Here I am, quill clenched betwixt my inksplatttered teeth as I clamber into the tub. Advent Varic's Tumulus tumbles, rapidly and raucously, into my earholes. Perfectly on cue, blood pours from my nostrils as the sky burns. In other words: all is not well. Sorry, I mean: all is well. Fuck.
Why the tub? Two reasons. Firstly, as a clear Side A/Side B concept album, this beast offers a duo of twenty minute tracks, constructed and delivered as a single blackened stoner symphony. My attention span lasts about as long as this fragile soap bubble before me, so I'm admittedly out of my comfort zone. Secondly, it's damn comfortable, and if I'm going to witness the world collapse into inferno, I might as well do so from here, where the fires of civilization's demise will prevent this bathwater from going lukewarm. For those of you not privy to the expanded universe of Advent Varic lore, here's the gist: these extraterrestrial marauders were birthed from the muck of the titular far-flung world of Tumulus, and have since wrecked havoc across the universe on a cosmic mission of destruction at the bidding of the Godlike entity known as Varic. Our beloved homeworld is, alas, the next link in their chain of brutalistic annihilation. Concept albums live and die by the strength and flexibility of their narrative, and here, Advent Varic have given themselves ample room to experiment. Let's see where that takes us.
As one embroiled in the everyday drama associated with dwelling in a medieval township, this particular villager has some opinions on Heretical Sects--y’know, in the abstract. Whether mere blasphemers, or divergents intent on shaking the very foundation of spiritual and social order, a group of righteous heretics holds an undeniable appeal to us iconoclasts-at-heart.
That said, heretics these days need to put in some genuine work. Shock value in black metal has, alas, become a bit of a non-starter, from blasphemous lyrical content to the now-cliche aesthetic of asceticism. And let’s face the facts: it’s a little late in the game for Christ-punishing antics to come off as particularly excommunication-worthy. In other words, in the modern era of Way Too Much Black Metal, Heretical Sect’s choice of expression isn’t schismatic per se. But does that mean their EP lacks a certain fringe-treading modus operandi that the Redefining Darkness association suggests? Of course not. Rotting Cosmic Grief is, to put it mildly, an impressively well-conceived debut.
The hooded and anonymous members of Heretical Sect have allegedly seen and contributed to their fair share of the New Mexican metal scene. This, I am willing to believe. Rotting Cosmic Grief comfortably wears a natural cohesion, a well-conceived flow from beginning to end. This is not, in my experience, something that simply occurs. From a compositional standpoint, experience is evident--this EP was built by appropriately battle-scarred hands. Blending harsh doom and formative blackness, Heretical Sect excels at adjusting the tempo to suit the needs of a track at any given point in time. Moving from Sabbathian riffage to strenuous-yet-hefty tremolos with nary a thought, the guitar weaves a delicate and dangerous path. Melodic where melody is required, pulsating when the thick vocals can make ample use of a thick undercurrent...and even, on occasion, galloping at a skeletal NWOBHM-esque frenzy. Dynamic by design, each track rises to glorious crescendo and falls to troubled depths...albeit each at its own unique pace. Simultaneously razor sharp and crudely honed, the best moments herein, of which there are many, remain as unshakable as a moonlit night terror.
At times I’m reminded of Bathory, but realistically, these purely blackened moments are few are far between. Heretical Sect is not defined by genre conventions, and their use of various soundscapes echoes the expansive and conflicted Southwestern landscape--both social and natural--from which they draw inspiration. The doomiest moments on “Punish the Christ” are reflective and far-reaching, while highlight track “Visceral Divination” spits and hacks with violent abandon. As promo material alludes, these sharp contrasts are a prime representation of the inherent disconnect between a nostalgic fascination of the Southwest, and the brutal history it hides and indeed maintains. Both sides of American tradition are laid bare by Heretical Sect. Without getting too philosophical, I’d posit that perhaps this is the future of black metal--not blasphemous speech, but honest illustration of the grief and horror we would rather ignore.
As an EP should, Rotting Cosmic Grief leaves me wanting significantly more. Their approach feels unique enough to merit further exploration, and their sheer ability to write compelling music across a wide genre spectrum gives me hope for the longevity of Heretical Sect’s vision. These four track resonate in more way than one. In sum? Rotting Cosmic Grief comes highly recommended. Play it loud.
Heretical Sect - Rotting Cosmic Grief is out today, and is the product of a triple-threat release from Redefining Darkness Records (CD), Caligari Records (cassette), and Vendetta Records (vinyl).
Providing thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy, and loud enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a groggy-eyed, highfalutin peasantry.