The world is not lacking for metal bands. Between Bandcamp and blogs, there’s an endless supply of new discoveries at our fingertips. Though somehow we’ve heard and seen it all. Several times over. Yet once in a blue moon something like Vaelmyst’s Secrypts of the Egochasm comes along to reinvigorate our interest in an otherwise quiet corner of metal. For this jaded listener, it’s easily the surprise of 2021.
First, it must be said that calling this album melodic death metal feels a little disingenuous. No doubt, it is death metal. And it is certainly melodic. But it’s closer to earlier Opeth than it is to, say, At the Gates or Dark Tranquillity. Situating the specific roots of Secrypts of the Egochasm in the greater context of metal would be a fruitless endeavor. It is enough to say that Vaelmyst plays superbly crafted death metal with an at-times progressive touch courtesy of objectively impressive and melodic lead guitar work.
Second, Secrypts of the Egochasm defies all the trappings of the typical debut album. The production is full and fitting. Its seven songs are distinct yet feel part of a greater whole. The instrumental track sounds like an appropriate bridge. The band logo is killer. And the cover art serves as a good visual representation of the duality of the melodicism and sonic force of the album. There are no obvious signs of amateurism or “figuring things out.”
Not unlike another death metal trio, Krisiun, there’s a distilled dynamism to Vaelmyst’s brute force. That ever-present feeling of a unity of sound gives the album a rare confidence one would sooner expect from a more veteran band. Yet here’s Vaelmyst, accomplishing on their first album what lesser bands might aim for on their fourth or fifth. It’s no exaggeration to say that Secrypts will rank as one of the year’s strongest death metal releases, and the fact that it’s coming from the debut full-length of a virtually unknown band is as impressive as it is exciting.
Speaking more specifically to the songs themselves, there are album highlights aplenty, but the more obvious place to start is with album opener “Espirit de Corps.” Maybe going into the release blind helped, but I was absolutely floored by the first 50 seconds of this song, from the stomp of Ronny Lee Mark’s guitar to Jonathan V’s bellow. The disarming simplicity of that first minute or so of tunes belies the complexity to follow, but more importantly it confidently announces the arrival of a band that will, if it’s around for any length of time, make its own imprint on melodic death metal.
And what an imprint Vaelmyst makes. While not quite novel, the very specific brand of neoclassical melodic death metal the band offers here isn’t exactly a well-trodden aesthetic, even within the subgenre. The fact that Marks played in a neoclassical death/power metal band (Statius) should come as no surprise, as the leads on Secrypts are as neoclassical as anything we heard from Dave Suzuki-era Vital Remains. And while the bass and drums are there in the forefront, it’s the neoclassical feel that gives Vaelmyst its distinct sound.
The soulful touch of Marks’ guitar work is all over the album. There’s the extended solo near the four-minute mark on “Dawnless.” The almost black/thrash feel of the opening rhythm of “Spineless Throne,” and the arena rock riff that follows. The noodly, threading-of-the-needle riffage going on in “Ghoulish Delight.” The cool, slow crawl of the riff in “The Coin of this Realm” at around 1:50. And of course, the ethereal instrumental, “Into the Egochasm.” Truly, there’s not a single song on the album that isn’t blessed by Marks, and Secrypts is all the better for it.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, this album deserves your immediate attention. Venomous vocals. Killer riffs. And the driving blast of Wyatt Bentley on drums. Who among us doesn’t like these things? Unless by choice, it’s an absolute mystery how something this addicting from a Los Angeles-based band ended up an independent, digital-only release. It’s still a little early to tell where Secrypts of the Egochasm will sit by December 2021, but I’d be surprised if I don’t hear more about this band from others by the end of the year.