AMG’s Law of Diminishing Recordings is a cruel mistress. She delivers a cold left hook to the smiling face of over-optimism, reminding us time and time again that in no way does a great record necessitate a great follow-up. Through this we learn the value of cautious optimism, reasonable expectations, and keeping a cool head when looking forward to an upcoming release. In most cases, that’s how I approach new music from a band I’m already excited about. Sulphur Aeon releasing a new record is decidedly not “most cases,” and I was beyond excited when Gateway to the Antisphere was announced. After many spins of this 51 minute beast, my excitement disappeared.
…Only to be replaced with absolute fucking exhilaration. The band’s 2013 full-length debut Swallowed by the Ocean’s Tide stood head-and-shoulders above the vast majority of metal released that year with a crushing sound that brought together the best qualities of Behemoth, early Hypocrisy, Immolation, and orthodox black metal (Watain, Ascension) for good measure. They haven’t changed their sound in 2015, and still bring melodies on par with Hypocrisy’s best and punishing riffs that crush with brute force, writhe with sinister slithering tremolo patterns, and combine to form a sound incorporating the best material of those three bands above. If Demigod-onward Behemoth was better at death metal yet still incorporated quality black metal, their rhythm guitars would sound a good bit like Sulphur Aeon.
It’s tough to pick one or two songs from Gateway to the Antisphere as standouts, as each of the eleven songs is nigh-on masterful. “He Is the Gate” is monstrous throughout, but the three minute mark is just ridiculous, and I’m almost inclined to call T.’s guitar interplay here beautiful. My only reservation is the decidedly un-metal connotations of that word, as I’d be selling Sulphur Aeon short if I said these melodies aren’t pummeling in addition to being affective. “Into the Courts of Azathoth” has all of the crushing majesty one would expect from a song about the highest god in the Cthulu mythos, and a recurring reverb-drenched melody is bolstered by varied and consistently great rhythm guitar parts being played underneath it. It’s a simple touch, but a classic case of little things making big differences.
For a band releasing their sophomore record, Sulphur Aeon are incredibly advanced and mature songwriters and performers. D.’s drums are simply phenomenal, and they make the already great riffs from T. truly shine, with the dense churning in unison of drums and guitar at the end of “Devotion to the Cosmic Chaos” being a prime example among a myriad others. The vocals of M. are a huge asset and his powerful straight-from-the-diaphragm growling and shrieking is a touch more varied than on the excellent debut, adding more points of interest to the already captivating music. His vocals are so convincing that the screams of “Yog-Sothoth!” in “He Is the Gate” come across awesome instead of silly, and I’d wager that’s an accomplishment. I’ve mentioned T.’s guitars already, but these riffs and melodies are top-tier stuff that death metal bands should aspire to, and the consistent excellence on display here is staggering. I rip on intro and outro tracks all the time here, but Sulphur Aeon managed to craft one of each that are both beneficial to the overall experience and enjoyable a la carte.
I had high expectations for Gateway to the Antisphere, but Sulphur Aeon managed to exceed them in an effort even stronger than their outstanding debut. The master is a bit squashed, but as much as I cherish high DR scores, the production here suits Sulphur Aeon’s music to a tee, approximating what being crushed under the weighty pressure of the deepest chasms of the ocean would sound like run through a death metal filter. Gateway to the Antisphere is a brilliant record that has set the already high bar for 2015 a little bit higher. Any record that can be as simultaneously emotional, melodic, punishing, and memorable as this deserves everyone’s attention, and it will take something truly monumental to knock this out of the top spot of 2015.