Somewhere outside the typical terrestrial realms of metal, there exists a plane only a handful of bands have the gall to even approach. Musically, it falls right on the throughline between the explosion of metal into splintered subgenres that happened at the tail end of the eighties and cemented itself forever into the lexicon of heavy metal by the mid-nineties. Death metal became focused on heavier tones, grooves, and outside influences for their experimentation than their thrash-based godfathers in Possessed and Master, while black metal, a previously loosely-defined term for bands embracing a more satanic esoteric, became a proper style with its own constraints and confining aesthetic, ironically becoming what it was trying to oppose.
There’s a reason the eighties are thought of in such high esteem in heavy metal. Largely it’s because it was the real golden decade for the genre, but it was also a time before metal became so compartmentalized. And while it would be unfair to say that metal reached stagnation – innovation and expansion still occur to this day – the end of the eighties marked the end of the wild frontier of heavy metal. It had become tamed, structured, defined. Chuck Schuldiner saw this coming. One of the very fathers of what is arguably the most successful branch of the post-eighties heavy metal tree, death metal, saw the fruits of his influence becoming its own style, straying away from the trajectory of the true heavy metal and taking on a life of its own. While simultaneously pushing metal to new territory, he sought to distance himself from the constraints of his own creation. Even with all the progressive elements thrown in, it is hard to deny that even by The Sound Of Perseverance, Chuck never lost the riffs and the feeling of true heavy metal. The triumphant gallops, the breakout riffs between moments of technical prowess – that passion for his mother genre is still there. A similar analysis can be performed when examining Darkthrone, the band that has probably inspired more bedroom clones than any other since A Blaze In The Northern Sky dropped in 1992. While Mayhem often gets credit as the progenitors of Norwegian black metal, Darkthrone were the ones keeping the eighties alive amidst a sea of clones that entirely missed the point, and favorably so as they in turn created their own branches of interpretation and innovation Even while Darkthrone pioneered and progressed, they never lost their love of the moments that made bands like Celtic Frost and Bathory legends in the first place.
Having released their debut demo way on back in 2007, Infernal Conjuration emerged from the home country of The (aforementioned) Chasm, showing promise, albeit a bit sloppy and disjointed, on their Tremendous Plague demo. With sparse activity between now and the present (two EP’s, one in 2010 and one in 2014), Infernal Conjuration have finally blessed us with a debut album. Infernale Metallum Mortis stands as a true death metal descent into realms beyond this mortal coil. Thrashy and riff-laden, the album holds fast to the spirit of heavy metal while pushing it to the extremes of what a few guitars, a bit of bass, and a set of drums can do to the eternal soul of whomever may be within earshot.
Taking up the reigns of their fellow countrymen in The Chasm (and whose influence is unabashedly recognized), Infernal Conjuration have a firm grasp on what makes heavy metal feel like heavy metal; while their style would most likely fall in the modern lexicon as somewhere on the thrash side of death metal, there is a certain brutal melodicism to the way the riffs play off one another, to the way the solos mainline adrenaline through the ears, to the cohesive energies of the rhythm section that reveals a blackened heart of iron that pumps the blood fast, aggressive heavy metal through the veins of their debut.
No fancy keyboard intro or samples of wind howls, no movie sample or inaccurately pronounced passages in Latin, no bullshit, no fanfare – the first song opens with an ominous, slow doomy riff across the pulsing tension of larger-than-life toms, rolling and beating their way to the wailing shrill of a pinch harmonic that descends from the heavens and sends the band off to the race to hell. “Dreadful Knowledge” sets the stage marvelously as it builds to full fledged, death thrashing fury. Never content to stay still for long at all, Infernal Conjuration keep things changing, and they are bringing all the riffs with them. By the end of the first song, the band are bleeding influences from across the extreme metal spectrum into their cauldron. The leads are equally impressive, working in perfect tandem with the riff changes to elevate the songs to even further levels of intensity and awe. Neither guitar seems to be too rooted to a singular responsibility as the album progresses, tradeoff riffing and twin leads abound, with alternating solos whipping back and forth with each attempting to outdo the other in playful competition. This works for the band largely because both players are committed to furthering the songs rather than sacrificing them to steal the spotlight. Noisy divebombs that never shy from bludgeoning the hell out of the whammy bar add a panicked urgency to the whole affair and pinch harmonics that could waken the cold decaying corpses of the dead abound, all serving a purpose in creating one of the most fun guitar-centric albums of the year.
This isn’t to say Infernal Conjuration aren’t working as a full band, the bass plays vital roles in not only holding the gap between the drums and the guitar, but adding further to the complexities of the songwriting. While usually holding tight to the guitars in the faster, thrashy passages, when given room to breathe, the bass isn’t afraid to explore the space provided. Really shining through on the slower (but not too slow, mind you) passages on “Necrolatria (A Los Muertos Blasfemos)” the bass adds subtle atmosphere as it works beneath the furor of tremolo guitars. The thonk of the speakers being pushed is simply felt beneath the metallic clang of the thick strings being plucked. Across the record, the bass seamlessly jumps between the guitars and the percussion, knowing its realm of responsibility and covering it with fluid discipline.
The drums always seem to find just the right patterns to fit the mood of the riffing. Galloping kicks bleed to runs and feel unrelenting, particularly on tracks like “Cleansed In Asphyxia.” While the production in this department would otherwise be the target for an easy criticism, the light clicking behind the kicks and tom recordings that would otherwise invoke PTSD in those that suffered through this era of mid nineties to early oughts feels more like an intentional nod to The Chasm, utilizing it as part of the band’s sound and allowing the drums a more equal presence in the overall presentation of the songs.
On top of all this, the vocals evoke a haunted desperation: hoarse shouts dried by the furnaces of hell. While far from the spotlight of the show, they fit well with the style, falling somewhere around the Sepultura/Possessed area of death metal vocals. They never quite reach a growl – these are a bit more on the extreme side of the thrash spectrum than what would be considered death metal vocals in the modern sense. Still, they retain a power possessed by the music they elaborate on, extolling the power of the infernal Hades across songs like “In The Presence Of Another World.” While far from the spotlight of the show they serve their purpose well, invoking blood-chilling moments of power when the moment calls for it and adding a distinct flavor to Infernale Metallum Mortis.
The fact that the band has existed since 2006 and four of the tracks on the album are re-recorded songs from previous releases (“Infernal Conjuration,” “Tremendous Plague,” and “Ultimatum,” from the Tremendous Plague demo in 2007 and “Demonic Possession” from the Avto de Fe EP in 2010) is a bit worrying at first glance, however all four songs come to fully realize their potential on Infernale Metallum Mortis and fit within the context of the album. The band waited until they were ready to release a debut and it shows in the craftsmanship of their debut. What’s really exciting is that the newer tracks are the ones that show the most promise, stepping the most outside the shadows of the band’s influences as they find their own identity.
At the very least, Infernal Conjuration are playing a style that has been played before, with an understanding of the roots of the genre and a passion for sculpting it within their own vision untapped by many of their peers. At best, the band are sowing the seeds to be the progenitors of the next evolution of true metal of death—holding the keys to a new age of iron clad worship of what lies beyond via the almighty power of the riff.