Review Summary: A trip to the depths of insanity
Oh, man, do I love it when a late-year release comes out ***ing swinging. I’ll just say it; Vertebra Atlantis have managed to make one of the most compelling and, dare I say it, fun-sounding
avant-garde metal albums of this year. It’s dissonant, it’s heavy, and it manages to sound unique enough among the hail of avant-garde metal to be released in recent years that I’ve listened to it more than any other album since its release.
This record is a non-stop aural assault, from the doomy tones of opener “Agoraphobic Solipsist” and the lurching, monolithic riffage of the title track all the way to “Saw Thee Quietly Inurned” with its surprise dual guitar solos and palm-muted chugging just to remind you that, yes, it is
still death metal. Second track “Carnal Denouement” has a blindingly technical, jumpy opening riff that rapidly gives way to blast beats and surgically-precise tremolo picking. The riffs and rhythms on tap are truly earworm-worthy, and the title track in particular comes to a dark, terrifyingly epic end with a soft, dry outro featuring clean guitars and what I can only assume is a harpsichord. There’s just so many things going on and there’s always something new to pay attention to. Blink-and-you’ll-miss-it guitar flourishes are peppered throughout, as are numerous other small details like barely-audible piano and masked vocal tracks.
Additionally, the musical performances on this album are nothing short of jaw-dropping. Riffs dance across the fretboard at breakneck speeds, vocals -- courtesy of both guitarist AND drummer -- range from swamp-monster gutturals to upper-register sandpaper screams (with the occasional whisper and one madman-style spoken-word segment), and the drum grooves are simply sublime. Mid-album instrumental “Altopiano Celeste” is an excellent showcase.
The lyrics are, essentially, prose shoved alongside the music wherever they can fit. It’s remarkably well-written and the album obviously has a loose concept, but I’m gonna need a hit of acid or two before any of it makes any sense to me. Just read this:
“Through delirium and mystery, fleeting borders lie all around. The earth slips under my feet, wrapping them in mud while the winds ravage and sharpen this boundless plain. I detect the streaming flow of the rivulets like veins’ turbid emissaries.”
Aside from the fact it reads like books you’d find lying around in Skyrim, it’s borderline impossible to know what’s being said without reading the lyrics themselves. The flowery vocabulary is impressive on paper, but when filtered through the grains of slightly lo-fi black metal production and someone’s screaming voice, syllables blend together and it starts to get messy.
On the topic of lo-fi production, the vocal track is clipped and compressed (maybe intentional as a black metal element?) and results in serious ear fatigue. The bass is also just a hair too difficult to pick out from the guitars, but the job it does of filling out the album’s low-end is… adequate. My only nitpick apart from the album’s production is the quaintly-titled outro, “The Hermit Strums a Mournful Dirge”. Compared to the other tracks on offer, this song just doesn’t have much to keep me interested. It has good riffs, and shows that Vertebra Atlantis do have an appreciation for conventional melody, but it drags on for too long and the fact that it’s very nearly instrumental aside from one verse at the end that feels incredibly forced-in doesn’t help much.
As a whole, though, Lustral Purge in Cerulean Bliss
stands out amongst this year’s metal releases. It’s well-composed from front to back and, for the most part, avoids the indulgences that many avant-garde metal bands fall temptation to. Frankly, it’s worth a listen for anyone that’s looking for some new blackened death or is just wanting something to scratch the itch between now and the next Artificial Brain/Gorguts/Imperial Triumphant/Deathspell record.
Lustral Purge in Cerulean Bliss
Saw Thee Quietly Inurned