Instead of my usual modus operandi of writing something about food and/or beer and relating it to the band and/or record in question, I’m switching things up a bit and kicking this off with mentioning my biggest issue with American melodic black-ish/death-ish crew Enthean’s new full-length Priests of Annihilation. Writing this review, I kept coming back to G.K. Chesterton’s idea that we don’t have a lack of wonders, but a lack of wonder. This record, as I see it, is a reflection of that. Think of those who reduce love to a chemical reaction, something that can de facto be replicated in a sterile laboratory given the right conditions. Now picture writing a record using a similar method. The music would be expertly crafted and technically perfect, but the wonder is gone. It’s as if each element of the great music it’s based on had been analyzed mathematically down to the last note, put into a musical equation, and recorded in an effort to be “objectively” good. Huxley said music is second only to silence for expressing the inexpressible; the expression of the inexpressible is precisely the aspect of wonder in great music, and why hearing such music reduces men to tears and critics to writing solely in artful metaphors. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what’s utterly lacking here.
Enthean’s sound on Priests of Annihilation consists of the mixture of three main influences. First and foremost is the symphonic and highfalutin black metal of Emperor’s Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk and the records that followed it. Second is the hyperactive melo-death of Arsis, particularly We Are the Nightmare and the records that preceded it. Third is lesser known Swedish crew The Legion, who plays black metal that sounds like a more technically-minded and death metal influenced Marduk. What we end up with is intricate, melodic, symphonic black metal that’s executed far more like technical and melodic death metal than, say, Anthems.
To their credit, Enthean unleash a professional whirlwind of riffs, symphonics, and blasts characteristic of their main influences. I like “Shattering the Spell” so “Tones of Desecration” sounds good enough to me because it’s basically what would happen if Emperor decided to do a riff on its main idea and intersperse it with some tight symphonic black metal with IX Equilibrium’s death metal fascination. Opener “1054” is decent and sets a promising tone for the record, initially sounding like the introduction to Emperor’s underrated “The Eruption” before steering into more intense waters with some chunky riffing that sounds like Prometheus on death metal steroids.
Enthean’s idea is more interesting than its execution. I’m a fan of each of their main influences, and in theory what they’re doing should be grand. In practice, a tune like “Ekpyrosis” confuses a compelling verse with a sweeping session so masturbatory that the subsequent mopping-up session would be the length of this record. We Are the Nightmare got away with gratuitous technical excesses that made Yngwie look like a minimalist because it was catchy as the plague, but “Ekpyrosis” had one riff I can remember and I remember it being mediocre. “Dysthnasia” sounds like “Empty” sans its good riffs and oddly compelling bleakness, replacing those assets with middle-of-the-road techy melodeath, light symphonics, and the sterile non-atmosphere of modern metal. Priests of Annihilation lacks any sort of atmosphere whatsoever, and while it’s excellent on a technical level and not a note is out of place, it’s the musical version of a well-written book that doesn’t say anything of note. Enthean also has a fascination with incessantly breaking out into “soft” bits and soloing over them, which happens in three of the eight songs here. “Before You, I Am” is one such tune, and uses an extended “calm” to lead into an ineffective and chuggy “storm” while devoting the rest of its duration to sounding like outtakes of later Emperor.
Priests of Annihilation is technically good, but its appeal wears off fairly quickly. It collapses under the weight of its ambitions to ape Emperor’s most pretentious material, be technical and melodic like Arsis, and add more extremity like The Legion, winding up less than the sum of its parts. Priests of Annihilation reminds of its influences but fails to challenge them in a meaningful way, and sounds fairly unnecessary in that regard. Enthean is a talented, passionate, and impressive group, but they impress in the wrong way; I’m sure they can play anything they choose to, but they chose to play less than compelling things here. The production is monotonous, sterile, and squashed to DR6, which at once exacerbates and reflects the issue with Priests of Annihilation: everything is polished, professional, and pristine, and the only element found lacking is the songwriting.