Steel Druhm‘s black metal appreciation days have largely come and gone as we’ve grown apart and developed irreconcilable differences. Because I’m such a self-aware, introspective gent, I give the genre a wide berth1 when it comes to promo pluckery lest I savage a band for my own lack of interest. But a strange thing happened on the way to the sump recently. Madam X was sampling new arrivals and I didst hear such a compelling cacophony that I simply had to know who was responsible. Turns out my ears were pricked up by the avant-garde stylings of Panegysist, a hitherto unknown and mysterious act led by painter/artist Elijah Tamu. Hierurgy is the debut from this man/band and to say it’s progressive black metal doesn’t butter the entire biscuit. This is some wild, woolly stuff, smashing the barriers of black metal to incorporate religious hymnal music, traditional and epic metal and all sorts of other weirdness. If this was an amusement park ride, it would be called Vomitus-Rex, as it has countless dizzying twists, turns, dips and flip. But is it good?
After some churchly intro weirdness, “Idylls of the Cave” gets rolling and everything hits the fan and the mouth of madness opens wide. Tamu’s singing is multi-tracked and joined by crazy cascading tremolo riffs as harsh screams and raspy croaks coalesce into a ghoulish choir delivering eerie hymns to some Lovecraftian abomination. Imagine early Sabbath Assembly‘s creepy ass Satanic hymnals slammed into Arcturus-level weirdness and you’re in the right crawlspace. It’s unhinged and frantic, but oddly enjoyable and hypnotic in all it’s excess and overdrive. In a twisted way, it’s even catchy and accessible. “To Quicken Stone” has a more traditional black metal approach loaded with icy riffy work, but Tamu’s vocals defy the trend by remaining clean, though at times they’re counter-pointed by harsh vocals. At the halfway point there’s an abrupt, jarring transition to softer, ghostly music similar to a horror movie soundtrack. This in turn lapses into early Bathory shit-noise and back to the trem deluge once again.
“The Void is the Heart of the Flame” takes an entirely different slant, adopting moody Manilla Road-esque epic metal balladry. Tamu sounds quite like Mark Shelton throughout and is joined by David Vincent-like evil baritones. Then its back to Blackville for the album’s remainder, which includes the big highlight: the 12 minute title track, where their chaotic style hits it’s stride. This one has it all – heaviness, melody and proggy shifts and diversions, all delivered with grace and swagger. There’s a herky-jerky Voivod element that I love and the music reminds me of Vhöl at varying intervals as well as Mercyful Fate (how’s that for a three-way collision??). When insanity is done this well, you’ll want to check yourself into whatever nervous hospital the band was a guest of when writing this beast.
At 44 minutes with 5 proper tracks, things run long. While this usually draws the ire of AMG writers, myself included, it doesn’t really feel like an impediment here. Even the longest tracks do enough to keep things interesting, and I don’t find myself clock watching. More of a problem is the way the band fuses the singing into the surrounding music. While they generally find a happy medium, the super dramatic vocals sometimes work against the manic thrashing and trem-riffing. Said vocals are also likely to be an impediment for those who consider clean vocals in black metal a form of heresy most foul (lighten up, buttercups).
Speaking of vocals, Mr. Tamu has a very interesting style. When in clean mode he frequently sounds like he’s in a church choir or chanting at some arcane ritual designed to reactivate Hitler’s brain. As the album progresses, King Diamond tendencies creep into his delivery and pay big dividends. The man is talented, especially if he’s also handling all the harsh vocals, and I’m interested to see what he can do with more experience. The guitar-work is also quite impressive but completely uncredited. Whomever is slinging the strings rips off some sick riffs and a few beautiful, epic solos as well. It’s the frenetic guitars that really helps keep this album moving and grooving and I really want to give someone props for it, and the same goes for whoever handled the bass-work, which is ever-present and interestingly dynamic. I do know the drumming is handled by Marcello Szumowski (Inferno) and he does a great job blasting and bruising as the moods shift and slither. Altogether a vulgar display of technicality and creativity, and I salute it.
Panegyrist prove there are still ways to make black metal interesting for geezers like myself. It just requires a shit-ton of creative recklessness and bombast. I ask for so little, really. As for the rest of you, check this thing out. It’s an out of left field surprise and one of those oddball albums you’ll either cherish or revile. Since you need to find out where you fall on the scale, don’t leave yourself I voidhanging. PanegyristER!