Review Summary: Buried alive, dying alive, history’s bog of the past days...
Japan's Sabbat is a compelling curiosity. They originally formed under the name "Evil" in 1981 and had gradually made good demo material in the '80s while being influenced by bands like Venom and Celtic Frost as well as the many changes in the genre that occurred at the time. They had not released their first full-length album, Envenom, until 1991 and with the burgeoning second wave having arrived, the band had to distinguish itself further. A feat which they handily accomplished. The band had grown a fascination with epic long-form composition that reached its fever pitch in 1996's "The Dwelling", rabid and swirling thrash-patterned riffing and increasingly improved performance to great effect. These elements had ended up yielding several great releases during the '90s (the previously mentioned "The Dwelling" being one of them) but what is arguably their strongest release is a transitionary album that was released in 1999: Karisma.
Karisma, while retaining the long-form composition on The Dwelling and still being rooted in black metal, added many of the elements of thrash that would appear on their 2000 release, Satanasword, while also incorporating lush, ominous and sometimes downright sorrowful harmonies. The playing by guitarist Temis Osmond (Sadaki Ieda) is particularly notable here as many of the highlights on Karisma are due to his fantastic riffing that is and inventive leads which are especially impressive on tracks like the awesome opener, Samurai Zombies, the mysterious Okiku or the grand epic of the album, Den of Hades. The contrast of grandiose lead harmonies and solos with the morbidity of the twisting and neck-snapping thrash riffs present here grants this album an excellent atmosphere that shows the full extent of his artistry. He had been developing this style and displayed some of it to good effect on the prior albums but it is on Karisma where it finally flourishes, making him a distinctive and invaluable part of the album's sound.
Alongside Temis' superlative contributions is the excellent rhythm section from bassist and frontman Gezolucifer (Masaki Tachi) and drummer Zorugelion. Gezolucifer's playing is rather impressive as well due to not only supporting the guitars with rumbling and energetic basslines but also providing melodic runs, counterpoint and solos of his own that serve to make the compositions even more interesting. Tracks like Den of Hades, Samurai Zombies and Harmageddon are perfect examples of this. His technical ability and energy is also punctuated by his high-pitched and sometimes chilling vocals which are complemented well by backing vocals from Temis and Zorugelion. Speaking of Zorugelion, the drumming he displays here is entirely appropriate for the longer tracks that Karisma is made up of. Whether it be slow dirge-like beats, frenetic fills or impeccable use of cymbals, he really manages to put forward a consistently excellent and varied performance that stands up to the contributions by his fellow bandmates.
The production is perfect for the album as it highlights all the strengths of the band members and their songwriting while also providing the amount of grit necessary to make it evocative. None of the instruments ever feel buried which I'm thankful for as Sabbat gives one of their best performances in their entire discography. A perfect combination of clarity and abrasiveness that fits like a glove for what Karisma is attempting to accomplish.
Karisma is a transitionary work that manages to capture the strengths of both eras of Sabbat (the more black metal oriented early to mid '90s and the later thrash-oriented sound of the '00s) with none of the band's prior weaknesses. A black/thrash gem that is wholeheartedly recommended and a true classic, language barriers be damned.