One of the tricky things about describing music is choosing exactly how deep to go when picking points of comparison. This is particularly true for anything existing outside of normal bounds. Stay too general, and you risk not adequately describing the music; get too obscure, and you risk alienating the audience. There’s no perfect approach, of course, as each listener brings with them their own unique set of listening histories, preferences, and idiosyncrasies.
(Aside: Considering the obscure tastes of this staff and many of our readers [Aside within the aside: we have many readers?], pretty good chance these first two paragraphs were mostly useless, mostly. Also, full acknowledgement that Virus and The Chasm aren’t very obscure, just obscure in comparison to the types of bands you’d see on a Summer Slaughter Tour. Anyway, this album is great and this aside has gone on far too long.)
So, if you find your curiosity particularly piqued by such name drops – or if you’re generally the type that likes quirk-inspired quirk – read on. In Vengeful Reverence not only calls to mind some rather adventurous bands through its riffs and rhythms, but is a crazy fun and delightfully perplexing record loaded with personality.
If there’s one word that would adequately describe In Vengeful Reverence, it would be active. Whether it’s spending time in odder melodic passages that back up an effective and storytelling solo (“The Serpent Scepter”) or changing up between punchy, deathier riffs and dissonant, shimmery Virus/Ved Buens Ende-ish lines (opener “Reverse Celebration”), not a moment feels stagnant. Some parts have that constantly-in-motion quality of the more progressive Death records, while others even touch on the music school nerd-dom of a band like Krallice. Neither of these name drops will come through immediately, however, as it’s much more of a similar mindset or affinity than it is a true similarity in sound; a single passing riff style within a far stranger, unique setting. There’s even a… slam section (?) in “Spheres of Malevolence” that somehow fits in perfectly with its surroundings.
Some songs are certainly more gripping than others, but there isn’t a true lean moment on the album, and the highs are captivating. Chief among these are the crazy-busy “Peristalith” and equally-crazy-busy closer “Unseen, Yet Allseeing.” The former has the type of extra-punchy chorus that almost acts as a hook on its own, with vocalist Jo Willems really getting a chance to show off the throat. The latter, meanwhile, shows exactly how tight the band is as a unit (you have to be precise with guitar gain this low; more in a sec), while showing off some slick harmonies and ending it all with a pleasant acoustic outro. Plus, without some of the album’s driftier, less overtly technical songs (the title track, complete with its oddball, half-chanted clean vocals), these more violent delights wouldn’t have nearly the impact.
As mentioned, Moss Upon the Skull is nearly flawless in their cohesion as a unit. This band obviously plays together a ton, and every member has ace chops. The album’s natural, low-gain production – which admittedly may limit the impact of its brutality – helps to showcase the band members’ talents. Mathijs Provoost’s very mobile bass is audible throughout, Jef Van de Weghe’s guitars maintain a staccato punch without losing sustain on melodic passages, and every nuance of drummer Jense Philips’ performance is perfectly highlighted. This type of palpable chemistry will only help the band as their vision and songwriting talents grow.
Even if the future likely holds even higher highs for Moss Upon the Skull, it’s impossible to ignore the very bright present. After some extremely promising EP material, In Vengeful Reverence manages to be both a realization of potential and teaser for things to come. It’s an exciting, riff-loaded, and intriguing album that ought to find plenty of ears, particularly the types of ears that like their descriptive name drops on the just barely obscure side.
The album’s release has a bittersweet footnote, as Moss Upon the Skull’s original guitarist Tristan van Dorsselaer passed away in 2015. He contributed all of the lyrics and a good bit of the riffs on In Vengeful Reverence, so his stamp on the band is permanent. There is also little doubt that he would have been proud of his former bandmates’ accomplishments.