Eldritch Elitist recently
jacked my idea posed a interesting question about heaviness’ place as a black metal descriptor. A similar thought had ping-ponged around my skull, though framed from a different angle. Weight or atmosphere; it’s black metal’s proxy war for form vs. function. Atmosphere is paramount for Finland’s Devouring Star, but the weight inherent in The Arteries of Heresy may be more important. Debut Through Heart and Lung caught my eye in 2015 with heavy-handed dissonance and the makings of something great but in need of a refined approach to the jolly cooperation between atmospheric ethos and riff-mongering showmanship. The Arteries of Heresy steps out of the darkness to fulfill that promise.
“Consummation” starts on an extended atmo-bent, kicking rocks in the graveyard with all the cool kids, but when it’s time to show up, Devouring Star cleans up good. The proceedings are massive. Arteries’ characteristic devastation is on display, adding an irreversible (and irresistible) flattening to the music—and your skull. In these moments, the record plays more like a block-headed death metal slab than the trve might care to admit. But black metal it is, and grade 666 shit at that. Our anonymous master’s hideous growls return, new and emboldened in a revamped production. They’ve evolved from worthy compatriot to threatening maw and would swallow the other instruments if unchecked. The hornet’s nest of guitars fends off this encroachment both with riffing far less dissonant than before—yet no more conventional—and a tireless devotion to an air choked through with volcanic ash. With a tempered rhythm section to glue everything together, the result punches through walls and slithers under door cracks, its blood-flecked fangs yielding to no obstacle.1
Arteries may be heavy, almost oppressive at times, but Devouring Star ensures permeability as well. The run time melts away without thinking about it. With only five tracks spanning under forty minutes, repeat listens flow smoothly without the weight of the music bogging them down. It’s easy to sink into the record, to be whisked away by the drones of “Her Divine Arteries” or the annihilating “Scar Inscription.” Yet at times, there’s issues when trying to differentiate between individual tracks. Packing THaL’s gap-toothed layers good and tight burned off much of Devouring Star’s ability to spotlight performances. Individual instruments don’t leap off the page as before, which was a byproduct of a loose production that let the whole grapevine hang out. Arteries’ emphasis on a solid package does away with this ease of use. It’s never a huge problem, but “Procreation of Blood” would benefit from some more space.
However, our devouring superstar did select the right production for the rhythm section. Their last album’s style felt out of sync with Devouring Star’s particular brand of pummeling, and especially in that area. That vastly improves here—where the drums were too upfront and the axe tones odd and occasionally off-putting, everything now feels natural. Unfortunately, this trade-off de-fangs the cymbal bashes that stood out so well last time and robs the drums of true definition much of the time. They still bash brains out, as on the magnificent “Sin Assimilation,” but not as brightly as they might have with a happier middle ground.
The closing passage of “Her Divine Arteries” distills the best of Arteries into its most plainly effective. Head-banging might; memorability and monotony; a smooth balance of weight and ambiance; its everything you want in this track, in this album, in future albums to come. This combination of effort and effortlessness eschews the need for a safe word; you can only want more, no matter how much it hurts. I didn’t expect much from Devouring Star, to be frank, at least not this soon. But with The Arteries of Heresy, Devouring Star establishes its formula and defines itself as the master of it. Now all that’s left, as they say, is the doing.