Sisyphus, the tragic Greek figure of trickery and deception, has become quite the recurring theme in metal as of late. A man who cheated Death by having Death itself chained up when it was his time to go, Sisyphus was punished for his actions by having to roll a giant boulder up a hill to free himself from his fate. The only catch was that the boulder would roll back down to the very bottom once Sisyphus pushed it up to the summit, damning him to an eternity of boulder-pushing. It would also work as a bit of a fitting metaphor for Heirs of Sisyphus, the second album by Swedish blackened death metallers, Gutter Instinct.
But before we explore why, let’s take a look at the positives. For starters, this album is grimy and ugly as fuck. That bass tone that Simon Isaksson possesses might as well have been lifted from Jo Bench’s pedal settings, as it’s thick, chewy, and powerful, aiding the riffs of Oscar Persson and Hannes Hellman considerably. “Satan Within” and “Zenon” both open with mournful melodies recalling early Amorphis and HM-2 riffs that made Entombed the beasts that they are, before launching into a blackened Bolt Thrower attack. The latter also features a lead straight out of classic Slayer. This all sounds good and brutal, yes?
Sadly, the songwriting, or rather the lack of self-editing, would be their proverbial boulder. With the exception of penultimate track, the all-too-short “The Luminous Darkness,” all of their songs jet past the five-minute mark. Now, if the riffs weren’t repetitious to the point of length-padding, all would be well and good. But when the band utilizes an amazing riff, which happens quite a bit during “Satan Within,” it gets abandoned for a less-interesting fare. Worse still, the closing title track clocks in at over 8 minutes. I’m all for a song taking all the time needed to complete its journey, but usually said journey contains some atmosphere, a few interesting twists and turns, and a hefty pay-off, of which this song has little of the above. In fact, this padding of songs runs prevalent on just about all of Heirs of Sisyphus.
What also doesn’t help is the production. Many times, the drums sound like they’re recorded in a cave, with the bass drum seemingly disappearing during the music’s more blast-worthy sections. Speaking of blasts, all semblance of riffs seem to disappear during tremolo sections (such as in “Satan Within”), as it all becomes an unrecognizable blur. And it guts me to say this, as much of Heirs of Sisyphus has some incredible riffs and ideas, like the colossal opening riff/drum salvo of standout “The Abyss Speaks,” but when you drag things out for so long, the uphill climb becomes a chore, boulder or no.
But I don’t see that as being a deal-breaker for Gutter Instinct, as this is only their second album, and they’ve displayed some incredible riffs and melodies on Heirs of Sisyphus. The songwriting needs to be tighter and the fat needs to be trimmed off, as what would remain is some powerful blackened death metal with a serious atmospheric bent to it. As for Heirs of Sisyphus, your mileage will greatly vary.