Sarpanitum is now over a decade old, which is terrifying because it seems like only yesterday that I first stumbled on them in Zero Tolerance magazine’s Death Metal Special Part II (featured alongside yours truly, believe it or not). That was in 2006. Identified as promising UK death metal hopefuls, both they and I have since amply justified that tag with our prolific outputs of… one full-length record each. Sarpanitum‘s 2007 debut Despoilment of Origin was promising, though with hindsight its Immolation/Nile blend was pretty derivative and the group went on hiatus soon after its release. But while I have continued to do nothing of musical worth since the mid-2000s, Sarpanitum quietly regrouped in 2010 and set to work re-branding. An EP followed soon after, showcasing a more distinctive and interesting sound, and finally this year saw the release of a second full-length that crushes everything they’ve done before.
Do you want your death metal to be brutal or melodic? With Sarpanitum, you don’t have to choose! While they previously fit squarely into the former category, Blessed Be my Brothers… sees Sarpanitum seamlessly blend punishing brutality – underpinned by the relentless battery of newcomer Leon Macey (also of Mithras fame and incidentally Zero Tolerance magazine co-founder) – with soaring melody courtesy of Tom Innocenti’s majestic guitar lines. Think Formulas-era Morbid Angel blended with the melodicism and atmospherics of Emperor, but written as if to accompany the triumphant return of a victorious crusader army (assuming that army marched at 250 beats per minute). A winning combination, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Sarpanitum haven’t forsaken songwriting for aesthetics, either. The record is a riff smorgasbord, and Innocenti has ensured a good within-song balance between more densely savage segments and the atmospheric melodies. While the drums never let up, the diverse pacing of the guitar lines, from the grandiose and lethargic “I Defy for I Am Free” to the furious speed of “Glorification Upon the Powdered Bones of the Sundered Dead,” ensures the album remains engaging. The general pacing of the record as a whole is well-managed too; a couple of well-positioned and unusually good atmospheric tracks provide much needed respite from the blasting, and the overall running time is a perfect forty one minutes.
Performance and production flaws prevent me from going the full gush. This is technically extremely demanding material and each musician’s performance is noteworthy, so it seems harsh to complain about a few timing issues with the guitars, but when the bar is set so high by their tech-death peers, a few moments of slight sloppiness are hard to ignore. Macey’s drumming is remarkable if not exactly tasteful, but it fits the style and contributes to the record’s individuality. The production issues are more irritating: the bass is practically inaudible and the drums quite artificial, though the distinctive, large and spacey guitar tone is a highlight. Unfortunately the album is another loudness war casualty with a very low dynamic range that reduces the impact of dramatic lead entrances and within-song transitions.
Fortunately these problems don’t ruin what is one of 2015’s best death metal records. Blessed Be my Brothers… finally fulfills the promise Sarpanitum showed early in their career and establishes them as one of the UK’s most exciting extreme metal acts. Prepare to adjust your end-of-year lists!
Tracks to check: “By Virtuous Reclamation,” “Thy Sermon Lies Forever Tarnished,” “I Defy for I am Free,” “Blessed Be my Brothers”