Christmas creeps earlier every year, and with it list season. This year has been exceptionally intolerable thanks to all this decade-end mumbo jumbo, and by mid-December, we’re living in a whirlwind of top tens and round-ups. Halphas is better than this. The Germans dropped their debut in the heart of List Season ’17, a rowdy black metal romp that thrived in the darkness of a 4 pm sunset. Two years on and Halphas won’t flinch before the listicle onslaught. Good on them too, because The Infernal Path into Oblivion is a step-up from an already strong debut. Who needs validation when you’ve got riffs?
“Into Eternity We Ride” immediately proves that there’s no subterfuge this time around. The subtle earworms that made Dawn of a Crimson Empire sneaky good last time have bulked up in the interim. Though the opener stretches out to eight minutes, the whole of it just plain works. There’s no stretching for positives or weasling in a caveat; this thing riffs and riffs and riffs. The tone and length evoke elements of Taake or perhaps something Icelandish but with an undercurrent of violence. And when Halphas want you to hurt, you bleed. “Monument of Blood” rips out the jugular with a directness that could rival Behexen and Leviathan. The track is a step back in construction but two leaps forward in brutality. Follow-up “Bones and Dust” presses the gas pedal down even farther, leaving you wondering just how hard these guys are going to bring it.
Sure, I could nitpick the same lack of experimentation as last time. But honestly, why bother? I’m not nearly strong-willed enough that I won’t compromise my principles when a murder of spooky-looking Germans dangle sweet, sweet riffness in front of my nose. And it’s not like the writing is unimaginative. Stretches of the record, especially the opener, feel like Netherbird on steroids. It’s as if Halphas found the groove I hoped Netherbird might earlier this year. Swap the Swedes’ would-be grandiosity and cowboy pants for the Germans’ bestial leanings and a few porcupines taped to your forearms and you wind up with “A Grave in the Sands.” Unfortunately, the eight minutes of “Forever Spellbound” doesn’t work quite as well, despite similar intent. The closer starts out mean enough, but by its rain-soaked finale, you’re left waiting for that same spark that propelled the rest of the album.
Halphas deserve a ton of credit for the level of riffcraft slammed into Infernal Path. Dawn left no questions regarding their technical abilities, and for their writing to catch up in short order only spells good things for the band. The next item on the to-do list is filling out the runtime. Perhaps Internal Path‘s greatest flaw is that it feels a little light in the tracklisting. You can rarely go wrong at 41 minutes, but that’s before discounting almost seven minutes of drizzle between the bookend moments and acoustic interlude “The Narrow Descent” (which takes the Netherbird to another level). Cut the fat and one more long song could squeeze onto the record without me batting an eye at the length, to say nothing of a pair of big boy bangers.
Looking back, Dawn of a Crimson Empire, for all its strengths, was a bit overrated; I certainly haven’t felt the need to circle back to it in the years since. I expected my reaction to The Infernal Path to be much the same. When I peered into the void of the editing queue, the void stared back with 85 awful TYMHM picks behind it, I almost ditched this review to save my sanity. I’m glad I didn’t, and you should be too! This record won’t brute force its way up anyone’s list at the last minute, but The Infernal Path into Oblivion is a fun, ferocious jaunt I expect to walk regularly in the coming months. Perhaps on the next go-around, we might see Halphas earlier than the dead of December. I can only hope by that time they’ll be seasoned enough to duke it out in the List Thunderdome for real.