The iterative nature of the music business provides opportunities for bands to trial and refine their music through staggered releases. A song can be offered as a rough draft of a demo, tweaked and improved on an EP, and finalized for an appearance on the subsequent full-length album. Ideally, this allows the band to pique the curiosity of listeners early with the hope that they’ll stick around for the final release. The danger with this approach is that people tend to make snap-judgments. So, if your course track fails to impress then there’s little chance that individuals will return to see how the definitive version fares. Back in 2016, Italy’s ghoulish Demonomancy released a split EP with Finland’s Witchcraft that was one of the first releases that I tackled as a scribe for the site. While the split didn’t have me feting either act I still wrangled a fair measure of enjoyment out of it, enough at least to warrant a closer look at Demonomancy’s new album, Poisoned Atonement. As it so happens, Poisoned Atonement shares a track with the preceding EP and with it offers an opportunity to see just whether the band has improved, stagnated or backslid into mediocrity.
In my review of Demonomancy’s previous EP, I talked about the pervasive ugliness of the music, of the execution of an atmosphere rank with decay. Poisoned Atonement doesn’t stray far from the script, giving you the fetid malevolence one expects from a blackened death album. There’s incessant blast beats and bestial belching but nestled among the tendrils of ichor there’s an undercurrent of energy and demure playfulness that belies the conflagration. Part of this can be ascribed to the clever shifts in tempo and tone, most notable on “Archaic Remnants of the Numinous,” a track that appeared on the band’s earlier EP. Still made up of parts from Celtic Frost and Carpathian Forest, “Archaic…” is a dirty rambler that justifies it’s generous running time with smart song writing and a head bang-inducing rhythm section that prevents the music from drying up. It remains similar to its previous incarnation save for a truncated intro and a cleaner execution. Refinement, but not to the detriment of the core corrosion.
“Fathomless Region of Total Eclipse” is another example of Demonomancy scaling back on unvarnished terror in favor of measured experimentation, with a rolling opening of taut percussion similar to “Block” by Machine Head and later opting to drop the rhythm guitar out for a pulsing drum-and-bass refrain. I mention the drums and it should be noted that they are the standout element of the album, alive and underscored by mischievous glee and good enough to save otherwise pedestrian tracks. Credit to Herald of the Outer Realms, a name that no doubt causes consternation to baristas trying to scribble it on the lid of a coffee cup.
But percussion alone can’t staunch mundanity and here it flows in too many streams. When the band isn’t displaying creative flourishes the default output is a vituperative assault of proto-Sepultura bullets ‘n’ leather, an exhausting, flat persistence that makes sections of Poisoned Atonement a chore to swallow. Leads are well executed and are a welcome diversion from the drearier sections but having them sidelined for most of the album’s running time is a baffling choice. Speaking of ill-advised choices, the production is less than desirable, mixing the instruments in such a way that transient edges are blurred, blunting the potency of the music. Worse still is the decision to drench the vocals in toothless reverb, a retrograde affectation that should stay buried in the past.
In the realm of software developers and tech companies, there’s a term known as “stickiness” that defines user retention over time. This metric is used to gauge how platforms are not only adding users but keeping them over the long haul. Demonomancy did just enough on their previous EP to make me interested to see how a full-length album would turn out and while there are a number of sharp, inventive tracks on Poisoned Atonement, the band fails to produce a record that’s enjoyable through-and-through. I can only hope that Demonomancy spend the time to ameliorate their sound and inculcate their flair in every track they produce because if not they will struggle to stay sticky and ultimately, relevant.