Zetar – Devouring Darkness Review

Formed in 2019 as a solo act from Austin, Texas, the now international trio Zetar are so new and obscure that I couldn’t even locate an entry for them on the hallowed Encyclopaedia Metallum database. That might be due to the fact that the group entirely avoided releasing any demos, EPs, singles, or live recordings leading up to their debut record, Devouring Darkness. It could also be that the community running Metallum suddenly decided to act like a bunch of lowlife slackers, but I suppose we’ll never know. In any case, Zetar is here now, peddling sci-fi blackened death metal tailor-made for folks who want cool, chrome-plated futurism loaded with the same good, old-fashioned goat/blood sacrifices you know and love. Are the Blood Gods pleased?

Devouring Darkness is a bit of an odd duck. The themes and atmosphere of the record are distinctly modern, as are many of the riffs, which tend to adapt classic death metal and black metal foundations to better match current aesthetics. On the other hand, the song compositions themselves, performances, and the production are more raw, unpolished in much the same way as 90s second-wave black metal tended to be. Zetar crafted an album built upon the backs of chunky, mid-paced death metal riffs and drum patterns, but the guitar tones themselves lean more closely towards black metal as well, as do the vocals. In essence, Devouring Darkness splits the difference between death and black metal in such a deliberate manner that I can’t confidently claim to have heard something quite like it before.

To that extent, Zetar succeed in creating something worthwhile and interesting. Album highlights “Portal Six-Three” and “Landru” sell the sci-fi theme particularly well, adeptly balancing strong riffs with tight performances that sound like they were recorded live, despite thousands of miles separating each band member. “Return to Talos IV (The Cage)” further boasts some of the best riffs and most righteous shredding that Devouring Darkness has to offer, which makes the initial work of getting into the record—and getting used to its unusual sound—almost effortless. I especially love the way the drums sound across the board, pounding, crashing, and clinking in a most satisfying fashion (especially on “Portal Six-Three”) through layers of buzzing guitars and croaking rasps. There are no outright boring songs here, either, which makes these thirty-nine minutes of blackened death a breeze to digest and revisit.

Yet, for everything Zetar get right, there are just as many things that simply don’t work. “Demons of Darkness and Air” and “Lights of Zetar” suffer from crippling rhythmic issues on their back ends, constantly losing me on the count as the drums (on the former) and the lead guitar (on the latter) suddenly slide out of register with the rest of the band. Most songs have some small moment or two where the band falls out of sync somehow, but those two are by far the worst offenders. Additionally, as concise as the record is, bloat issues arise in the form of one or two songs which outlast their welcome by thirty seconds or so (“Lights of Zetar” and closer “Ardra (Great Deceiver)” for example), and in the inclusion of two superfluous instrumentals. While the instrumentals, in particular, don’t necessarily blemish the album, they do sap some of its momentum. Lastly, I laud the production for its raw feel and natural tones, but there are times where very specific instruments (cymbals here, some vocals there) surge forward in the mix, drowning out everything else for a measure or two. It’s not hugely disruptive, but I detected it right away so it isn’t subtle, either.

I went into Devouring Darkness knowing nothing of what to expect from it. What I received impressed me in a fair number of ways, but it left me wanting a lot more at the same time. Zetar nailed a lot of the aesthetics, and I’d love to see further development there. On the other hand, their execution could be tighter, especially regarding keeping the band in the right groove more consistently. Feel free to visit Devouring Darkness and know that what you’ll hear was totally worth your time. Just don’t expect to encounter anything worth writing home about, either.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Spirit Coffin Publishing
Websites: facebook.com/Lightsofzetar | zetarofficial.bandcamp.com
Releases Worldwide: October 15th, 2021

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