STRIGOI – Viscera (Album Review)

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In the 90’s and early 2000’s, one of the most profoundly important heavy music scenes was pumping out masterpiece after masterpiece over at Peaceville Records, the “Peaceville Three” as they were known consisted of My Dying Bride, Anathema (who produced one of my favorite albums of all time in “Judgement” and of course, Paradise Lost. Whilst two of those bands have largely moved on from their original sound by now, Paradise Lost are still active for example, but they’re fundamentally different to the death/doom band that they were when they started out, leaning more obviously into their gothic metal elements than the others that made them originally famous.  However, their gloomy and gothic spirit lives on in Paradise Lost guitarist Gregor Mackintosh’s band Strigoi, who released their debut album “Abandon All Faith” back in 2019. Now, two years later, Strigoi are back with a sickeningly harsh, depressive and bleak ode to the strife of man’s existential condition. Make no bones about it, “Viscera” is about as far from easy listening as you can get, and it’s all the better for it.

If I had to sum “Viscera” up in simple terms, much as the name suggests I would say it’s slamming, brutal, vicious, gritty, even downright hostile. It contorts and twists like a wounded animal, spewing vitriol and malice as it fights against the dying of the light, refusing to go quietly into the good night. No greater proof of this can really exist than the way that Strigoi decide to introduce ““Viscera,” with the ineffably menacing “United in Viscera.” This ominous dirge is all-encompassing unforgiving, oozing with doom laden guitars that resonate cruelly above the restrained percussion and demented vocals. As the lyrics in “United in Viscera” suggest, there indeed appears to be little humanity in such a perverse and cacophonous track.

A new kind of brutality is apparent on “King of Terror” however, with Strigoi implementing unmistakably death metal elements into their doom laden hellscape. The track is sheer chaos, with an energy so twisted and vile that it transcends the atmosphere of so many much more established and well known bands, there’s some immense force present in “King of Terror” that leave you feeling as if you have fallen into the deepest of wells, where all that is present is the sound of torrential rain, and the torment of your fading soul, as you dive towards the imperceptible ground.

This is exactly the sort of thing musicians who trade on vibes and thematics ought to emulate, if they are looking to credibly back up a bands pretentions of harshness with something more than just rowdy riffs and guttural growls. The way these two opening tracks carry themselves is inherently dour and bleak, there’s a genuine sense of anger and negativity that has gone into “Viscera” that gives the record this vital core of intent that the rest of the elements all tack onto with near perfect implementation.

Diving deeper into “Viscera” we have “An Ocean of Blood” which is somewhat gothic in in it’s sound and wouldn’t sound out of place being the theme tune to a vampire marching towards his next target, preparing to reap his sacrifice. Alternating between contemporary guitar chugging that seems to be established within almost all areas of guitar led music these days, and long drawn out riffs that harken memories of a less fuzzy (though certainly hazy) Electric Wizard, Strigoi turn on the cheese ever so slightly to produce an anthemic and addictive track in “An Ocean of Blood” that nicely compliments the more brutal, but equally abominable first two opening tracks of “Viscera.

Turning the intensity back up to 11 (or perhaps 12 if such a thing can be conceived of?) we have track number 4, “Napalm Forest” which features smouldering hot riffage and a caustic intensity that burns and ravages its way through your listening device of choice and commits a seemingly insurmountable attack on your ears, scoring critical hits aplenty on all of the crucial areas of how to make a good extreme metal album. Well, all except for one…

I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably say it a hundred times more. Part of the draw of extreme metal to me and scores of other listeners is for the abrasiveness of a record to be reflected in the production choices around it. Strigoi have fallen into a pitfall that so many other artists of their ilk repeatedly fall into, the production is too clean. I want more distortion, more coarseness, more mess and chaos. It isn’t like that isn’t present in “Viscera, it’s absolutely drenched in abrasiveness in every other regard, I just feel that the relatively clean production present on the record is a tad bit uncharismatic, and perhaps occasionally undermines the outright brilliance that exists in all other facets of it.

All this however becomes immediately forgiven when you are submerged in the tar-like sickness of the malevolence incarnate that is “Hollow.” You could be stranded atop a mountain of cadavers, each festering away at the tendrils of the most vile bacterium, and the song playing in your mind would be “Hollow” without a doubt. Greg’s guitar work (Ben’s is good too!) and vocals are absolutely on point here, along with the rapacious and impactful percussion of Guido Zima, who arguably channels as much of a black metal approach as he does a more refined Doom one at points throughout various parts of the track. This song is an absolute classic amongst an album of classics, all of which deserve love and praise, but with particular note to “Hollow.”

