Review Summary: Sulphur Aeon establish themselves as a force to be reckoned with.
Upon releasing their debut album Swallowed By The Ocean’s Tide
in 2013, Sulphur Aeon struck me as a band with ambition and talent in abundance, but lacking a sense of finesse that would solidify their place in the death metal hall of fame. The album felt claustrophobic in a decidedly negative way, as if ideas were incrementally piling up like paraphernalia under an old staircase. Thankfully, Sulphur Aeon’s sophomore album forgoes the majority of its predecessor’s shortcomings, streamlined in a way that doesn’t sacrifice intensity or atmosphere but rather amplifies them twofold. Gateway to The Antisphere
is a significant leap forward for a band that has already shown great promise, and with this new-found sense of direction, the German trio are showing no signs of creative stagnation.
Sulphur Aeon’s overall sound is difficult to summarise, partly due to its diverse make-up, but more so because each descriptor that could be levied at the album carries a set of connotations that don’t necessarily apply to it. For example, the instrumentation is commendably technical, but not once does it come across as ostentatious or overly calculated. Sulphur Aeon’s method of song writing is both fluid and varied, alternating between menacing tremolo assaults, chopped-and-skewed low-end riffage, and lingering passages in which the leads evoke temporary relief while also hinting at the arrival of something more sinister. There is a very strong melodic presence, but it doesn’t succumb to the saccharine stylings of death metal’s softer, younger sibling melodeath
. Instead, the use of melody and harmony is depressive and daunting, often remaining unresolved for long periods of time and eking out every last morsel of suspense there is. This tactic is exhibited best in the album’s centrepiece “Diluvial Ascension - Gateway to The Antisphere”, a song consisting almost entirely of a single motif, albeit drastically altered from one sequence to the next.
The atmosphere on Gateway to The Antisphere
is rich and palpable, however, it is neither created via deliberate underproduction nor tacky synthetic accents. The extra-dimensional, Cthulhu-spawning mood stems purely from the liquescent arrangements. “Seventy Steps” is a comparatively relaxed number that allows you to hear the nuances at work, and it illustrates that timbral chemistry is just as highly prioritised as speed, complexity and aggression. However, while Gateway to The Antisphere
is musically and compositionally superb, it has one notable fault – the production. The mix itself is fine; it’s the mastering that is once again the Achilles heel. The drumming suffers most of all, washing out on occasion and lacking the percussive thump that is so vital to a band of this ilk. This is frustrating because the performance itself is excellent, featuring an array of precise tom fills, intricate cymbal work and, of course, searing double bass. “Titans” and “Onwards… to Kadath!” are the biggest aural offenders, as their climactic finales fizzle out into a haze of frequency clashing. Fortunately, moments like these are brief and infrequent, but they are still enough to leave you wondering what could have been should the album have been given the mastering it deserves.
Notwithstanding the complaints about the production, Gateway to The Antisphere
is still one of most enthralling death metal albums of 2015 so far. Their unique blend of melody, technicality, and brutality eschews the common stigmas associated with these terms, and their application to atmosphere is both diligent and authentic. What is most encouraging though, is that while Sulphur Aeon have begun to act on the promise they showed on their debut, their well of potential still feels largely untapped at this point. Watch this space.