Sicarius – God of Dead Roots Review

When we last saw Californian black metal band Sicarius, they were receiving high praise from yours truly for their outstanding debut Serenade of Slitting Throats. I returned to Serenade so its follow-up God of Dead Roots can be put in proper context for this review. This was beneficial, as the differences were in little things – at face value, God of Dead Roots certainly sounds like Sicarius, and Mick Kenney finds himself back behind the boards. However, one important change has occurred: guitarist and founding member Argyris left and has been replaced by the capable Travis Whiting, who played with Californian deathcore stalwarts Carnifex in 2006. Otherwise, the band has remained consistent from 2014 through today.

The question arises: how large of a role did Argyris play in the debut’s success? Let’s start with the sound. Sicarius is still thoroughly modern black metal, drawing from Marduk, Dark Funeral, The Legion, bits and pieces of the second wave, and morsels of Anaal Nathrakh‘s earlier records – definitely more Codex Necro than Vanitas. Kenney’s production is a little bit tighter, more Desideratum than Passion, and the throat-shredding roar of vocalist Kurt Karcass is still in fine form, with no clean vocals in earshot. The listener pleased with Serenade of Slitting Throats will find himself similarly pleased with God of Dead Roots.

Indeed, opening number “Bia” immediately evokes Serenade of Slitting Throats with its modernized surgical blackened attack and a typically charismatic performance from Karcass. And yet, it’s still different in some significant yet intangible way. There are hints of Argyris’ aggressive yet mournful melodicism, but there’s also a riff which sounds like Dimmu Borgir sans the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack bits. Further, many of the melodies take a direction that doubles down on the aggression and “evil” factor, something Serenade of Slitting Throats did to a lesser degree by cleverly mixing more consonance and varied emotion into the riffing. The result of this is Sicarius succeeding more with short, warlike rippers that sound like a more accessible version of Sammath. “Open Fire” does this well, and even includes a slower Sammath riff in the vein of the latter’s “All Lay Dead in the Slit Trenches of Calcar” with a similar style of chord progression. “A Practiced Hand” incorporates more death metal than usual and is an exiting and energetic three minutes with Karcass turning in a notably savage performance. Album highlight “Scythe Bearers” brings in the Dissection influences that heavily populated Serenade of Slitting Throats for some effective segments which sit comfortably between the more straightforward aggression – it’s absolutely worth the six-minute runtime, and each member of Sicarius turns in an exceptional performance.

This iteration of Sicarius is quite good at making short war-metal-adjacent songs (see also “Culling the Heedless”), and the reason for this is the current melodic sensibilities of Whiting and Merihim lend themselves better to that type of track. Slower numbers like “Nekromanteia” suffer because the types of melodies employed don’t pair nearly as well to slow tempos. Even when it eventually speeds up, “Nekromanteia” seems to be trying for extremity overall, and this makes the riffs vicious but largely unremarkable. Therein lies my main issue with God of Dead Roots: it has little great material and ends up a being a decent if not workmanlike black metal record. It’s missing the soul of Serenade of Slitting Throats, a record which simultaneously seethed with disgust and fascination towards humanity’s capacity for cruelty and evil. God of Dead Roots is not soulless, but it kept the outward appearance of its predecessor’s theme wholesale and only vestiges of the emotions which animated it, replacing them with an aggression directed everywhere and nowhere, violence for violence’s sake.

None of this is to say God of Dead Roots is bad, or that Sicarius is no longer worth following. Whiting is an accomplished guitarist and given that Sicarius probably only had a year or so to acclimate to the new blood means that a follow-up will see a more coherent vision ensoul new songs. Until then, the daggers remain sharp enough to draw blood, but not sharp enough to cut to the bone as they did before. I want to give God of Dead Roots a higher rating; I have much respect for Sicarius, and concluding the record with a wonderful surprise cover of Bathory’s “Raise the Dead” after minutes of silence1 was a great touch. Nonetheless, this is one of those unfortunate cases where a good record can nonetheless be somewhat of a disappointment.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kpbs mp3
Label: M-Theory Audio
Releases Worldwide: March 13th, 2020

Show 1 footnote

  1. Though this may only appear on the CD version, which is advertised as having a “bonus track.”
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