Step tens of millions of minutes into metal’s past and you’d quickly stumble upon a gallant group of grim trailblazers who were hellbent on ratcheting up the intensity and cruel atmosphere of our genre into what’s passionately referred to as death metal. Over the years, we’ve seen countless modernizations and accoutrements added to the formula, but in the end, its most successful interpretation has always boiled down to one fundamental ingredient: Brutality.
THERE. Look at that spike a little ways after 1950. It’s difficult to trust Google for nailing something like this to a ‘T’, but I’d venture a guess that the peak of that particularly impressive summit was intended to highlight the late 80s: A glorious era when every long-haired galoot in puffy white sneakers was drawing Death and Possessed logos on the brown-paper-bagged covers of their Social Studies books. Glory hallelujah.
Fast forward to present day and you’ll find an unfathomable amount of bands still building off the elder architects’ design, and to an almost equally unfathomable scale of success and miserable failure. All of which brings us here today, throwing smitten glances at the elegantly grotesque album cover artwork that adorns Charnel Passages and wondering where on the scale from shit-to-HOLY SHIT the highly touted full-length from the Cruciamentum lads might fall.
For some, this band will forever be remembered as peaking with their 2009 demo Convocation of Crawling Chaos. This is death metal; there will always be those who refuse to worm their way out of the hoary tar pits, and there’s really nothing wrong with that. Luckily for them, there’s a never-ending supply of work being produced by countless bands that’s equally as cemented to the explicit past as they are.
For others, Cruciamentum showed precisely the right amount of progression between 2009 and their widely hailed 2011 EP. Our very own Danhammer Obstkrieg interpreted Engulfed in Desolation as “…to put none too fine a point on it, completely fucking world-crushing.” I was one of many who happened to agree with him, particularly with regard to how well Cruciamentum upped the gruesome atmospheric element between those sparse 2.5 years. If you felt similarly, you’re likely to love what the band’s putting down in 2015.
Having lived inside this record for the better part of the last two weeks, the most straightforward summary I can think to extend would be this: Blackhearted death metal savagery swathed in putrid atmosphere. Of course, that’s something most in the know would say has been Cruciamentum’s trajectory from the very beginning, but Charnel Passages simply achieves the mark more effectively/dramatically than ever before.
The established Incantation gives rise to Bolt Thrower gives rise to Morbid Angel gives rise to Dead Congregation ad infinitum is of course still present, but this record does a magnificent job of further accenting its shifting black moods with an increased dose of embellishment. The keyboard atmospherics that underlined previous offerings are fully realized and give the album’s many creeping measures a wonderfully cavernous, majestic touch that’s as close to funeral doom without fully stomping on the brakes as one could hope. Furthermore, the fiery lead dabbling from the band’s past is noticeably augmented in 2015 and gives Cruciamentum’s flood of faster, more threatening attacks an ideal splash of spastic Trey Azagthoth voltage.
Of course, none of the added embroidery would mean shit without the ability to craft an engaging tune, and luckily, Cruciamentum haven’t lost a step in that respect. While some of the songs are clearly more resolved to destroy – the warmly titled “Necrophagous Communion,” or the recently unveiled and absolutely savage “Tongues of the Nightshade” – the bulk of Charnel Passages admirably mixes varying shades of fast/slow tempo shifts within an overall mood that beautifully blesses the pleasures of death, decay and obstinate brutality. And really, that’s what it all should be about.
Go forth and fucking die.