Consistency is a virtue, most of the time. Oftentimes, it is vital for a band’s recognizability, allowing only for incremental growth and change, both within an album and across several. But it can be taken too far with a sound growing stale, or eschewed completely for avant-garde whiplash effects (see Igorrr). Usurpress love mixing different genres into their Swedish death metal, risking consistency issues but aiming for the reward of diversity and unpredictability. With an array of influences ranging from progressive rock to black, doom and gothic metal, will Interregnum live up to its eclectic aspirations?
Usurpress doesn’t allow you to settle into a comfort zone. “A Place in the Pantheon” sets the ominous tone with clean tones and dark whispers, morphing gradually into a triumphant maelstrom of Rush keyboard flurries. The first of many whiplashes hits when the subsequent track is a 2 minute blast of pure Swedish death metal. It tastes like more the moment it’s over, owing to the powerful, grinding aesthetic of the band. The drums cover a broad range, from punishing double bass rolls and furious blasts to slow and hard-hitting. The guitars churn and buzz through malevolent hooks, but switch just as easily to stirring solos. The throaty growl is not unlike Johan Hegg, which can only be a compliment, but the deep bronzed cleans are equally full of personality, if less diverse than the harsh vocals. On the title track, these coalesce into a bold execution of a familiar sound, and it sets the tone as the base the remaining variations are built upon.
And vary they do. “In Books Without Pages” contemplates a death metal based Arcturus, varying between progressive reminiscence and thunderous blackened riffing. “Late in the 11th Hour” brings in the Viking influences of Ensiferum and Amon Amarth, yet sounds quite like neither, filled with a dark regret neither of those is known for (“we don’t speak of glory, of honor and of pride, there’s no sense of brotherhood yet we’re dying side by side”.) “Ships of Black Glass” would be the most straightforward execution of the base sound in long form, if it weren’t for the lengthy psychedelic bridge in the middle, complete with modulated vocals and weeping guitar solo. And the album closes on a straight-up gothic metal track in the vein of The Vision Bleak, using cleaner tones and no harsh vocals whatsoever.
If this sounds like a chaotic hodgepodge to you, you’re not entirely wrong, but Usurpress pull the range of sounds together with two things: songwriting and atmosphere. Interregnum packs a serious load of riffs, from the blackened variants of “The Iron Gates Will Melt” to the thoroughly-used main hook of highlight “11th Hour.” These are melded seamlessly with the expressive solos and atmospheric bridges. Across all tracks, a dark, morose drape lies, with a glint of melancholy in its folds. The excellent flow and consistent mood prevent the range of styles from flying off the handles, instead leaving the impression of chapters from an anthology with a common thread. Only the decision to open and close on the biggest outliers is disputable, as it makes them feel somewhat separate from the rest of the album, but this would be nitpicking and largely up to personal preference.
Usurpress have created an album that defies the ordinary and the oft-heard. Elements are drawn from wells that seem miles apart, then combined in unexpected ways, more sequentially than the usual mash-ups. The wide variations don’t make for an album that feels wholly coherent on the first listen, and Interregnum takes time to amalgamate properly despite the modest running time. Once it does, however, it reveals itself as more than a response to albums that seem to be the same song a dozen times over. It’s an outright challenge.