[Cover artwork by T1]
PORTRAIT OF A PROCUL HIS ACOLYTE
Not that there’s anything wrong with goals centered on being bigger, viler and more out there, of course, but Drowned’s more straightforward, traditionally riffy interpretation that emphasizes an occult atmosphere works to their advantage because it ends up sounding fresh when stacked against what’s currently pinging most people’s radar. In truth, a record like Procul His sounds closer to black metal in today’s landscape compared to death metal, casting a curiously grim and esoteric shadow that’s readily linked to another act occupied by two of Drowned’s members: the equally dark and atmospheric black / doom of Essenz. Add the extra arcane ex-Necros Christos factor from the final Drowned member and you’ve essentially got a most ideal formula for occult, atmospheric, deadly death metal one could hope to encounter in 2024.
Another immediately welcome feature here is the production. Procul His offers up a clear, roomy and cold production that underlines a very live and… sepulchral impression, filling the room and making it feel as if the band is playing directly in front of you from inside some sort of perverted church. That bigness—that perfect brush of cold, vital reverb—is not unlike something we’ve experienced from the likes of bands like Negative Plane or Krolok, and it’s another thing that gives the record a palpable black metal sense that whiffs of ritual incense and wickedness. Listen to a song like “Corpse God” and appreciate how well balanced the approach is; the drums, riffing and a grumbling bass all coil and broil in perfect synchronicity, with G.ST’s rotted vocals blowing hot embers from an abyssal furnace.
“Corpse God” is one of the more direct songs on the record, and you’ll quickly notice just how vital a role drummer T.E. plays, even when the course is more of a straight line. His fills are animated and inspired, and they ambush the listener around nearly every corner, “Corpse God” obviously included. T.E. loves the roto toms, too, peppering multiple cuts with notably precise bursts reminiscent of Ventor splashing the corners of the earliest Kreator output. (Pleaaasuuuuure…. to fill…) Furthermore, his cymbal play is bright and surprisingly elegant, not unlike the equally alert approach of Mikkey Dee amidst the Diamond years. All in all, the drumming top to bottom here breathes a significant amount of life into Procul His, and it offers a pleasant counterpoint to the graven gloom that’s just as crucial to the overall Drowned design.
Riff lords will also find plenty to chew on inside these 44 minutes, as Procul His packs an impressive assortment of riffing styles across diverse tempos and tempers. Tlmnn’s time spent with Necros Christos certainly bleeds through, giving the record’s numerous doomy passages a notably dark, Candlemassive impression, particularly in a second half that’s vaulted by “Blue Moth Vault” and the exceptional “Seed of Bones.” Conversely, when the fires really start roaring—which is pretty fricken often—Tlmnn makes excellent use of a tremolo style approximative of Soulside Journey, or perhaps the molten energy infused throughout the early works of Intestine Baalism. It all pairs wonderfully with G.ST’s bulldozing bass and sporadic “OOH!” breakouts that are reminiscent of an early (and notably un-cowboyed) David Vincent. Take a crack at “Chryseos Vas” as evidence, a song that packs all of Drowned’s plagues and blessings into a tidy seven and a half minute epilogue.
It’s probably a good time to point out that just because Procul His comes across as a very serious death metal album doesn’t mean it’s completely devoid of fun. Sure, it’s not likely to be the first thing you reach for this summer as a soundtrack to running through the sprinklers, but you will have fun dissecting the clever tactics utilized for the umpteen tempo and mood shifts top to bottom. All said and done, if you count bands such as Coffins, Cruciamentum and Venenum as staples in your death metal diet, you will definitely benefit from supplementing that regimen with a healthy dose of Procul His. Also, I have been authorized to award 10 extra credit points to any soul who’s able to decipher the album artwork. Sensory nerve cells? Hoarfrost under a microscope? A closeup of Woody Harrelson’s front tooth? Maybe, maybe, VERY MAYBE.