With the dawn of a new year and all the changes that come with it, sometimes it’s good to keep in mind the things that stay the same. That is: Judge Judy will always provide excellent daytime television. The “cockroach mosh” video will never not be funny. And Hells Headbangers will continue to deliver a seemingly endless supply of barbaric extreme metal pulled from countries I’m only familiar with thanks to National Geographic. Today’s example: Communion, a Chilean trio whose “mystique” and “staunchly DIY” philosophy are supported by the impressive collection of demos and other independent releases they’ve put out since their 2008 formation. In fact, while The Communion is listed as the band’s sophomore album, it’s actually being released simultaneously with their debut, and supposedly these scene veterans already have two other records in the pipeline. Of course, quantity does not always equal quality, and at first glance, many of us are probably expecting a half-assed Profanatica clone that’s about as exciting as a three hour Sunday church service.
Fortunately, that’s not the case, and these Santiago natives actually have far more in their goblet than first meets the eye. Though labeled as black metal, Communion eschews relentless blastbeats and nonstop tremolo riffing for a strong old school thrash and heavy metal influence, not unlike Urn’s 666 Megatons or last year’s Bloodlust album. At the same time, the driving rhythms and occasional “epic” flair of the guitars make me hesitate to lump this in with blackened-thrash. Instead, Communion’s 33 minutes sound more like a mix of a supercharged Venom and the more grandiose moments of Deströyer 666. Put another way: on a scale of “1” to “metal,” this album is the equivalent of chugging a quart of mercury while the spirit of Lemmy Kilmister brands the Motörhead logo on your ass.
How so? It’s the riffs, my dear friend, and boy do Communion offer them in spades. First proper track “Glorify the Dark” features an explosive verse riff that sounds like a 666 megawatt version of Ride the Lightning, while closer “Bloody Butcher” erupts into a progression that sounds like what would happen if the kids from Exodus’s Bonded by Blood decided to brutally eviscerate each other while randomly shooting flamethrowers in the air. Likewise, after the molten tremolos of “Crush the Atheism,”1 follow-up “Embrace Cruelty’s Flame” scratches just the right itch by opening with a staccato thrash break that strikes like an iron fist to the grundel.
This knack for delivering the right idea at the right time reveals itself again in penultimate track “Funeral of Mercy,” which is almost entirely instrumental and — though featuring the same pounding tempos and smoldering guitars as the other tracks — feels bleaker and more atmospheric as a result. Production-wise, Communion succeeds again with its scorching mix and a fiery guitar tone that’s ragged, powerful, and imbued with a delightfully classic feel. The pummeling drums are also a treat, as is the garbled demonic rasp of vocalist and bassist ‘Deathmessiah.’
Yet while the songwriting is generally strong and it’s cool the way these riffs sometimes morph from crunchy chords into swooping tremolos, overall it does feel a bit one-dimensional by album’s end. By far the worst culprit is the late-album track “Fire Worship,” whose main riff has the triple misfortune of being generic, overplayed, and sounding almost identical to a riff from previous track “Witching Thrust.” Likewise, despite the guitar solos having a nice squawky melody about them, they seem put in just for variety’s sake and quite literally all sound the same.
That said, while The Communion isn’t perfect, it’s still a damn good album. For the most part these riffs are excellent, with nearly all of the seven proper tracks delivering one great idea after the next. This is the type of record where repeat listens leave you grinning from ear to ear as you think to yourself “Oh yeah, I remember this part, this part kicks ass!” Adding to it, the bizarre religious slant of the lyrics is intriguing, the performances are tight and professional, and the record’s sheer propulsive force makes it stand out in a genre that’s as crowded as any these days. Fans of Possession’s debut or anyone interested in some truly rollicking black metal would do well to accept this Communion into their lives.