Asystole – Siren to Blight Review

New York certainly produces some tasty, technical, twisted music. Home to glittering Artificial Brain, soundscape-warping Pyrrhon, and jazzy Imperial Triumphant, among others.  Asystole follow in the footsteps of this pedigree in both origin and sound with hyper-dissonant death metal that grabs some of the harsher elements of black metal and grind along the way. In fact, if you’ve been experiencing a void in your life since Abscess Time, or Artificial Brain, Siren to Blight may help fill that void. This debut has crawled seemingly from nowhere out of the city that never sleeps but is as assured and involved as though it belonged to an established band’s mid-career. Perhaps it helps that several members have experience from Thaetas, Replicant, and elsewhere. It definitely helps that Colin Marston—behind a plethora of death and black metal albums—mixed and mastered this. What results is ugly, strange, and heavier than the Empire State Building. But therein lies its beauty.

In a sphere where inaccessibility is so prevalent as to become an almost tautological predicate, Siren to Blight is at about the average level of difficulty to parse. Rhythmic and riff-based patterns will recur and solidify into cogent structures, but the sinews and muscles that stitch the skeleton together are clustered and distorted, and about as normally arranged into a body as all that suspicious fleshy-looking substance strewn about the album’s cover. Eschewing harmony in favor of jarring discordance and stomach-churning slides, squeals, and pinches, this is not for the faint-hearted. Aside from a (mostly) acoustic forty-eight seconds of literal “Respite”—which really is no less unsettling—the record assaults with its brutality and distortion, and even its harsh, despairing lyrics, relentlessly and inexorably.

What’s particularly gripping about Siren to Blight is its uncanny ability to get under your skin. There’s something frightening about the way that squealing guitar lines will rise up or descend, and then disappear (“Blanketed in Flies,” “Hollow Penance” ). And when they approach true melody for just a moment with wailing, almost melancholic intensity (“Privatio Malus,” “Spirit Mother,”), they’re still more unnerving. There’s quite a lot discomfiting about the restless rhythms that jerkily play games of stop-start (“Blanketed in Flies,” “Song of Subservient Bliss,” Privatio Malus”) and speed (“Sophist Paralysis,” “Sprit Mother”). Drummer James Applegate also works behind the kit for Replicant1, and he brings a similar twisted precision as he did on Malignant Reality to his percussion here. The lurching tempos and hostile guitar hit with redoubled density thanks to the prominent bass mirroring the eerie guitar on the low end. Particularly creepy bass lines (“Song of Subservient Bliss,” “Privatio Malus”) work as effective counterbalances to the anxiety of the piercing, jerking highs, creating paradoxically satisfying tension. The odd echoing guitar or growl (“Blanketed…,” “Song…,” “Privatio Malus”) inject just that little bit of atmosphere that only further intensifies the experience.

With music like this, it is never one element, but rather all of them in concert that both crystallizes the aura and separates the great from the good. Asystole demonstrates their ability to craft truly mesmerizing dissonant compositions, even as they twist and turn manically from beat to beat. “Privatio Malus” and “Song…” are probably the highlights and the former is even a contender for SoTY. The band’s frequent slides into the blackened end of their influence, result in brilliantly dizzying assaults (“Hollow Penance,” “Spirit Mother”), and the consistent dynamism and inventiveness is thrilling. What makes all this even better is how songs nonetheless cohere, with subtle unique flavors, and recurring rhythmic refrains. Moreover, at twenty-nine minutes, Siren to Blight is brief enough not to overwhelm. Though perhaps it is not quite long enough to totally satisfy. The production, for aforementioned reasons, is obviously impeccable, allowing music that could easily end up as a garbled mess to sound sharp and enveloping. It’s arguable that there’s a quiet sense of the unfocused lurking in the music’s aggressively restless and spikey approach, but as my listens rack up, it makes more and more sense. Perhaps time will see Asystole lean into one of their many angles.

The more I listen to Siren to Blight, the less I can deny its potency. It is nightmarish but mesmerizing, and should rightfully place Asystole firmly on the map of modern death metal. With little to criticize, this is a must-listen for any fans of the dissonant and extreme.

Rating: Great
DR:  10 | Media Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
I, Voidhanger Records
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Releases WorldwideApril 7th, 2023

Show 1 footnote

  1. And Windfaerer, incidentally, which is a very different vibe.
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