Mystifier are an ancient Brazilian black metal band and the latest to emerge from whatever dank place veteran bands who haven’t released a comeback album are hiding. Formed in 1989, their early releases were renowned for a style that combined the primitive extremity of Sarcófago with the ritualistic and otherworldly aura of Beherit. With this sound they produced such underground classics as 1992 debut Wicca and 1996’s The World Is So Good That Who Made It Doesn’t Live Here.1 Yet widespread popularity was not to be. Following 2001’s Profanus and several lineup changes, Mystifier lapsed into an extended period of inactivity that’s only now being broken. Guitarist and founding member “Beelzeebubth” has recruited Brazilian scene veterans “Warmonger” on drums and “Do’Urden” on vocals, bass, and keyboards for Protogoni Mavri Magiki Dynasteia,2 the group’s fifth album overall and first in 18 years. But does it have the same magic as their early stuff?
It sure does. It helps that Protogoni is built from the same stylistic foundation as the band’s past material, with thick and burly guitars propelled by drumming that veers between blastbeats, commanding dirges, and off-kilter rhythms. The ceremonial keyboards of The World and Profanus are retained along with the group’s varied guitar and vocal styles, though everything is mixed in a way that feels denser and more intricate than before. The opening title track shows this from the start, with pounding war drums leading a horde of plodding chords, dramatic orchestration, and acoustic guitar flourishes to a summit of wondrous Eastern-sounding leads. It’s a solid start that feels less like a proper song and more like an extended intro to everything Mystifier have in store.
And boy, do they have a lot in store. Vocally, Beelzeebubth and Do’Urden utilize everything from growls to ghoulish chants to venomous rasps to bullfrog croaks that recall Inquisition. Beelzee’s riffing is equally varied. “Weighing Heart Ceremony” weaves together scalding tremolos, ringing chords, and reflective melodies before taking flight on a set of beautiful and cavernous leads. It makes for a terrific track and one of the best black metal songs I’ve heard this year so far. “Witching Lycanthropic Moon” and “Akhenaton” are likewise great songs, evoking a beefier version of early Rotting Christ with their triumphant marching riffs. Yet it’s later tracks where things get really interesting. “Demoler las Torres del Cielo” and “Soultrap Sorcery of Vengeance” are essentially melodic death metal and sound like Sarcófago run through a Black Dahlia Murder filter. “Thanatopraxy” is even stranger, with a crawling sludge riff that officially makes Mystifier the most I’ve ever heard a band sound like Eyehategod without actually being Eyehategod.
Even in its oddest moments, everything works well together and maintains a palpable occult atmosphere. Unfortunately, while the production does a good job combining the various layers, those layers are also packed together tightly. The album is loud and as such I occasionally catch myself subconsciously tuning it out. Likewise, while penultimate track “Al Nakba” stands out for its chaotic rhythms, it feels a little superfluous coming so close to the end of the record’s 50-minute runtime. For how strong the rest of Protogoni is, I also wish closer “Chiesa dei Bambini Molestati” tied things together in a more satisfying way. Fortunately, the band counterbalance the sheer amount of stuff going on by keeping the song structures relatively straightforward and imbuing nearly every one of these ten tracks with a standout idea. Perhaps the best example is “Six Towers of Belial’s Path,” whose militant tremolo line and accompanying roar of the track title have now become my favorite thing to imitate when I’m home alone.
Comeback albums present bands with the dual challenge of both living up to their past work and surmounting their new material’s inherent lack of bygone mystique. Protogoni is the rare comeback album that overcomes both. Not only have Mystifier delivered a terrific collection of black metal songs, they’ve done so while maintaining an aura of mystery that makes this sound more like a remastered gem from 1995 than something from 2019. Though there are a few minor issues, those are far outweighed by the outstanding riffs, compelling songs, and excellent variety. As such I’m almost sure I’ll regret not scoring this higher at year’s end. For now, Protogoni stands as Mystifier‘s grand return from the abyss and an album that any fan of ritualistic black metal is sure to enjoy.