I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I really don’t need originality in my music. Take last month’s Necroblood album. Though it hardly did anything groundbreaking, that record gave me all the Satan, blastbeats, and atom-bomb riffing I could ask for, making me the most excited I’ve been about blackened-death metal since the first time I heard Revenge’s Behold.Total.Rejection. Because I received it at the same time as Necroblood, I was hoping Possession’s Exorkizein would satisfy this same craving. Formed in 2012, the Belgian quartet earned some scattered underground acclaim for their His Best Deceit demo and 1585-1646 EP, the latter priming my anticipation with its archaic atmosphere and themes of witchcraft and inquisition. Unfortunately, while Possession show immense promise here on their full-length debut, a few crippling issues prevent the band from reaching the same heights as my blackened-death favorites like Decrepit Soul and Profanatica.
But first, the positives. Though Possession are notably less brutal and barbaric than Necroblood, they certainly have the same finesse in building tension and maximizing the impact of their riffs. The ambient intro shows this from the outset, combining booming bass hits, a deep church organ, and tortured female shrieks into an unusually effective mood-setter. From there, proper opener “Sacerdotium” begins with a downright malicious buildup before bursting into a simple, vaguely thrashy riff that later gives way to a ridiculously catchy half-time stomp. The guitar tone is suitably fiery, and the riffing does an effective job of combining the grimness of black metal with the burliness of death metal. While vocalist “V. Viriakh” supports the proceedings with a manic mid-register rasp, the group occasionally complements things with soaring background cleans, not unlike what Behemoth did with their epic closer on The Satanist. It’s a neat trick you don’t often hear in the genre, and later reappears in tracks like follow-up “Infestation – Manifestation – Possession.”
Unfortunately, it’s also here where Exorkizein begins to show its weaknesses. Whereas “Sacerdotium” was wise enough to vary its tempos, “Infestation” blasts along with rote riffing for the entirety of its 5:30 runtime, becoming a bore long before its conclusion. Follow-up “Beast of Prey,” while shorter in length, faces the same issue – in fact, on my initial listens I had no idea where “Infestation” ended and “Beast” began. The real problem is that, while Possession’s riffs are actually fairly distinct (and pleasantly reminiscent of first-wave black metal like Bathory and Hellhammer), they’re also very basic and repetitive, making some songs feel like much more of a slog than they should. And though the production does an outstanding job balancing rawness and clarity, this actually just exacerbates the issue, as having everything so audible only makes it terribly apparent how basic the music really is.
Second-half songs “In Vain” and “Take the Oath” are stronger but unveil other issues. While “Oath” stands out for its maniacal chorus and bobbing mid-tempo, it’s also the only song that features any sort of memorable refrain, making it a bizarre choice for the penultimate track. “Oath” also features a similar feel and tempo to “Vain,” making me wonder if Exorkizein could have been stronger if similar songs were spread more evenly throughout the tracklist. Sure, it may have been hard to get the order just right with only seven songs on here, but a few tweaks may have made these 37 minutes quite a bit more enjoyable. Fortunately, closer “Preacher’s Death” somewhat redeems things with its alternately twisted and resonant tremolos.
All in all, there isn’t anything really bad about Exorkizein — it just feels undercooked. Possession clearly know how to write a decent song and construct a decent album, and I applaud them for not devolving into churning murkiness like so many other bands in the genre. Unfortunately, the group needs to work on writing more compelling riffs and stitching the end product together with more cohesiveness. The atmosphere and inspiration are here; the execution, however, still needs to catch up.