Miasmal Sabbath – Ominous Radiance Review

Ah, long songs. They’re bitterly divisive and can (like most things in this genre) evoke strong emotions. Perhaps it’s because there are so many forms they can take. There’s early prog metal in the vein of Rush‘s 2112, using shorter songs that make up an extended, conceptual track. There’s the Firelink approach, melding explosive passages with slower interludes, resulting in longer tracks that sustain interest through variety. There’s also the road taken by bands like Sleep, crafting dense, slower jams that create atmosphere while pummeling you with riff after smoky riff. So which road does death metal power trio Miasmal Sabbath take on their debut full-length Ominous Radiance? How do these Greek gents, influenced, as the accompanying text suggests, by d-beat and crust punk, confront the high-stakes game of the “long song”?

These guys are all in. And as that great sage Kenny Rogers warned us: “you gotta know when to hold ’em, gotta know when to fold ’em.” That’s not to say that there aren’t portions of Ominous Radiance that hit the mark. On a death metal album where the shortest song clocks in at 6 minutes and 27 seconds, there are several effective tempo changes and mid-song left turns that both surprise and delight. This is particularly evident on third track “Chaos Magnvm,” containing an inspired section that veers from a chugging, memorable riff to a slower, emotive, tremelo-picked refrain and back again. Perhaps most surprising is opener “Invocation of Death Essence.” Like most metal bands, Miasmal Sabbath are legally required to begin with a slow, unsettling instrumental. These brief, synth-heavy openers are usually skip-worthy, but here, the band make good use of this ubiquitous pastime, using the intro to do exactly that: introduce the rest of the album. It sets a definite mood and you can feel the anticipation build. As the pounding drums and moody guitars reach their crescendo…

We clumsily fall into “Celestial Prodigy,” an almost nine-minute long track struggling to find where it should go and what it should do when it gets there. In their PR material, Miasmal Sabbath use the adjective “swampy,, which is certainly accurate. Even their name evokes images of hooded, pagan acolytes, conducting some blasphemous ritual in a murky bog (roll your D20, please). But while those swampy elements are all there (sludgy guitars, trudging riffs and a thick, slightly muddy mix) what’s missing is a theme; an endgame; a method to the metal madness. Miasmal Sabbath‘s approach to the “long song” conundrum seems to be “keep playing until you don’t feel like it anymore.” Ominous Radiance clocks in at almost an hour, and there isn’t a single song (save for the opening instrumental) that runs less than 6 minutes. While this would not be an issue for a group more focused on musical variety, a stronger sense of thematic evolution or more ideas, this becomes not just an issue, but the issue. From the promising but ultimately disappointing “The Oracular Voice,” to the ten minute groove beast “Umbra Mortis,” each song runs 4 to 5 minutes too long, generically plodding on, teasing you with an ending before rolling out another hail of blast beats and walls of forgettable guitarwork. Even “Wisdom of the Occult,” my favorite track, jury rigged by an honest-to-god chorus, gets lost amidst seemingly unending minutes of droning chaos.

That being said, the album itself sounds good. The vocals, while maddeningly monotonous, will reward your inner Deicide fan. Vocalist and drummer, identified only as “L.F.,” provides a husky, Glen Bentonesque bark that hits a particularly nostalgic note, especially when the satanic overdubs hit on tracks like “Chaos Magnvm.” Things sound murky, thick and claustrophobic, exactly what you’re looking for in a deathy, swampy, misty, crusty album.

I am convinced that there’s a good death metal album buried in here somewhere. But it would take a brave sole indeed to hack and slash their way through the muck and mire, excising meandering passages, carving out forgettable riffs and unearthing the well-hidden hunk of enjoyable death metal beneath the remains. Let’s hope next time, Miasmal Sabbath take a long look at their previous “long song” journey, and decide to take a different route.

Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Unholy Prophecies
Websites: miasmalsabbath.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/miasmalsabbath
Releases Worldwide: September 25, 2020

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