Review Summary: "We thought we were wolves, hunting our prey. We were but dogs, searching for a new master..."
A HILL TO DIE UPON's fourth studio album "Via Artis Via Mortis" was one of my most highly anticipated releases of 2017.
The band's latest album "Holy Despair" was a masterpiece of Blackened Death Metal, finding the right balance between heaviness and atmosphere and engaging the listener from start to finish. It was a high bar that this band from Illinois had set for themselves with that album and I wasn't sure if they would be able to reach it with "Via Artis Via Mortis". Now, having listened to the album multiple times, I've come to the conclusion that they indeed reached the quality of "Holy Despair" with this album once again, although in a way I didn't quite expect.
"Via Artis Via Mortis" is different. It is focused less on atmosphere and more on riffs and technically challenging musical performance than their previous works. The drums are hitting harder than ever, the riffs are groovy and the vocals are brutally powerful. Songs like "I was there when you went under the water" are surprisingly progressive and technical, others like "Mosin Nagant" are pure head bang and mosh material (br00tal breakdown inclusive), and yet others like "Great Is Artemis of the Ephesians" are more atmospheric. The album is a varied and interesting work that takes a few unexpected turns - both musically and lyrically - but remains coherent in atmosphere and tonality.
Speaking of the lyrics, this album is one of their most interesting works so far. Drummer and lyricist R. Michael Cook once again put a lot of thought and passion into the thematically dimension of the album. Inspired by words of the Bible, philosophers like C. S. Lewis and own observations of the modern world, the album touches on topics like war, PTSD, occultism and modern Atheism/Satanism in a critical and poetic manner.
As on their previous albums, the band's goal was not primarily to make "original" music, but to make good music. And they definitely achieved that goal with "Via Artis Via Mortis" once again in my opinion.
If you like anything from the darker spectrum of Metal, be it Black or Death Metal, you should definitely give this album a spin. It'll rank high in my list of this year's best records.