Get your shitkickers on and nightlights ‘n Prozac at the ready, yo, today we’re going somewhere filthy and utterly devoid of light or joy. France’s Atavisma will be dragging us pleasantly by the throat through a subterranean and sinister network ov nightmares which they call The Chthonic Rituals. I’m just here to narrate the whole ordeal and giggle as you lot wail and bump into each other in the dark. You’ll find out for yourself just how much life lurks within these shadows — and whether or not any of it’s lethal — but one malignant trvth will shine in every corner of this dark: there will be no happiness here.
The Chthonic Rituals is a dark collection of music: 8 tracks of grim ‘n grimy death metal whose sole purpose of existence is pummeling the joy out of you. Atavisma utilize melody and atmospherics to equal malignant effect, alternating between cold and eerily quiet coils of Convulse calm and insidious Incantation riffs for roughly fifty minutes. This feral fluidity is the lifeblood of The Chthonic Rituals; listeners are routinely treated to seizure-inducing levels of cacophony à la fellow countrymen Deathspell Omega and subsequently treated for the resultant psychosis with unsettling tranquil respite, only to be immediately re-pulverized upon recovery. This tug-of-war against the audience’s sanity ensures that every moment of Rituals feels like it’s propelling the whole hellacious thing forward. Even the obligatory instrumental opener “Chthonic” has teeth, and the flow of this fetid foray into the foulest of songs is downright unfuckwithable.
In many ways, The Chthonic Rituals feels like a superior version of Abstracter‘s Cinereous Incarnate. Where that album lolled about in a fog of sludge and listless atmospheres, Atavisma strive to maintain a more balanced approach. The charred fruit of their labors yields a more engaging and rewarding bounty unto this debut effort than some of the scene’s staple acts. “Monoliths” is a simmering thing of obsidian malice that one could almost mistake for an undiscovered Convulse gem, instrumentally speaking. Likewise, closer “A Subterranean Life” will take listeners who were underwhelmed by Cinereous Incarnate straight to the death-doom mountaintop. The guitars lurk a touch further back in the mix than one might expect, and this move allows the stringed offerings to blend, rather than compete. The bass could certainly be allowed to stand out or explore more, yet the absence of life’s impact on the low end is rendered minimal by the rest of the band’s cohesive strength. When “Sacrifice Unto Babalon” reaches its violent death metal culmination after weaving its way through sludge and doom misery, the payout sounds so massive that adding any more levels to it would essentially be a needless and likely futile endeavor.
As the predictable puppet that I am, you precious peeps are probably preparing yoselves for me to shit on the as-of-yet undiscussed vocals. Well, the joke’s on you, fvckers, because there are no vocals here! Sure, someone/something known only as L gurgles and grunts some trvly myopic lyrics throughout the turmoil, but such is their diminished presence in the mix that it hardly seems appropriate to equate his performance to the traditional role of vocalist. Screams and such exist almost as accentuating instrumentals on this album, with Incantationy Nathan Explosions serving to strengthen the music from within itself as opposed to doing his thing on top of it all. Thanks to this interesting approach, much of The Chthonic Rituals plays like an instrumental album, except for the fact that this stuff is actually interesting. No molds were broken in the making of this album, and I don’t profess this to a list-breaker by any means, yet fans of cavernous death metal are likely to find more than a few nuggets of wretched gold in the depths of this French filth.
“Interesting” in death metal is becoming a rarity for me as my Muppet tooth grows long and I unwillingly enjoy of deep cynicism. Yet here I am, dancing in the dark with Atavisma instead of crying about the little world of death metal falling apart. From the slithering Incantations of “Extraneous Abysmal Knowledge” to the partially Ulcerated “A Subterranean Life”, this is some interesting stuff indeed. The Chthonic Rituals is an expedition into the darkest, dirtiest depths of death metal, lit by murderous riffs and smoldering ambient piles of burning optimism. Anyone feeling let down by Cinereous Incarnate would do well to take that journey.