If we wanted to keep it short and sweet, we could probably just say that London’s (likely Scrabble cheaters) Qrixkuor make nightmare music. Here at Last Rites, however, we are generally impressed with being neither short nor sweet. Sic semper idiotus.
Qrixkuor first gained widespread attention in 2016 with their debut EP Three Devils Dance. It was a hellishly intense affair that thrust the band into the company of other such calmness-botherers as Teitanblood, Mitochondrion, Cruciamentum, and Katharsis. With the band now pared to a two-piece, Qrixkuor’s new EP Zoetrope is a single, stupefyingly kaleidoscopic 24-minute track that follows in form from last year’s excellent Poison Palinopsia full-length but exceeds even those lofty heights.
On Zoetrope, Qrixkuor have added an important new facet to their Cerberus-like mien with an increased use of subtle symphonic elements. Symphonic death metal, if we’re being honest, can be a dicey proposition at best, but rather than descend into clicky, action movie-sampling schlock, Qrixkuor weaves the symphonic elements deep into the fabric of their dense, lurching death metal. The effect is more like early Therion, Samael, or Hollenthon, with a touch of the sepulchral vapor of Necros Christos’s interludes.
Although “Zoetrope (Psychospiritual Sparagmos)” is lengthy, it has clearly defined sections that flow one to the next so that in reality it feels like a gapless album of three or four songs connected by interludes and scene-setting. With music as dense as Qrixkuor’s, this shorter-form EP format is a much easier way to appreciate the craft involved. That is, as masterful as Zoetrope is, if Qrixkuor had made an album of three tracks of equal length – even if each one was as strong and well-defined – it might not hit quite as hard because of differences in perception and attention span.
As it is, 24 minutes is a perfect amount of time to settle into the unnerving landscape, see the sights, and leave before succumbing to a feeling of complete overwhelm. Across nearly the entire expanse, the lead guitar stalks and prowls, jumping to the front with squeals and flurries only to draw back down into the mire. Just after the 7-minute mark, a nervy little fluttering guitar and bass tandem leads into a slight slow-down churn that gleams with eerie backing chimes.
The drums provide a consistently malleable* carpet, rumbling and pattering, churning and tumbling, stuttering and cresting. A metronomic approach would sterilize this kind of music, but the looseness of these patterns gives the whole hulking mass room to breathe, expand, metastasize. Around 11 minutes in, the song fades, giving way to an almost Hitchcockian interlude of piano, strings, and unsettled ambience for a few minutes before the whirlwind of scything guitar and hammering drums returns, announced by a chorus of subterranean voices.
(*kindly direct your complaints of oxymoronicism to management, c/o Take a Hike Enterprises.)
At the 17-minute mark, the keys introduce a pinched horn melody that sounds like a ghost company marching through a swamp of fire, and then around 19:30, the bass jumps out front with a fascinating high-fret lead. The song eventually fades out on a heaving, tumultuous slow burn with choral synth backing that sounds a bit like some of Nile’s death-classical dirges. The last minute or so sounds like a theremin screeching into an increasingly hostile void. The mind reels at the negative space. Atavism reigns.