Review Summary: Seek a copy, give it a spin, and return transformed. Or, very possibly, transmuted.
Despite the lack of media attention it receives in relation to the musical community, Brazil remains a country responsible for some excellent metal bands despite their lack of mainstream recognition. Of course, the most pointed example of this proves to be Sepultura, an act responsible for creating some of the strongest, most consistent albums of the genre. One only has to listen to their seminal effort ‘Beneath the Remains’ to understand how, heedless of their less than privileged background, the band have blended their tribal ethnicity with a raw thrash sound to superb effect, creating something of a classic in the process. Glossing over their recent decay following Max Cavalera’s departure, Sepultura remain evident of how unbeknownst communities can still yield groups worthy of recognition beyond the minority clique. This is far from a solitary statement, however- Brazil has a far greater splay of talent in its underground scene equally deserving of such respect. In particular, one death metal band, signed to Forces of Satan records- a label owned by legendary Gorgoroth member Infernus, no less- caught my eye as a stark reminder of how unique and innovative a different lifestyle can render one’s music. They are Ophiolatry, a band whose moniker means ‘worship of serpents’, and whose second album ‘Transmutation’ is as traditionally rooted as it is experimental in its modernity.
Listening to the opening track of ‘Transmutation’, namely the disturbingly unusual ‘Parricide’, one may be forgiven for thinking that the initial swirl of acid-infused synthesisers heralds a rather flawed musical approach. True, alone it sounds alarmingly reminiscent of a dubstep introduction, but, when the guitars explode into life, it becomes something rather more. It offers an element of contrast. Ophiolatry aren’t trying to be different for difference’s sake- their use of these modern aspects actually accentuates the crushingly heavy riffs that pervade throughout the remainder of the track. Indeed, this experimental mixed-modern/ethnical touch implementation runs throughout the album usually to intriguing and interesting effect. The closure, interludes and indeed some segments of the song structures themselves all pose light to otherwise suffocating shade, offering distinction between the band and other purveyors of their genre. Of course, this is not to say they forgo standardised death metal sounds in any measure- the band hit just as hard as any other peers that the casual listener may associate to their style. It’s just that Ophiolatry prove more engaging to immerse oneself in through their desire to diversify.
At heart, though, the band retain a very traditional death metal approach, filling their album with guttural roars- which are, as a side note, very convincingly delivered, something which is becoming rarer in the modern world of production technique- thunderous blastbeats and refined technical aggression. The riffs here aren’t flaccid like so many we see in the current scene: they all have bite and impetus, as well as a pervasive individuality. Indeed, the musicianship of the band is undeniable. Whilst creatively some of the heavier sections of the songs blur into one another (the constant attack of some songs, despite their generally short length, wears one after a few listens), they all prove brutal enough for anyone’s tastes, reminding me personally of modern-era Suffocation, in particular ‘Abomination Reborn’ from the self-titled album of a few years back. The songs themselves consistently are deliciously harsh, something complemented by the drumming which is in itself unusually good for an underground band. Tracks such as the phenomenally fast ‘G.O.D"’ whirl past with insane conviction, packing all the fury of a scud missile and continuing to please despite the rather lacklustre solo efforts offered by the lead guitarist. For the diehard fan, all the traditional elements are here. For the modernist, the experimentation and adherence to the aggressive template prevalent in the current scene are also.
In conclusion, Ophiolatry have produced something quite rare for the modern death metal underground: an album rich in experimentation (just listen to the tribal overture of the concluding ‘Preludio No.4’!) that still has enough barbarism to avoid alienating purists and elitist minorities. Whilst not without its flaws, ‘Transmutation’ truly engages, something so many bands find it increasingly difficult to do in a world saturated with similarity and mainstream-influenced tastes. Of course they can hardly please everyone, but Ophiolatry will reward the open-minded metal head with an inflection of national culture, post-modernism and, of course, stunningly brutal death metal. In this band, Brazil have found their next Sepultura- admittedly, they will never be as big or as widely accepted as legendary figureheads of their genre, but Ophiolatry show the same verve and talent as their bigger cousins and deserve just as much attention from those who really value every facet of the world’s musical community. Seek a copy, give it a spin, and return transformed. Or, very possibly, transmuted.