Since the dawn of culinary arts, ever since the first caveman chef decided that some random weed we now know as oregano tasted good with roasted mammoth hock, humans have hungered for two great tastes that taste great together. Ham and swiss. Potato pancakes and applesauce. Biscuits and sausage gravy. Lox and capers. Corned beef and cabbage. French fries and ketchup (or mayo if you’re Dutch/weird). And so on and so forth.
No “two great tastes” food is more iconic than the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Not only is the PB&J an ideal marriage of “almost healthy” and “sweet stuff that was once real food,” but it is the ultimate comfort food. Comfort food because it’s delicious. Comfort food because you probably always have the ingredients sitting around. Comfort food because you know it’s not adding much to your overall intake of nutrition, but you’re going to convince yourself that it’s a meal.
We love our comfort foods in metal. Otherwise, how do you explain new bands that sound like old bands constantly getting to tour with the old bands from which they stole their new band riffs? Some people simply don’t look to music to expand their horizons (a truth that is both comforting and hugely depressing at the same time), while others like equal doses of familiarity and innovation. (I’d be the first person to laud the total ripoff thrash of Nekromantheon, but I’m also not about to tell you it is essential/important.)
Throwback Swedeath is one of metal’s most common comfort foods, and it is everywhere. Oftentimes it is created by bands that briefly existed during the scene’s heyday and miraculously returned recently. Entrails, for example, had zero albums from 1990 through 2009, and have had four since. Stealing Dissection’s ice cold melodic black metal is also common; Thulcandra’s entire existence, blue cover art and everything, is proof of that. Because these sounds really aren’t too far apart on the larger metal spectrum, bands often find themselves somewhere in between them.
But it’s hard to think of a band two-great-tastes-ing these sounds into comfort metal as well as Sarcasm, who isn’t just mixing Swedish death metal with Swedish melodic black metal, but who themselves are Swedish, and also existed briefly in the early ‘90s before taking a long hiatus until a couple years back. Within the Sphere of Ethereal Minds is their second proper full length after Burial Dimensions (which was recorded in 1994 but not released until 2014… or 2016… it’s complicated), and it treats equal doses of Swedeath and meloblack metal as peanut butter and jelly, and the results are as riff-o-matic, melodic, intense, and imminently listenable. Super cold, but still somehow chewy, like a great ice cream sandwich.
It’s almost as if Sarcasm wanted to sneak in the black metal elements, as opener “Bloodsoaked Sunrise” sounds about 90 percent like a Spectral Sorrows outtake, with only a touch of iciness added in (mostly in the form of the higher register rasps). By the middle of “From the Crimson Fog They Emerged,” however, the balance is clearly apparent; chuggy death metal riffs give way to an ascension of chilling tremolo riffs, which are quite often backed by blast beats.
The death metal side of the band’s coin is more influenced by Edge of Sanity than anyone else, but elements of Unleashed are also present, while smaller touches of early Amorphis and Paradise Lost may reveal themselves to the attentive ear. The black metal side is all of the “blue cover” variety, with threads of Dissection, Sacramentum, and Dawn (the blast off moments of “Embodiment of Source”) all apparent at different times. Point is, this is made of hearty, familiar ingredients, and the band typically swirls it all together with the same success that Smuckers mixes up Goober.
It isn’t all perfect — those sweep-picked solos don’t always fit the mood — but at a brisk 36 minutes, Within the Sphere is the kind of efficient and quick headbanging hybrid that ought to satisfy the common craving. Thankfully, this brief run time still allows for one longer track, as Sarcasm really excels when spreading their wings over the 8.5-minute “A Black Veil for Earth.” A clean guitar intro gives way to a doom/death crawl (complete with the album’s deepest vocal delivery) before slowly incorporating tremolo harmonies over the bludgeoning riffs. The song not only shows the band at their best, but really widens their dynamic approach.
So okay, maybe the band has more than two ingredients, but the metaphor is still more than apt. Much like peanut butter and jelly in your pantry, you probably already have plenty of Dissection and Edge of Sanity in your music library, but why not mix it up a little more? Within the Sphere of Ethereal Minds isn’t going to do anything to expand your metal horizons, but it’s damn comfortable, and the two-great-tastes approach means it might occasionally get chosen over Purgatory Afterglow or The Somberlain.
Every once in a while, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich sounds more appetizing than steak au poivre.