It doesn’t sound “good” exactly, but it does sound “right” for what Arkhaaik are trying to deliver. And what they are trying to deliver sounds like a covers band comprising members of Unearthly Trance and Sunn O))) playing numbers from Tomahawk‘s Anonymous and Sepultura‘s Roots.
Why they are trying to deliver this is another question entirely, and not one I feel qualified to answer. I’m torn as to what I make of *dʰg̑ʰm̥tós. On the one hand, I respect the fact these Swiss are trying to deliver something genuinely different and into which an enormous amount of work must have gone. Similarly, when Arkhaaik kick into gear on “u̯rsn̥gwhé̄n” and parts of “u̯iHrós i̯émos-kʷe,” I love what they do. But, for all that, this debut feels unfocused and as though Arkhaaik have not yet figured out how to properly meld their ritual cult stuff with the more metal elements. *dʰg̑ʰm̥tós sees the two kept largely separate. When they figure that out, we could be in for a real treat. For now, approach but do so with caution.
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Iron Bonehead Productions
Website: Too kvlt
Releases Worldwide: July 5th, 2019