When Sulphur Aeon dropped their debut full length Swallowed by the Ocean’s Tide in 2013, they appeared fully formed. Not fully formed as original visionaries, mind you, but fully formed as a cohesive unit that was comfortable with their individual and group capabilities. The result was a great set of blackened death tunes that pulled in as much Hypocrisy as it did Behemoth and other Polish death. It was indebted to its rich source material all the way down to its Lovecraftian lyrics, but it revealed a band that knew how to just deliver; the unique voice could come later.
If the band has built one truly signature element on their early records, it is that of scale. There’s such a sense of depth and expanse within their sound that it’s easy to envision the tremolo riffs being played hundreds of feet above the drums, bass, and brutal rhythm parts. Scythe doesn’t just continue this trait, but better takes advantage of the space/size with longer stretches of eerie melody and foreboding. Both opener “Cult of Starry Wisdom” and “The Summoning of Nyarlathotep” spend a fair amount of time in build mode, the former acting as both a standalone song and extended overture for the full album, with the latter rising to a high level while still leaving plenty of mountain for the rest of the album to climb.
In fact, when taken in wider context, much of the album’s first half seems as a precursor to the nine-plus minute “Sinister Sea Sabbath,” which is not just the most complex but also possibly the most thunderous song the band has yet composed in their young career. Like much of the album, it knows how to take advantage of the less dense moments, but when it brings the fire, it’s a raging torrent of trem riffs, pummeling drumming, and the types of shimmery open-picked lines that are somehow just as unsettling as any of the most violent passages. Most of all is that sense of size. Given that this is extreme metal, understanding the lyrics without a lyric sheet isn’t going to come naturally to most listeners, but the fact that they’re playing a soundtrack for some grand, ancient cosmic event is communicated quite clearly. An obvious album centerpiece that really hammers home the band’s unabashed focus on fantasy.
The feeling of the album having a clear arc is continued in its latter minutes. “The Oneironaut” brings with it a feeling of aftermath; “Lungs Into Gills” is a blasting and churning maelstrom of brutality that both renews and one-ups the intense highs from earlier in the album; and the closer carries with it a sense of finality that can only be earned by every previous song building to that point.
This brings us to the most notable selling point of Sulphur Aeon the band: because every song is interesting both on its own and in the context of the album, it’s often easy to forget (or ignore) that each individual performance is quite spectacular. The drumming is magnificent and nuanced, the riffs constantly engaging, and the leads, when they appear, are buttery smooth. Plus, the production is impeccable. It’s a clear case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, and while they’ve always displayed this quality, it will only serve them more and more as they continue to grow as songwriters.
Sulphur Aeon’s greater focus on full album construction and dynamics means that The Scythe of Cosmic Chaos is a less immediate album than its predecessor, but as that big picture begins to reveal itself, it becomes clear that this constantly improving band has once again found a key way to up its own game. This is a band that operates within that perfect space between fantastical escapism and dead serious intensity. They continue to prove that they possess the songcraft, talent, and clear focus on growth to pull it off again and again.