Listening to metal frequently and being tethered to it via writing reviews can cause some serious burnout in a man. Sometimes I catch myself wondering if the genre and I have grown apart, and whether or not I feel the same way about the stuff as I did in 2014 when I started writing for my favorite blog in the world. Then I throw on a classic, get that rush of adrenaline and excitement all over again, and realize that metal is still what I want to listen to, engage with, and enjoy above all other genres. One of my top modern bands is Anaal Nathrakh, and seeing that instrumentalist Mick Kenney produced the debut of Californian black metal band Sicarius‘, charmingly called Serenade of Slitting Throats, got me intrigued. When I started listening, that rush of excitement hit once again; now this is a band worth watching.
The fact that Mick Kenney produced Serenade of Slitting Throats is apropos. The sterility, the coldness, and the hyper-modern style of Anaal Nathrakh’s later work, which here is probably closest to the underrated Passion in production values, is part and parcel with Sicarius’ modernized second-wave tinged assault. The usual suspects of Gorgoroth, Dark Funeral, Taake, and Dissection loom large over Serenade, and Anaal Nathrakh is clearly an influence as well.
What Sicarius does well that many bands do not is carving out their own sound from the old stones of the classics. Nowhere does Serenade of Slitting Throats content itself with mere emulation, and Sicarius’ focus on their vision first and foremost instead of that of their influences pays off in dividends. “Ferox Impetum” is taut, aggressive, and catchy, merging icy melodies akin to earlier Dissection with the intensity of Dark Funeral and Taake, but not plagiarizing or relying too heavily on any one of them. On the other side of the spectrum, “Onyx Void” is something akin to a more aggressive and varied version of Gorgoroth’s slower and more contemplative moments (i.e. “Rebirth”), replete with that emotional heft which separates good slow black metal tracks like this from great ones. These moments are interrupted with those of violent catharsis missing from “Rebirth,” and flavoured with that melodic death metal sensibility that helps define newer Anaal Nathrakh.
If I had to do some arbitrary fault-finding, I’d say that “The Beast in Your Heart” sounds pretty close to Passion for a good portion, but differentiates itself in small ways. While not a flaw in itself, it’s one of those moments where you’re reminded of another band almost immediately when listening to Sicarius. Nonetheless, the riffs are on par with Anaal and while vocalist K. Karcass doesn’t attempt the varied and incredible histrionics of Dave Hunt, his vocals are charismatic, captivating, and wonderfully aggressive. His unstable rasps, which sound as if they could fly off the handle and into incomprehensible chaos at any moment, give a definite human element to the thoroughly modern and honed sound of the instruments, showing that Romantic soul of black metal in all of its glory.
Serenade of Slitting Throats is a remarkable debut that shouldn’t be missed by any fan of black metal. While not “good” in our often too DR-obsessed sense, Kenney’s production is utterly perfect for the music here, showing a great connection between band and producer. It’s impossible to conceive of Sicarius’ sound being expressed otherwise, and as Kenney knows how to work with loud, frantic, and violent music with loads of melody rather well, both producer and band chose the right partner. Every song is a winner here, even the introductory track; I can count on one hand the amount of debuts that have excited me as much. Sicarius have founded a compelling identity here, and each song has its own unique aspects different from all others but they still adhere to a general essence of violent and melodic black metal tethered to tradition but not enslaved by it. I can go on about the fantastic and fitting chugging midsection, the Hellhammer-esque drumming, and soaring melodies of “Torture Trials” or the tremendous Viking-infused Dissection-isms that pop up between the high quality second-wave intensity of “Marshaling the Garroted,” but I lack the space for that. What I have the space to say is that Serenade of Slitting Throats makes a convincing case for being the best black metal record of the year, crafted by a hungry and vital new band that, if this quality continues, has a blindingly bright future in metal.