To take Sanguis Imperem as straight-up death metal is a mistake. These Californians (also active as live backing for similarly-minded noiseniks Nocturnal Blood) clearly take their inspiration from that murky, ill-defined, yet fertile territory often described (with little regard for snorts of derision from those within earshot) as either war metal or bestial black/death metal. Whatever one’s opinion of asinine genre designations, there is no denying that the font of misanthropic clattering originally christened by Canada’s seminal Blasphemy (whose approach, it ought to be said, was basically just a righteous perversion of the first two Bathory records) has flowered bountifully, spawning such notable miscreants as Conqueror, Black Witchery, Morbosidad, early Beherit, Blasphemophagher, Revenge, and so on.
Although the sound Sanguis Imperem attains on this debut long-player is full and thick, very much in the style of a reasonably modern but still rough death metal record (think a muddier version of the most recent Spearhead album), the compositional style is inextricably linked to that of the aforementioned acts: churning swoons of tremolo swarming guitar that are more texture than riff; completely over-the-top drum punishment; thick but indistinct bass; a blending of deep guttural pukes and higher-range rasping; and occasional forays into slower tempos that might count as ‘doom’ if they did more than revisit a song’s non-riffs at half-time. That description might sound like I’m writing off the style, but I generally eat this kind of thing up.
Nevertheless, Sanguis Imperem is a bit too controlled for my taste. For this style to succeed in the face of its generally single-minded approach and often indistinguishable songs, I need to feel like something truly dangerous and foul is clawing its way out of my speakers. Sanguis Imperem’s invocation of chaos falters when it becomes too measured or calculated, as on “Pathetic Obsecrations,” and especially “Strapped to the Crank Wheel,” whose mid-paced lope really doesn’t do much for me (and certainly not for four-and-a-half minutes). When the band chucks in the odd additional element, like the crackling snare rolls that introduce “Heralds of Triumph,” or the extra layer of guitar that appears unexpectedly on closer “The Crucifilth,” it shows promise. Elsewhere, the bass break on “Possessed by Violence” is perfectly disgusting, with the rest of the song filling out probably the best moment of the album through a brief diversion into actual half-speed doom here and a few bars of frantic guitar flailing there. Still, in its failure to ever truly dance over the threshold of unhinged lunacy, Sanguis Imperem lays bare a compositional conservatism that a more apocalyptic delivery might allow me to overlook. Fine enough for bothering the neighbors, but if you really want to cause a ruckus, I’d stick to the new Blasphemophagher. That shit is nasty.