Hails, jerks. Dex here, taking a sabbatical from the reeking pages of Black Metal Daily to wax lyrical about some death metal for a change. So, what’s this record that made me claw myself out from the comfort of my usual abyss by my splintered fingernails? Something unique. Something that stands proudly out from the pack. Something to push boundaries, to challenge and stimulate your synapses whilst administering a concussion at the same time. With their debut album “Divinihility”, Canada’s ATRÆ BILIS are here to give us… another fucking OSDM album.
Just kidding. What they bring is something the world actually needs: a more cerebral take on death metal, and one that doesn’t forgo the original bludgeoning intentions of the genre either. Yes, there are plenty of modern bands pushing onwards and doing wonderful things without being progressive or avant-garde (looking lovingly at you, Infernal Coil), but none quite like this. The debut album resulting from the collaborations of Messrs Brendan Campbell (Bass), Jordan Berglund (Vocals), Luka Govednik (Drums) and David Stepanavicius (Guitars), “Divinihility” IS unique; it does challenge and stimulate. It’s forward thinking violence with a surprising depth and synergy. So, let’s take this thing apart.
The moniker “Atræ Bilis” apparently means “misanthropy”, but what’s going on in these eight compositions is far more complex than mere hatred for mankind. Thematically, the album deals with the idea of being reincarnated within one’s own perished body and both the internal and metaphysical processes of this rebirth taking place, the obvious metaphorical implications of which being a type of transformation and transcendence – just look at the stunning Adam Burke artwork for a visual depiction of it all. It’s this idea that not only flows throughout the words of “Divinihility” but infuses the compositions too, taking long-established genre norms and breaking them down in an esoteric chemical solution of the artist’s own devising, discarding all unnecessary elements and hubris then reassembling it all into something fresh – equal parts cerebral, lethal and disgusting, blended to perfection. To land the analogy even closer to the target: these men are analysing and stripping bare death metal, then subtly transforming and ultimately transcending it whilst still remaining firmly anchored in its rotting, fetid corpse to the point where you can smell the decomposition.
It’s hard to describe the result exactly (every reviewer so far and even the band themselves have struggled to), but rest well assured it is entirely familiar and enjoyable – the album fuckin’ kills. After a brief introduction featuring the soothing sound of fleshflies buzzing around that aforementioned cadaver, opener “Gnode” kicks off with some tech fucking GROOVE, which if you’re at all familiar with Mr. Stepanavicius‘ work will be vintage David. You haven’t heard any before? Here’s where I have to disclose something: I actually know Dave from many, many years ago when he lived here in Australia before jetting off on a spiritual journey and settling in Canada. Don’t think that’s a sign of bias or conflict of interest, though – it makes me more likely to roast him if this sucks. The main reason l bring it up is because whilst residing on our fair shores, he pretty much invented a new sub-genre with a little band full of depravity which I shall leave nameless as not to potentially incriminate him against his wishes. Seamlessly blending goregrind, southern groove, technicality and bone-rattling slam together, this shit was fun as fuck to listen to – and the riffs on “Gnode” take me right back to those glorious EPs and shows. Just try to listen to this shit without going full filth-face and nodding that head… protip: if you can, you’re a goddamned P O S E R. Loosen the fuck up.
After this tantalisingly short display of bangitude, with earth-shattering aplomb, “Sulphur Curtain” lands. Bookended by moments of churning, cranium-crushing viciousness it’s throughout the middle sections of this track that you truly realise the connection between skinsman Luka Govednik and everyone else in the band. Knowing exactly what’s needed at all times he never overplays, accentuating the angular stabs and twists of the song to perfection – dude is a fucking GREAT drummer. The effect towards the end of this track (from about 2:30 onwards) is ultimate, too. Do check it. Next up is the lead-in single, “Phantom Veins Trumpet”. I’ve no idea what the fuck that means, but if this track doesn’t hit you right in the brutals you can suck my phantom veins trumpet. A savage, irregular beast that highlights Jordan Berglund‘s vocal delivery – listen to the subtle inflections in his gutturals at about the one minute mark, ugh – it’s some delightfully nasty shit. Special mention must be made for the production, too; none of this overdone sheen or emaciated “cavernous” washed-out sound here. Just well produced, clear and powerful with just a touch of dirt and grit to it. Lovely.
At this point we’re halfway to the finish line and comin’ in hot. Yes, this is a short one. Every ounce of bloat and fat has been mercilessly trimmed, it’s all killer and no filler here – as evidenced by the absolute fucking neckwrecker of a riff that opens up next track “Ectopian”. My GOD. Reminiscent of the galloping “Summoning Redemption” chug on steroids, this brawny beast makes me wanna hurl myself through a brick wall every single time I hear it. Little flourishes of dissonance arise as the song flicks back and forth between obscene heaviness and spatterings of Hasjarl-esque dissonant lunacy, which is something else they do exceptionally well across the entire album and further predicates the fact that these men listen to far more than just knuckle-dragging caveman shit (as if you needed any more proof of that at this point, but yeah) – especially when you take into consideration the melodic bridge that would be almost at home nestled somewhere in a post-black metal record.
As should be the case with any good album or EP, the final two tracks “Upon the Shoulders of Havayoth” and “A Ceremony of Sectioning” act to conclude the journey in decimating fashion. The former describes someone encountering a higher version of themselves in some type of spiritual confrontation and is as musically intense as you’d imagine that meeting would be in reality, containing some of the most complex riffwork and tumultuous composition on the entire record – but in a further testament to the ability on display, doesn’t overdo it. It’s never “riff salad”, never collapses in on itself. In one final spurt “A Ceremony of Sectioning” (fascinating title) then brings it home in suitably intriguing fashion, sinister in tone yet seething and boiling like the primordial sludge that birthed us all. As a final kicker the last 30 seconds even contain a brief, delightfully surprising and precisely inserted string section that’s both totally unexpected and completely expected at the same time, lending an otherworldly/alien vibe like something you could imagine happily appearing on Blood Incantation‘s next record, but more refined than that suggests.
The only slight negative I can find in all of it is that after such a killer series of bludgeoning blows “A Ceremony of Sectioning” could possibly do with just a touch greater presence as a closer, like I wanted it to be just a little more fucked as a final impact. But that’s splitting hairs; the song rips and if that’s the only thing I can scrape up to gripe about, what does that tell you? Seriously, it’s almost uncanny how well everything works together. I’m pretty sure writing songs this confidently on your debut release is a crime in at least a few countries – the musical compatibility these gents have is remarkable. Although “Divinihility” isn’t your average fare they’re not even really “taking risks” as such; they’re just playing together, totally naturally, and this magnificent melting-pot is the result.
My second favourite death metal album of the year so far (behind Ulcerate, sorry fellas). What’s more, it feels like the tip of the iceberg for what these gents will achieve – I cannot wait to see what they come up with next, and good word has it they’re already two knuckles deep into writing the follow up.
So, pause your latest ’90s rehashed Pacific Northwest retro thing for a minute, there’s enough of that being peddled these days anyway. Now is the era of Atræ Bilis. Achieve divine nothingness through destruction. Your death impends.
Rating: 4.5 / 5