Addition, subtraction, so much of metal involves the bolting-on and prying-off of countless sub-genres. Musicians and critics often fall into the trap of viewing music less as an expression of fertile creativity and more like a chest of drawers awaiting assembly. Start with a death metal base, insert black metal vocals into socket B, affix progressive chords perpendicular to the shelves… wait, we’re missing two slats and I’ve stripped a screw. Billed as a melding of tech death, black, and thrash, Omnipotence – The Infinite Darkness by Toronto natives Astaroth Incarnate had the cynic in me guessing the end-result without listening to a single note. I had a conclusion in mind formed via musical arithmetic, a simple case of mashing the influences together to codify a foregone rejoinder. Jaded and weary, I expect no surprises. Astaroth Incarnate beg to differ.
One thing I’ve learned during my tenure as a critic is to sublimate any stimuli-related emotion when spinning a record for the first time. It’s too easy to get whipped into a giddy lather only to then be let down when the smooth façade gives way to blemishes after a prolonged engagement1. Insight requires objectivity, but even with my blind spots accounted for I found it difficult to smother the grin splitting my face once Omnipotence – The Infinite Darkness began in earnest. “Curse of the Black Plague” is a gregarious rib-crusher, a bear-hug bulging with tumbling drum fills, blast beats and down-shifted groove-tinged death riffs. It’s a likable track that encourages you to sling one arm over its shoulder and buy it a drink-or-three, especially as the remainder of the song bounces between the angular leads of At the Gates and the water-tight chords encountered on an Arch Enemy record.
Better yet is “Sanctum of Torment,” a song that takes the fight directly to Amon Amarth with its infinity-loop leads that cruise over head-bang-demanding chords. And the solos, my word, they are so good it makes me wish I could hang them on my living room wall to entertain visiting dignitaries. Suffice it to say, Omnipotence – The Infinite Darkness makes an excellent first impression. Considering I expected a fairly staid amalgamation between the various death, black, and thrash elements, I was taken aback by how agreeable I found the overall rendition, even if it wasn’t burdened by too much originality. On a tech-infused album, it would be easy to heap praise solely at the feet of the musicians, but some accolade should be reserved for vocalist Astaroth, whose guttural expulsions, piercing shrieks and barked suppurations in the vein of Dani Filth and Jason Mendonca fits the music like a stud-ridden glove.
My unbridled enthusiasm faltered, at least for a spell, the more I listened to the album as I began to notice that in between the moments of breath-taking virtuosity were humdrum sections that ambled along with a measure of indifference. I was deaf to those laboured chords until my inner-critic cleared its throat to remind me I had a job to do beyond mindless cheerleading. This empirical detachment proved deflating, at least until I spun the record a handful more times. What I came to realize was that my disappointment stemmed from my initial glee fooling me into thinking that every bar on the album was an out-and-out success when in reality the exceptional parts, like on most releases, were dispersed over a wide area. With this newfound knowledge, I regained an appreciation of Omnipotence – The Infinite Darkness, only this time it was tempered by experience. I note with some amusement that my traversal from ignorance to illumination mirrors that of the “four stages of competence” and the “Johari window.”
While every second of Omnipotence – The Infinite Darkness may not cover itself in glory, on balance I find that it makes for a pretty easy recommendation. Comprised of five tracks that total 33-minutes, it’s not a particularly long record (and the first track is an atmospheric intro)2 but the white-hot musicianship just encourages you to stab the “play” button again after the last track ends. Astaroth Incarnate do well to rise above their genre trappings, proving they’re more than just a predictable melding of styles. I can only imagine they’ll improve their craft on future releases and produce an album where my tumescent rapture never withers.