Devangelic – Ersetu Review

The concept album does not translate well to death metal. That’s not to say bands can’t pull it off, but the mangled vocals and chaotic nature of the genre work against attempts to tell a story across the length of a record. Most of the more successful death metal concept albums take musical cues from progressive rock—distinctive melodies, varied pacing, and tamed growls get the point across. Devangelic rally against this, writing concept albums that contain none of that. Their last record, Phlegethon, was inspired by Dante’s Inferno, and their new one, Ersetu is “based on the Annunaki’s myth… the theory of creation through the alien DNA, human slavery and the legend of the great serpent (the Knower) as the emblem of Enki and of two of his sons, Ningishzidda and Marduk.” The two are nearly indistinguishable.

Devangelic’s incessant style is as confrontational as they come. Ersetu is built on a backbone of fast, nasty, rhythm riffs that the band occasionally interrupt with a quick tag or downplayed slam. Like in Phlegethon, the rhythm riffing relies on palm-muted pairs of sixteenth notes moving in a chromatic random walk. That nasty, propulsive style can bore through solid rock in small doses like song intros and outros, but when sustained it’s more likely to bore you to tears. For Ersetu to work, Devangelic would need to space that riffing out with actual ideas. “Sigils of Fallen Abominations” packs in the greatest density of these; cut-time riffs, power-chord breaks, a ringing Plebeian Grandstand lead, a gong, some wailing, a short solo, it’s all there. None of it really makes sense in sequence or builds to anything, and we’re back to the sixteenth note pairs as soon as the song ends.

Ersetu lacks pace and direction. I’ve listened to it dozens of times and still can’t predict what’s coming next in any song. If I start the album at a random point, I am utterly baffled as to which song I’m listening to or even whether I’m close to the beginning or end of the album. And that’s only positional information. What of Marduk and Enki? What of the great serpent? Have the aliens bioengineered humans yet? Can I survive a nuclear blast by hiding in a refrigerator? These questions and more are irrelevant to all but the lyric sheet, which I don’t have and am not inspired to read anyway. Wormed albums might have impenetrable plots and lyrics that are indecipherable even with the sheet in hand, but at least you get the idea that something different is happening in every song, and the band’s sci-fi concepts are reflected in their production choices. The riffs and tones of Ersetu never suggest a theme beyond the first and last thirty seconds of the record, and the rest of the nods to Indiana-Jones-temple settings come via sound bites.

If I let go of any critical impulse and just let the uninterrupted brutality of Ersetu wash over me, it’s almost enjoyable. The record sounds brutal as hell and the band are always in motion, even if they never seem to have a destination or recollection of past steps. I can catch a few rewarding moments, like the slam in “Vomiting the Infected,” but anything more than passive listening is an absolute chore. I’m constantly annoyed by hearing the band default to the same rhythm riff and the same blast beat, and when they can restrain themselves for a minute or so they offer nothing memorable.

A charitable interpretation of Ersetu understands the album as an exploration of variations and interruptions on a single generating riff. My perhaps more realistic take is that it is merely a sequence of variations and interruptions on that riff. Most of Ersetu sounds like the dadabots version of itself, a generator of disconnected brutal death metal syllables that appear and then fall back to this rhythm riff ground state. If the record was meant only to be a chaotic piece of art, it would succeed in its goal despite being a bore to listen to—but the band bill it as an aliens & ziggurats concept album! How listeners could divine that Ersetu is a concept album—let alone what that concept is—completely eludes me. It’s just another Devagelic album that fails to musically engage with both its concept and its listeners.


Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Willowtip Records
Websites: devangelic.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/devangelic
Releases Worldwide:
May 15th, 2020

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