Company: Hydra Head Records Release: 2006 Reviewer: Etiam Genre: Black
A sturdy debut, but a touch less than the sum of its parts
Although Heresi hail from Sweden, their brand of despondently rocking black metal is the sort that could come from almost any country nowadays. After initially finding release on Total Holocaust records, 'Psalm II' was selected for re-issue by Hydra Head, marking one of the label's early dabblings in black metal and the best distribution Heresi is likely to get.
Heresi's success is of a subtle sort, with a style that is often familiar but tweaked just enough to be individual. Over Psalm II's five tracks, a variety of black metal schools are smoothly interwoven: passages of chaotic grinding, evoking comparisons to Deathspell Omega, the traditional phrasing as heard on the album's opener, similar to Darkthrone, and intermittent black 'n' roll riffing not unlike Khold (or, let's face it, new Darkthrone). Of these three, DSO comparison is perhaps most tenuous. As much as by the music itself, it is bolstered by the vocals, which are lower than usual, a little freer in delivery, and with an echo effect that gives them an added (though not overbearing) gravity. Sole member Skamfer played with Ondskapt some years ago, so fans may recognize some elements carried over, though Ondskapt was largely a more melodramatic affair.
The drum kit is tuned quite low for 'Psalm II', which follows the mood established by the vocal production and is indicative of modern black metal's trend away from treble-heavy production. Rather than the piercing forlorn strains that so defined the 90's, Heresi are trying to evoke a sinister unrest that cuts at the bowels instead of the heart. Thudding toms and a thumping snare underpin rhythm guitars that resolutely churn through a long procession of single-phrase tremolo riffs, making for a much more hypnotic than melodic listening experience.
Arguably more evocative than the music is the rest of the package, both literally and figuratively. Skamfer's philosophy of unmitigated hostility in the face of Christian and mainstream society is almost outmoded in today's scene--especially for a major label release--but he allegedly has the psychiatric track record to corroborate his ethos. On the literal front, the artwork for 'Psalm II' was provided by Leviathan's Wrest, who has become an unwilling superstar in the US scene and whose name is guaranteed to draw attention to a project, no matter how incidental his role may be. So altogether, 'Psalm II' has the markings for success.
Nevertheless, it remains unclear why Hydra Head chose Heresi and 'Psalm II' for their special treatment. As a self-styled 'forward thinking metal' label, one would have anticipated Hydra Head's first forays into black metal to be more progressively inclined than Heresi (or Xasthur, for that matter). 'Psalm II' will appeal to most black metal fans for one reason for another and is overall a sturdy debut, but it still proves to be less than the sum of its parts.
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