Continuing the sonic warfare launched upon you by Strigoi is the faster paced and outright black metal worshiping “A Begotten Son.” With melodic parts melded fastidiously to high-octane run along sections of 2nd Wave ilk, there’s no chance of a reprive, an oasis in the audible hurricane that is “Viscera” thus far. You’re left to continue trying to catch up the experience and to hopelessly claw at the grandiose sludge fest that lies before you, to no avail of course.

“Viscera” Album Artwork

2022 has been a very mixed year in extreme metal, with some big bands disappointing and some small ones hitting the proverbial ball into the stratosphere, Strigoi can consider themselves part of the later only 6 songs in. The rest of the album could be pure trash (spoiler, it absolutely isn’t) and it would still be an AOTY contender without a shadow of a doubt. The middle phase of the album cements this in the thickest concrete imaginable, with its alternating song styles contributing to a wider theme that by now is extremely firmly entrenched and entirely immersive.

Taking us firmly beyond the halfway point is “Bathed in a Black Sun” which exposes a disconcertingly warm and embracing darkness that touches every corner of the composition, seeping it further in the intense atmosphere that has been cultivated to far. It’s one of the slower songs on the album, and in fact you tend to find that Strigoi rather predictably like to use a slow-fast-slow organizational basis for the track ordering, but I quite like this familiarity, especially when both styles are so effective. “Bathed in a Black Sun” is perhaps the most traditionally doomy song on “Viscera” and has riffs that would sound right at home in almost any 90s and onward Doom track. Perhaps this could be considered generic, but in all honesty, if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. Plus, on an album as rabidly eccentric, it certainly doesn’t hurt to finally stumble across something that offers a veneer of familiarity, no matter how thin that veneer may ultimately be.

Complimenting “Bathed in a Black Sun” is the intriguingly named “Byzantine Tragedy” which seems to be loosely based on a mocking of the supposed piety of the Byzantine Empire. Such an outwardly anti-theocratic track is a highlight of intellectual commentary on an album that perhaps trades a degree of profundity for an outright desecration of that which it targets. With intriguing tempo shifts and unpredictable melodies, “Byzantine Tragedy” is an unpredictable affair that is spell-bindingly engrossing and is a highlight of the album.

You’re almost grateful for the approaching end of the album once you get into the final two tracks, Strigoi is a draining listen, but in the best way possible. It crosses over into the boundaries of being a listening experience that is not just for listening, but for meditating on, thinking about, being consumed by it. It’s this wide-reaching symphony of apostolic subterfuge and resentment that demand it is given concentrated thought and insightful contemplation.

Giving over almost completely to the black metal influences of the album “Redeemer” chainsaws its way into existence with razor sharp instruments and some seriously headbang inducing riffage. Such a wondrous swagger is just another feather in the impressive hat of “Viscera.”Redeemer” feels outright frantic, slightly claustrophobic and unapologetically cacophonous, and despite being a fraction over two minutes and thirty seconds, it leaves a lasting impact above that of almost any song on the album.

Lastly, after 35+ minutes of almost laughable intensity, we reach “Iron Lung.” It’s a vague amalgamation of the slower side of things present on the album, perhaps lacking in overall distinction considering the heritage it has to pull from. I won’t go quite as far to say that it’s disappointing, but I get impatient waiting for it to build up and become it’s fully fledged doom fest that it becomes later in the album. Still, it’s a serviceable conclusion to an album that probably deserves a bit better, but is not let down in any major way by its conclusion.

What Strigoi have produced in “Viscera” is a stunningly evil cauldron of bubbling contempt, the blackest of black metal, the doomiest of doom, it wants to crush you with every note played and maul out your eardrums with its unrelenting torrent of hardline intensity. It is without question that I wholeheartedly and emphatically recommend “Viscera” as a must-listen.

Released By: Season of Mist
Release Date: September 30th 2022
Genre(s):  Death/Doom, Black Metal

Musicians:

  • Greg Mackintosh / Vocals, Guitar
  • Chris Casket / Bass
  • Guido Zima / Drums
  • Ben Ash / Guitar

“Viscera” Track-listing:

  1. United in Viscera
  2. King of all Terror
  3. An Ocean of Blood
  4. Napalm Forest
  5. Hollow
  6. A Begotten Son
  7. Bathed in a Black Sun
  8. Byzantine Tragedy
  9. Redeemer
  10. Iron Lung

Order “Viscera” here.

 

8.8 Excellent

An absolutely platinum class example of how to backup your dark sound with actual thematic merit. As immersive as watching a film, as fun as playing DOOM, Strigoi launches an astounding contender for best Doom Metal AOTY

  • Songwriting 9.5
  • Musicianship 9.5
  • Originality 9.5
  • Production 6.5
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