In a genre saturated by monotony and filler, Bull of Apis Bull of Bronze offers “ritual occult black metal from the mountains” in their surprisingly fresh debut. To be sure, they aren’t the first band to put ambiance into their second-wave black metal—nor will they be the last. The enigmatic Colorado trio sports a dark and punishing take on blackened arts that feels familiar, but simply works. Offerings of Flesh and Gold blends ritual ambiance, drone, and even aspects of dungeon synth with black metal, and I don’t know if it’s my latest fascination with enigmatic black metal projects like Death. Void. Terror. or Ancient Moon, but this debut hits the sweet spot.

Offerings of Flesh and Gold sounds ritualistic and primal, hinting at the orders and cults older than humankind, but their message is anything but implicit: “Bull of Apis Bull of Bronze are aggressively antifascist, antihierarchy, and anticapitalist. They are for the downtrodden and the disenfranchised.” While their bellicose themes are executed in poetic and strangely beautiful lyrics, their music boils with anxiety and bleeds fury. Opening track “O! A Smile of Blood!” is the most blackened of the bunch, chaotic and demented, while using atmosphere and doom as flourishes. Meanwhile, “What Awaits Us (A Void Is But An Open Mouth)” is the most subtle and ritualistic, opting for a backbone of eerie plucking upon which tribal percussion, doom riffs, and cacophonous vocals are built. The final 22-minute epic, “Bull of Apis Bull of Bronze,” marries the furious and sinister in blasphemous matrimony with a tidal rise and fall dynamic structure, a climactic chanted passage over thunderous doom riffs proving to be the most challenging of the disc.

Overall, Offerings of Flesh and Gold is incredibly scattershot. From frantic and chaotic black metal blastbeats like fellow Colorado natives Bestia Arcana, spoken word passages of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, drone backdrop and vocal varieties of Blut aus Nord, blackened doom riffs of The Ruins of Beverast, and the reverent presence of the real Batushka. While it has the potential to be a clusterfuck of headache-inducing proportions, it’s executed wonderfully, thanks to the band’s priority of dynamics and transitions. Passages are seamlessly stitched together using tasteful tricks: the emphatic snare downbeats prefacing furious black metal passages in tracks one and three; the subtle plucking rising in volume and distortion to raw Goatmoon tremolo in track three; the slow burn of track two’s various tribal components; and as a whole, the organic fadeouts layered with ambiance.

On paper, Bull of Apis Bull of Bronze should just be another ambient black metal band, but they are a sweet, sweet baby of some of the decade’s best-blackened offerings. While tragically underrated, Offerings of Flesh and Gold is a lovely fusion of sounds ancient and modern, offering furious black tremolos and riffs, doom percussion, hypnotic repetition, and unhinged vocals, all drenched in cold waves of ambiance and noise. It seems a doozy at three tracks and 47 minutes, but there never feels like a moment of filler, resulting in a surprisingly accessible listen. Mark this one down as one of the year’s most surprising.

Tracks to Check Out: All three of ’em.