The French are well-known for pushing envelopes in the black metal genre. From Deathspell Omega‘s angular tremolo attack to Blut Aus Nord‘s atonal warped melodies and bizarre trip-hop rhythms, France has proven to be a fertile breeding ground for innovative black metal. So when Paris’ Merrimack stands out by sounding Scandinavian, well, it’s gonna stick out like a sore thumb. To their credit, they’ve stayed the course in terms of tradition while simultaneously sharpening their attack, crafting four albums of blistering darkness and Marduk-esque evil. However, their last album, 2012’s The Acausal Mass, left me a bit flat in terms of songwriting and vocals. Now the same line-up that crafted that album has had time to gel a bit, so Omegaphilia should, by default, be a better album, right?
First, the good news. Omegaphilia contains two of the best songs the band has penned to date. “Apophatic Weaponry” successfully blends the atmosphere of doom metal and classic black metal, and by the song’s second half, it soars with a tremendous tremolo melody by guitarists Perversifier and A.K. The track preceding it, “The Falsified Son,” acts as the album’s defiant high point, opening with one of the best 6/8 tremolo waltzes I’ve ever heard. Daethorn’s Bolt Thrower-like bass tone elevates the icy onslaught, and Vestal gives one helluva performance, growling and rasping with conviction. Of all the songs on Omegaphilia, “The Falsified Son” is the song I return to the most.
And by “I return to the most,” it’s really the only song I come back to on a regular basis. While there are no bad performances, the majority of Omegaphila feels pedestrian in comparison. There’s something to be said about hammering down a formula and polishing it to a fine sheen, but there’s a need for something to be memorable, and the majority of Omegaphilia floats by. Opener “Cauterizing Cosmos” begins with ritualistic noises, but once the song takes off, the delivery is flat. “Sights in the Abysmal Lure” lasts only five minutes, but feels twice as long. Finally, in the grand tradition of Merrimack albums that close with overly long “epic” numbers, “At the Vanguard of Deception” left me bored to tears four minutes into its nine-minute length. Everything that needed to be said has been said before, and often with more memorable results.
At least the Andrew Guillotin production job captured the fury admirably. Don’t let the number below fool you, because Omegaphilia never feels like a pain to listen to. The bass cuts through the mire admirably, Blastum’s drums never sounded fake or distorted, and the guitars possess some major heft. I just wish the same could be said of the songwriting. Again, there are no bad moments, but aside from two tracks, it’s not overly memorable, either. And when their country (and label) mates The Great Old Ones dropped a Top Ten-qualified monster of an album earlier this year, I was expecting Merrimack to respond in kind. Instead, it feels like more of the same.
As a fan of their earlier work, I went into Omegaphilia hoping to get blown back in the iciest of fashions. Instead, it made me want to revisit their second album, the awesome Of Entropy and Life Denial from 2006, for the umpteenth time. I have hope that they will rediscover the magic of that beast of an album, because glimpses of it exist on Omegaphilia, but not enough for a full recommendation. Bummer.