Burial in the Sky – The Consumed Self Review

In my travels I have run across a handful of large nocturnal birds, and when I do so I am sure to ask them who their favorite Pennsylvania-based progressive death metal band is. As any fan of the genre would expect, they invariably give the same reply: Alustrium. Wise, indeed, but their distant, diurnal relatives have keyed me in to a different group who slake their hunger: Philadelphia’s Burial in the Sky. Their last record, Creatio et Hominus, was pretty lean. The record approached the genre with emphasis on the progressive adjective rather than the death metal core, pulling together bits and pieces of the work of genre forbears and prog-rock royalty. The ambition was there, but the band’s performances and product were sorely lacking; Creatio et Hominus did not leave me excited for the band’s future, and thus I approached The Consumed Self with reluctance.

That reluctance evaporated in the first few minutes of The Consumed Self. Burial in the Sky are twice the band they were three years ago and the members sound like pros; Jorel Hart’s growls are varied and well-mixed, Sam Stewart’s drums are tight and torrential, and James Tomendi can finally let loose some killer riffs. “An Orphaned City” leads with death metal and establishes the band’s collective level-up with ease, boldened by a professional production job. A quick bridge spotlights bassist Zach Strouse’s saxophone, and in the course of three and a half minutes, Burial in the Sky far escape the shadow of past material. Still speeding forward, “On Wings of Providence” sets a high bar for the rest of the A-side. A sung chorus, retched verse, and frequent vocal interplay between Hart and the string-slingers1 provide the narrative dynamism that Creatio et Dominus so desperately lacked. It’s all caught in a storm of melodic but menacing riffing that breaks for a captivating solo section where Tomendi spills out the same expressive fret-work that saved their last record from total ruin. Songs like this are what Burial in the Sky, and progressive death metal in general, really have to offer listeners – ambitious, dramatic, and dynamic music that lights up the reptilian and mammalian brains in equal incandescence.

But it’s the back half of The Consumed Self that’s most impressive. From “Mountains Pt. 1 To Ascend” to “Anatomy of Us,” Burial in the Sky never falter. I’ve before referred to the band “Rivers of Nihil with riffs,” and that’s especially evident on this four-song stretch, where catchy guitar-work grounds ambitious prog homages. Tomendi goes full-Gilmour on “Mountains Pt. 2 Empathy,” backing a sultry sax that leads the band into a Santana-esque chill where Tomendi and Strouse trade leads. Paired with the Fallujah-influenced atmospherics of the next four minutes, these make an easy album highlight that ends with a delicate plea. Closer “The Anatomy of Us” pushes the bar further, with a Division Bell-era Pink Floyd intro and a brief spot for a live brass choir and strings late in the song. It’s not as successful as the “Mountains” duo, but the record still ends on a strength.

The Consumed Self is the product of a completely revitalized Burial in the Sky, a band far more capable and confident than they were three years ago. The triple-vocal tracking, tight riffing, and newfound speed are welcome developments, making the record a must-hear for progressive death metal fans, on par with Alustrium’s latest LP. But The Consumed Self is not by any means perfect; I want more personality from Stewart’s too-straightforward drumming, a bit more ambition from Tomendi’s languid sax work, and better integration of the band’s dozen guest musicians into the record as a whole. I’d also welcome a lighter hand on the production. The work here is an overcorrection from the rather underproduced Creatio, Unique-Leader glossy and squelched down to a tiring DR4 that results in quite audible clipping at times2. While it’s no The Flesh Prevails, this brickwalling detracts from the impact of a record that grounds its songs in contrast and creativity.

Burial in the Sky aren’t yet a sure bet for quality progressive death metal, but The Consumed Self has completely reversed my estimation of the band. They’re operating close to the space of Inanimate Existence, Rivers of Nihil, and even Beyond Creation, but despite the crowded field, they now stick out to me as a band capable of writing a uniquely successful modern prog-death record. The Consumed Self comes close to being that, and I hope to soon hear a follow-up that is.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 4 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Rising Nemesis Records
Websites: burialinthesky.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/burialinthesky
Releases Worldwide: August 13th, 2021

Show 2 footnotes

  1. New guitarist brad Hettinger lends his voice to this record along with Tomendi and Strouse.
  2. See 4:06 in “On Wings of Providence
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