Review Summary: A brutal concoction of all that is 'death' with all that is 'black'.
The pairing of Maveth and Embrace of Thorns for a split is a very logical move. Both bands create a totally nihilistic atmosphere with their respective releases through muddy production, breakneck-tempo drumming and their general amalgamation of death metal with black metal. Maveth’s debut LP ‘Coils of the Black Earth’ saw their black metal influences subtly ingrained with their brand of death metal, whereas the black metal influences in Embrace of Thorn’s 2011 opus ‘Praying for Absolution’ take more of a front seat. The parallels between these bands are also shared with numerous other bands such as Vasaeleth, Mitochondrion, Antediluvian and the renowned Incantation, spawning what many consider to be a relatively-new genre of death metal, informally known as ‘caverncore’ or ‘murkcore’.
For ‘A Plague Through the Heavens’, however, Maveth and Embrace of Thorns seem to swap roles. It’s almost as if the two bands have used this split as an opportunity to expand their more minor influences; a pre-season friendly before the big kick-off, if you will. The black metal nuances in Maveth’s music have been fully realised and emphasised here. Opening track ‘The Call of the Lord I’ and its successor ‘The Call of the Lord II’, for example, contain terrific double-layered vocals, with deep guttural growls providing a basis and high, harsh shrieks thrown in on top. These shrieks add a new dimension to Maveth's vocals; an area which can otherwise be considered a weak spot due to their monotonous nature on their LP 'Coils of the Black Earth’. Not only this, but the outro on their last effort here, ‘Grail of Bloodshed’ is possibly their most black-metal-influenced passage to date, coupling a simple tremolo-picked riff with furious blast beats to create an absolutely monolithic wall of sound.
With this increased black metal influence also comes less of an emphasis on individual riffs and more of a focus towards atmosphere. The sheer wall of sound that ensues throughout their side of the split is powerful enough to envelop the listener and create a dense, claustrophobic atmosphere, yet calculated enough to not become overbearing.
Meanwhile, Greece’s Embrace of Thorns have seemingly reduced their black metal influence on their side of the split, instead achieving an old school death metal vibe. There is definitely more of an emphasis on riffs on this side, with ‘Conqueror of Morality’ in particular serving as a throwback to classic death metal bands such as Entombed and Carcass with its catchy riffs. A solo also appears in this song - something not often seen on this split - and further enforces this more traditional outlook on death metal. If Maveth’s chaotic and dizzying approach serves to suffocate the listener, then Embrace of Thorns' purpose is to deliver the final hammer-blow. 'Sempiternally Cursing the Weak' is a demonstration of this more blunt and concise approach, being the shortest song here (other than the intro track on Maveth’s side).
This combination of styles works perfectly for the split. The fact that both bands are so intrinsically similar yet simultaneously so different means that ‘A Plague Through the Heavens’’ remains consistently hard-hitting from beginning to end. Maveth’s apocalyptic and monolithic approach throws the listener headfirst into an inescapable vortex of doom, whereas Embrace of Thorn’s more blunt and immediate style is what keeps the listener attentive until the end. This can be also be seen as detrimental to the quality of this split, as although 36 minutes for a split is more than sufficient, this feels like it needs a whole album to be able to express itself fully. By the time the 36 minutes is up, it’s easy to feel somewhat unfulfilled and in need of more.
Judging by the music itself, however, it is plain to see that this is one of the best death metal releases of this year. Don’t expect this to get anywhere near the attention that the new Dead Congregation, Autopsy and Cannibal Corpse albums have received, as Maveth and Embrace of Thorns are no where near as acclaimed as the aforementioned bands. In a way however, this is a blessing in disguise, as it leaves the listener to listen to this without any preconceived notions of how good or bad it may be. Instead, the listener can just appreciate this for what it is; another excellent output in this glowing ‘caverncore’ scene.