I remember when the term “blackened death metal” meant your standard meat-and-potatoes death metal seasoned with just the right selection of herbs, spices, and daemonic ash rubbed in to give it that extra zing. The term meant brutality in spades, blasts upon blasts bombarding you like an overzealous kid during dodgeball at a standard Phys. Ed. class, and growls that dragged you into the bowels of Hell, sucking your soul as you sit there and smile as life ebbs from your very pores. Nowadays, though? “Blackened death metal,” more often than not, encapsulates anything from the above scenario to bells, whistles, choirs, sweep-picked arpeggios, and a kitchen sink or two. Thankfully, Rhode Island’s Witch King brought it back to basics with their debut full-length, Voice of the Ossuary. This is crispy potatoes and charred-yet-raw seasoned steak with little else to trap the flavor in, just like your grandpappy used to make.
Within a nanosecond of opener “Rejection of the Light,” you are pummeled by tremolo riffs, bassist Ethan Facincani’s guttural growls and mid-pitched howls, and Ben Lopez’s especially frenetic slaughtering of his snare drum. I swear, if that thing were tuned any tighter, it would probably split at the mere sight of Lopez just sitting on his drum throne, and yet it somehow miraculously survives his battery. The Archgoat comparisons that I’m seeing being thrown at Witch King fit, as their complete lack of all things subtle and nuanced matches well with everyone’s favorite goat-obsessed Finns. They go in, obliterate, and flee the scene once the carnage is over.
This “steamroll and dominate” approach pulls Voice above its contemporaries, as rarely do they outstay their welcome, and they make damn sure to put their limited time to good (evil?) use. The title track slows things down just a hair, keeping a steady rhythm before losing its utter shit about a minute in, especially Sean McQuade’s rapid-fire tremolo riffs, but slow down again to regroup for the final onslaught near the end. Elsewhere, “Howling Beyond the Veil,” while reminding me a bit of the reactivated Pessimist at parts, lurches with murderous intent before blasting your head into orbit, with Lopez, once again, straight-up murdering his drumkit. In fact, Lopez easily takes the spotlight on this album, as his Max Kolesne-on-speed performance dominates throughout Voices of the Ossuary.
And a large part of that is the production makes damn sure his drum kit is front and center in the mix, almost dwarfing the other instruments. His snare especially drowns out the guitars and sometimes non-existent bass, and even his cymbals take a major hit soundwise. Speaking of the guitars, it was difficult to make out certain riffs and structures due to such a muffled mix. Thankfully, the songwriting mostly pulls itself up and out of the mire, but even then, the amount of bleed-through between songs is noticeable, as it all tends to blur at points. Finally, closer “Astral Desecration” outstays its welcome at over six minutes, further proving that Witch King works best in shorter bursts of raw speed and power.
But do not let the above sway you into believing that Voice of the Ossuary is without merit, as Witch King put out a flawed yet powerful debut. Sure, there are kinks to work out, but Voice contains a fuckton of blackened fury and energy, and I’m happy to see a band go back to a sound that is tried and true with as much conviction and rage as displayed on here. Here’s proof that you don’t need bells and whistles to get your point across. Sometimes a traditional, hearty meal, charred and bloody as it may be, is all you need.