originally written by Chris McDonald
Another elite black metal project from Germany, Infestus has been turning heads since its inception in 2003. At the core they’ve always been a tight, technically proficient black metal band with plenty of emphasis on speed and the requisite harsh evil atmosphere. But like other German projects such as The Ruins of Beverast and Verdunkeln, Infestus’s propensity for experimentation and cross-genre borrowing has lead to a similar reputation for pursuing black metal from a different perspective. E x | I s t is no exception, but this time, the presentation of both the sound and concepts have progressed, and the album is all the better for it.
Those already familiar with this project will notice that E x | I s t is a surprisingly moody, depressive animal compared to Infestus’s other albums. The more subdued production is a contributor to this, but the downbeat vibe is mostly due to the compositional developments. The base from which E x | I s t expands is fairly similar to Infestus’s prior releases; tight and multifaceted modern black metal that explores an assortment of different tempos and riffing styles. But the increased use of slow passages, acoustic interludes, and morose guitar leads lends an almost gothic/doom tinge to the proceedings at times, making for a dark and evocative listening experience that is equal parts empowering and depressive. Coupled with the hoarse, desperate sounding vocals, there’s an atmosphere of almost doomed acceptance floating throughout this music; an uneasy and anxiety-ridden submission to the nihilistic viewpoints so often embraced with open arms in the black metal scene. While tracks like “Darkness Blazing In the Flame of Fire” contain moments of almost anthemic proclamation, these instances are equally offset by tragic expressions of hopelessness such as halfway through closer “Descend Direction Void.” It’s an intriguing dynamic that adds an extra layer of depth and tension to the songs without feeling melodramatic or contrived.
That’s not to say that Infestus has given up on their more intense tendencies in favor of sullen philosophizing, either. There’s still a satisfying amount of grit in E x | I s t, but it’s definitely part of a broader context compared to past outings. Blast beats and fast riffs are employed liberally, but serve more to move the song in question to a new movement as opposed to just “sounding evil.” Some listeners may still find that E x | I s t drags on in places, and indeed there are parts that feel overly layered and static. (“Torn Observer” in particular could use a bit more energy.) But the strong melodies and variety of different sounds working together at all times makes it easy to become entranced by these tunes once they have time to sink in. The guitar work is especially memorable on this recording; the haunting leads in “Mirror Mind Reality” and “Down Spiral Depersonification” are outstanding extensions of the song’s center, and the beautiful acoustic interludes that drift in and out of the tracks are mesmerizing. The technically proficient drumming is similarly tasteful and appealing, and injects a lot of flash and flavor into the compositions. There’s a lot of differing pieces working in tandem effectively on this release, and it’s pretty amazing that an album that’s so impressively composed and performed is the work of a single individual.
E x | I s t is simply an extremely well-cut piece of work. Each track is different and brings a variety of ideas to the table, and the album as a whole feels unified by an engaging concept and a consistently enticing atmosphere. The music’s frequent excursions into non-extreme territory may throw off the purists, and a little bit of fat-trimming could have helped in places, but E x | I s t still succeeds as a black metal album in all of the right ways, and stands out in a year already saddled with several high-profile releases in the genre. Anyone willing to be a bit patient and give this album a chance to properly unfurl should dive right in, because Infestus has given us a lot to digest and enjoy here.