Gomorrah struck like a bolt of lightning from a clear blue sky. Slated for a mid-January release date on the not-exactly-major-label Test Your Metal Records, The Haruspex got overlooked in an administrative snafu. As luck would have it, I am nothing if not diligent about my hoarding of new music. And when I popped Gomorrah‘s The Haruspex on I knew that we’d missed something good.1 I put out a general alert to the staff, trying to get someone to review this very-nearly-overlooked record and in the time I was waiting I’d managed to listen to it twice.
Gomorrah knows the trick of originality in a metal scene loaded with bands: crib your riffs from three bands, not just one. Back when I was in my high school band, we always joked that people thought we were cool because we were aping Iron Maiden, My Dying Bride, and Ulver all at the same time. And it’s no slight to say that this pair of Canadian death metallers have done a great job of blending a number of sounds—at first blush Anaal Nathrakh, Necrophagist, and Behemoth—into a coherent whole that is powerful while being paradoxically familiar and unique at the same time.
The Haruspex‘s most defining feature is one of barely contained chaos. This is bolstered by the subtle industrial feel and production tricks, and is enhanced by the fact that guitarist Bowen Matheson has a unique and loose style that often borders on feeling out of time with the music. Right away on “Nine Kings of Sulphur,” his use of whammy—or at least some kind of tone modulator—makes his guitar sound out of control. This fluid feel shows up again on “Sitra Achira,” adding ambiance in a clean interlude where the two guitars are just slightly out of sync. The motif repeats on “Cerulean,” featuring a solo that feels like madness bottled. Ostensibly a technical death metal band, Gomorrah performs with a level of artful imprecision that differentiates them from the crowd.
Though, it’s not just the chaotic, loose feel which characterizes Gomorrah‘s sound. Rather than focusing on pure technicality, The Haruspex features heavy groove and immediate riffs. Tracks like “Dismantling the Throne” break out blackened groove riffs, while “Venom and Rapture” features a Nailbomb riff in simplicity and feel. This style makes natural room for effective breakdowns—”Crowns of Flesh” has a moment that wouldn’t be out of place on a Job for a Cowboy record. Because Gomorrah does such a good job of balancing different sounds, their use of groove and half-time breakdowns is effective and welcome, making the songs infectious rather than hackneyed.
Over all of this, vocalist Jeff Bryan uses his growls—deep, brutal, rhythmic—as the percussion instrument they should be. His vocals break no ground, but they fit these songs by offering an intense focus and staccato inflection above the riffs. I only wish that his vocals could sound as unconstrained as the music underneath it—like something bordering on the madness Gaahl on later Gorgoroth or Trelldom material; a performance which invokes the feeling that if they let this guy out of his straight jacket no one would be left unharmed. But when Bryan does occasionally show off a black metal register, it’s an effective change of pace.
The weakness with The Haruspex is in the production and mastering. On the one hand, this is music that is written for extremely high-gain guitars and it’s engineered for such a mix. But the production encourages choices I dislike. The drums are heavily triggered and the bass is pushed to territory in the mix that borders on inaudible; more felt than heard. The whole record sounds mechanical, with songs being interrupted by industrial static like on an Anaal Nathrakh album—lending to the feel that things are so out of control that your speakers are shorting out. Still, this production uses a bass drum sound that’s high in treble, which gives the kicks that “clickity clickity clickity” sound that featured so prominently in the early aughts.2
On the other hand, few bands make modern production sound as good as it sounds on The Haruspex. Gomorrah plays a style of death metal is cold and mechanical. While there are dynamic moments here and there, most of The Haruspex is mostly a blast-and-grooveathon, which like Origin, can get away with more in the loudness department.3 These guys use this sound to their advantage and I’m willing to cut them slack for their artistic choices. It speaks to the strength of the songs and feel that despite my dislike of some of the production choices, I can’t deny that The Haruspex works.
Despite some small reservations, this two-man-band won me over with its excellent riffs and loose ambiance. These thirty minutes of spine crushing metal push all the right buttons for me: brutal, infectious, and concise. Don’t sleep on The Haruspex.4
- On the topic of haruspices, I need to fire mine, because I didn’t know this was coming out. ↩
- Back when I was wearing an onion on my belt, as was the fashion at the time. ↩
- Not that the volume swells and dynamic breaks wouldn’t be more effective if they weren’t as loud… gripe, gripe, gripe. ↩
- …she’s covered in intestine. ↩