Long-running Polish death metal outfit Azarath has returned to bloody action with fifth album Blasphemers’ Maledictions. The sound may be quintessential Polish death metal, but Azarath plays it with an intensely occult black metal focus and atmosphere, and the venomous racket kicked up within can be nothing other than a group of musicians playing with a collective bellyful of hellfire. Azarath has frequently languished as little more than a footnote due to drummer and founding member Inferno also kicking the cans for certified megastars Behemoth. If there’s any justice in this world, Blasphemers’ Maledictions ought to see Azarath rocketing to the absolute top of the heap, as it’s more simultaneously unhinged and precise than anything Nergal and company have done since, say, Zos Kia Cultus.
But let’s take a quick step back and break down the fourth wall a little bit here. Usually when sitting down to listen to an album that I’m going to review, I’ll keep a notebook handy or open up a word processing document to jot down any random impressions or thoughts which eventually help me sketch the outlines of a review. With more listens, more things get jotted down, and half-formed thoughts get a bit more meat on their bones. One of the reasons that it’s taken such a damnably long time to help birth this Azarath review is that the metal contained within this deceptively-lovely package is so fucking metal that it continually short-circuits any and all parts of my brain connected to language. Parietal lobe? Torched. Corpus callosum? Split with an axe. Frontal lobe? Excised and tossed in front of a damn bus.
You see, I would start to write something like “Sharp, militant edges of Polish death metal in the tradition of…” but then I would be rudely interrupted by absolutely irresistible headbanging. Hours later I would come to on the floor, trying to catch my ragged breath with my legs twitching and my shoes somehow thrown out the still-closed window. I would then try to bring trembling pen to crumpled paper again to jot “Immaculate riff-craft on the model of early Morbid Angel” or “Reminiscent of the always-underrated Necrophobic” but then the headbanging would kick in again with no warning, and not only that, but all of a sudden I’d discover that I had stood up, hoisted an armchair high above my head, and begun yelling “WHO FUCKING WANTS SOME?” Measured and thoughtful prose this did not invite.
Blasphemers’ Maledictions is Azarath’s first album with new vocalist and bassist Necrosodom, who spews a glorious variety of antifreeze-gargling tones with a manic intensity nearly rivaling Mortuus (of Funeral Mist/Marduk infamy). Inferno’s drumming is the stalwart anchor required by music this blisteringly intense, and his performance throughout the album is tremendous. Check out the driving swagger of “Crushing Hammer of the Antichrist,” the insane stop-start verse drumming of “Deathstorms Raid the Earth” or the relentless double-bass opening of “Behold the Satan’s Sword” for proof positive of the man’s limbs of rubber and steel. Sure, the snare is occasionally a bit clacky and the bass drum could stand a bit more punch and boom, but Inferno’s overwhelming and hugely diverse technique, coupled with the hugely upfront scything of frantic guitarwork means that really, if you find yourself folding your arms unpleasantly and nitpicking the drum sound instead of rocking the shit out you probably deserve to be slapped in the face with a ride cymbal and reminded that heavy metal is about JOY, you dour asshole. Particular mention has to go to the absolute show-stopper of a closer, “Harvester of Flames,” which stomps in with an attitude of pure, unbridled rock and roll fury before giving way to a witheringly melancholy chorus that sees the guitars letting loose with pinch harmonics that perfectly frame the unexpected melodic shifts. This is the kind of song that could (and by all rights should) bring the entire goddamn world together – the citizens of 200-odd nations hoisting armchairs over our heads and howling “WHO FUCKING WANTS SOME?” Extreme art, ever the salve for an extremely fucked world.
Still, perhaps the most impressive thing is that even in the midst of this relentless yet intelligently-constructed face-ripping death metal lurk gorgeous passages of dreamlike guitar leads that simultaneously temper and provoke the surrounding brutality (see the midsection of “Under the Will of the Lord,” the closing of “Deathstorms Raid the Earth,” “The Abjection”). Like a glacier placed in the center of an ocean of crackling fire, you know that any second it will melt and plunge you straight into the searing breath of flame, but its blue is bluer than any sky and twice as deep and from its fast-sublimating depths rises a heartsong of awe and terror. With all due apologies to Thralldom, this moment of startling beauty – singular, though it recurs throughout the album with different notes and different shapes – is the real shaman steering a vessel of vastness.
Although Azarath has long been a truly fierce band, Blasphemers’ Maledictions launches these Poles clear into the goddamn stratosphere, and positions itself effortlessly in a tight race with Mitochondrion and Nader Sadek for the most supremely twisted and ass-kicking death metal album of the year. With its rich golden cover art breaking the tradition of Azarath’s mostly crude black and white demonic depictions in order to give a blasphemous rendition of Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam, Blasphemers’ Maledictions is the kind of sophisticated turn from a veteran band that might just see the Sistine Chapel swallowed up in a crumbling of tectonic plates. Fire on the mountainside, a storm across the waters; praise the beast, indeed. If this uncompromisingly brilliant racket doesn’t set the same electricity flying through your body as the very first day you fell under the sway of the Riff and were born anew, you just might be lost to the cause of metal.