Review Summary: Terrestrial temples reverberate.
No one is safe in the shadows and the dimly lit recesses of the death metal realm. After the change of the millenium, the quality artists opting for brutality as well as oppressive darkness were able to be counted in the fingers of one hand, but this grimly beautiful substyle of the genre saw a period of bloom towards the 10’s. Among the chosen few, Cruciamentum’s debut Charnel Passages took the scene by storm in 2015, as a furious and haunting album that should still be considered one of the clear best death metal releases of that decade. As the musical equivalent of slow cooking, it took the band eight years to build upon their monumental first chapter, with hardly any releases in between, apart from the exceptional Paradise Envenomed EP in 2017.
Cruciamentum also underwent a line-up overhaul since the last time they entered the studio for a full release. Guitarist / vocalist Dan Lowndes is the only remaining member from the original line-up, and the musicians affiliated with Grave Miasma are no longer involved with the band. New recruits feature guitarist Dan Rochester (also a member in another massive project, Vacivus), ex-Blaspherian / Morbosidad drummer Matt Heffner and Chris Eakes on bass and extra vocals, who also plays in the possibly lesser known but solid old school death metallers, Exaugurate. While all these new additions consist of strongly like-minded individuals, Cruciamentum’s sound stands firmly on the foundational elements of the band, but at the same time expresses nuanced differences in its compositional approach that in a way make the album, a new experience.
What we have here is expert level, multi-layered and intimidating death metal, from a band that pays obsessive attention to detail, from the aesthetics to the last guitar note. The production is fantastic, as is the cover art, and the tracks are all catered and attentive towards maintaining an interesting flow, along with the undeniable heaviness that permeates throughout the whole album. It’s mostly fast-paced but tempos have frequent undulations, there’s top-notch growling vocals and a plethora of outstanding guitar riffs, as well as shorter but dazzling solos, all constituting to what can simply be labeled as exemplary death metal. Cruciamentum’s talent in creating this terrifying atmosphere along with seamless transitions along the different sections of the album, makes Obsidian Refractions even more special.
This record, while surely bombastic at first listen, might be more of a grower compared to Charnel Passages. The band’s debut was so groundbreaking and memorable, but also more direct. As there’s an underlying but fairly clear increase in complexity with Obsidian Refractions, the listener might not feel the instant hook to the mouth that the felt with Charnel Passages, but at the end of the day, that’s the opposite of a negative trait for it. It constantly pushes on pure death metal, with nuanced but thoughtful experimentation in song-writing, which is recognisable in the introduction track named “Charnel Passages” (the connecting dot between the two albums), the solo part of “Necropolis of Obsidian Mirrors” and especially in the last track “Drowned”, the most unique Cruciamentum track I have heard so far.
Apart from that, there’s spot-on bangers like “Abhorrence Evangelium” and “Scorn Manifestation”, as well as an almost purely middle-paced piece “Interminable Rebirth In Abomination”, which touches slightly on more epicness than normal for this band. Admirers of the darker, cavernous side of death metal, most likely already know Cruciamentum and have been patiently waiting for their new album. I would suggest you take a longer term view on judging it, as the more space it gets, Obsidian Refractions gets more and more convincing, more and more gratifying. It’s also conceptually adjacent to Charnel Passages, and continues its story lyrically, as well as musically. Another peak moment in an already unbelievably great year for death metal.