I’ve reviewed a lot of fucking black metal for this blog, and while I could never see myself tiring of covering the genre, I’d rather drown before hashing out another “The current state of black metal…” intro. For one thing, the sound and philosophies of modern black metal are constantly in flux, meaning that those who stumble upon my writings more than a year after publication will find them roughly as relevant as an instructional hip-hop dance VHS tape from 1992. For another, releases like Achatius feel displaced from the black metal timeline as a whole; it’s a record whose influences are clear, yet whose ambitions intriguingly conflict with its intent. This places Funereal Presence in a prime spot indeed, leaning into reliable second wave tactics as it blazes its own distinct trail. It’s not a masterpiece, but damn if it isn’t close.
Achatius represents black metal smelted down to its primal essence, then reforged from the ground up through a lens of modern songwriting and experimentation. Sole member Bestial Devotion’s prime influence to these ears is Darkthrone’s original quartet of black metal records, distilling that band’s trademark abrasion and Celtic Frostisms into four massive (and massively unpredictable) tracks. While the tempo and tonal tangents housed within these mammoth constructions recall Darkthrone’s “Kathaarian Life Code,” the execution here is a degree smarter; the compositions are sprawling, but their conclusions bring things full circle by reintroducing motifs with clever revisions. I normally groan when presented with the all too common trope of “black metal album with four big-ass, ten minute-plus tracks,” but Funereal Presence makes the endurance test well worth my time.
While admirably ambitious, Achatius’ lofty aspirations at times outstretch Funereal Presence‘s grasp. The enormous songs, though wildly entertaining, can at times depend too heavily on certain riffs, repeating them a few times too many to the point of risking staleness. But, boy, if those riffs aren’t universally glorious. Bestial Devotion clearly possesses a keen understanding of the blunt simplicity which elevated his second wave heroes, but it’s the way he trades off tradition with more experimental fretwork that places him in a class of his own. The record’s best riffs are defined by eerily beautiful and unconventional melody, not too far removed from the school of Spectral Lore and other experimental acts from the I, Voidhanger line-up. This effective marriage of caustic power chords and otherworldly licks is Achiatus’ defining selling point, as I’d be hard-pressed to find a passage on the album that doesn’t thoroughly slay.
The guitars, though Achiatus’ defining feature, could use a bit a tonal makeover. While the strings’ raw sound is a perfect fit for the record’s atmosphere, it sounds like there’s a frosting of fuzz layered on top of the distortion, dulling the impact of the performances. Elsewhere, Achiatus sounds pretty goddamn fantastic, with the heavy reverb attached to Bestial Devotion’s scathing vocals and the pure, no-frills pummeling of the drums making for a decidedly authentic sound. Speaking of the drums, the tightness of the kit performances adds a welcome shot of instrumental complexity to counterbalance the looseness of the string-work. Blast beat barrages and the innumerable stylistic shifts are executed with aplomb, and I’m beyond pleased by the significant cowbell presence. The way that cowbell strikes kick off tempo changes in “Wherein Achiatus Is Awakened and Called Upon” is absolutely adorable.
I realize that I haven’t provided any other specific examples from this record, and the reason for this is twofold. Not only is Achiatus such a consistently engaging record that choosing highlights would be an exceptionally difficult task, but it is also one that I don’t want to spoil in any way. This is one of the few promos I’ve received where I jumped in completely cold, and I couldn’t shake the stupid grin from my face that only widened as the record unfolded for me for the first time. This is pitch-perfect second wave worship that deftly navigates the tightrope straddling melody and dissonance, a deal only sweetened by Funereal Presence‘s idiosyncratic riffage. The bloated songwriting could stand a trimming, but even with a bit of unjustified excess, this is about as close to an AMG 4.0 as an album can get without actually breaking through the barrier. Black metal fans: buy this.
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: The Ajna Offensive (U.S.) | Sepulchral Voice Records | Bandcamp (Europe)
Websites: funerealpresence.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/funereal-presence
Releases Worldwide: February 15th, 2019