With both a quality demo and EP under their belt, Malthusian has been one of the more promising acts out of Ireland in the past decade. Further, they’ve been hailed as one of the better live acts (and they deliver on that one). Their prior works, particularly the 2015 EP Below the Hengiform, were a thickly muddled murderous take on blackened death. Elongated compositions, punctuated riffs, static rhythms, and deep, growling vocals dominated the landscape. There was chaos and confusion but those elements were deftly balanced against clear lead lines and consistent double bass.
At long last the band has finally delivered an LP. At over 40 minutes, five tracks twist and turn, undulating and oozing through thick production and muffled screams. Without any releases to their credit since April 2015, it’s simple to deduce that the band spent more than three years composing, recording, and producing Across Deaths. And given that much time, combined with some serious touring over the last few years, it’s not absurd to simply ask why the band couldn’t have given us more…
It’s the smaller letdowns, the ones that really get under your skin. The letdowns where a band with minimal material, say an EP of three songs that showed immense promise for a full-length, that truly hurt. There’s no safety net to fall softly into. No soft teddy bear to spoon at night. You’re left, three-song 7” in hand, with nothing to look forward to and, even worse, nothing to fall back on. You might as well do the Nestea plunge into an alligator-infested swamp while chugging West Nile Virus. [Editor’s note: I had West Nile. It’s no big deal.]
So that brings us back to Across Deaths. Sure the seven-and-a-half-minute “Sublunar Hex” has some swirly riffs reminiscent of what made them such a promising outfit, but masking all of that is murky production of multi-layered vocals. That track and the album as a whole show an attempt to mimic the sounds of the metal outback such as Portal or Impetuous Ritual. But as a colleague said, “You never go half-Portal,” which is what Malthusian have attempted to do here. Muffled production, swirling, chaotic guitars and off-kilter drumming all lead to a blend of Malthusian’s older, more infectious approach and Portal’s experimental brilliance. The results are not always perfect, but when they’re close as on “Sublunar Hex” the results bring a jaunt into some hellish abyss.
The main knock here is a near complete lack of memorable or even unique moments. Now that’s not to say – even as the band draws from the Blood Incantation- and Spectral Voice- realm of cavernous, dank-diggy-dank death metal – that there aren’t moments and flecks of composition that have potential. Some of the same potential that was audible on their prior demo and EP is intact. The issue is a lack of progression. Across its six minutes, the closing track “Telluric Tongues (Roaring into the Earth)” should do more to end the album, but does little more than spiral in on itself as it jerks along, drums furiously leading the non-fluid transitions.
Now, none of this is to pour water on the raging fire that could be Malthusian. Fans, or prospective fans rather, have been waiting for a quality LP from these lads for three years and by god, they’re going to get one someday. And Malthusian is fully capable of producing. But for now what they have is a little hype, plenty of anticipation, and a soft trombone note forever fading out in anticipation of their next attempt.