Crossing the Thrashold with Sarcoptes

Do you like your thrash on the blackened side? How about with a progressive flair? Well then, have I got the band for you.

Dave Mustaine once allegedly claimed that there was no room for keyboards in heavy metal. Although the motormouth would go on to one day eat his own crow after recruiting cheese gods Children of Bodom for the 2008 edition of Gigantour, Mustaine’s sentiment is one that has largely prevailed in the often bizarrely conservative realm of extreme metal wherein bands that experiment with the classic formula are considered masturbatory at best and novelties at worst. If Mustaine and other true-bloods ever hear young Sacramento black/thrash duo Sarcoptes‘ debut album Songs and Dances of Death, they’ll be singing a different tune.

Formed in 2008 in a dank basement somewhere on the West Coast, the duo of Sean Zimmerman (guitar, bass, and keyboards) and Garrett Garvey (vocals and drums) spent the first five years of their life as Sarcoptes honing their craft and paying their dues. Their mission: to hearken back to the air-lock tight songswriting of the late 80s/early 90s era of metal with a modern, almost progressive twist. On their first recording, 2013’s EP Thanatos, the duo proved that they had the chops, and more importantly the riffs, to capitalize on that ambition.

Fastforwarding to 2016, Sarcoptes have finally released a full-length after penning a deal with underground label Cimmerian Shade Recordings. How does Songs and Dances of Death compare to Thanatos? It’s an improvement in every way. While both tracks on Thanatos, “The Veil of Disillusion” and “The Sexton’s Spade” feature killer riffs and tight change-ups between black metal blasts and conventional thrash metal tempos, the two songs are bit uniform and in fact feel indistinct when compared to the other tracks on Songs and Dances of Death (both songs from the EP are included as the first two tracks on the full-length). The remaining four tracks just outshine them in every way and display the glorious heights to which Sarcoptes can ascend.

For one thing, the keyboards are used mostly as atmospheric orchestration on “The Veil of Disillusion” and “The Sexton’s Spade,” but they serve a much more intrinsic role in the other cuts. Take third track “The Fall of Constantinople” for instance. In addition to sporting stronger thrash riffs at the beginning than those featured on previous songs, Zimmerman pulls off an absolutely killer interplay between his razor-sharp guitar lines and the orchestral keys around 1:30 into the song. This interplay, and the excellent melody it creates, juxtaposes against the harsh black metal aesthetic and viciousness of the historical lyrics to really hook your interest. The remaining songs follow a similar path of smartly allowing orchestration and choral effects to flit in and out of the weaving guitar lines in a truly captivating fashion.

Garvey’s drum contributions aren’t to be ignored either. Although it would be easy to describe the blasts and full-throttle rhythms of a song like “Barbarossa” as unrelenting and call it a day, it’s really the subtle changes the skinsman uses that maintain your attention throughout. Garvey is able to seamlessly flow from stock thrash gallops to pummeling double bass lines to what can only be described as Howitzer-grade bombs of percussive walls that will completely knock you off your feet.

Perhaps the real highlight of Songs and Dances of Death are the final two tracks, though. Although it is easy to lose the plot when song lengths reach a ten minute or greater mark, the scope of both “Barbarossa” and “Within the Labyrinth Mind” really allows the songs to explore create riffs, melodies, and to take listeners on a wild ride. “Barbarossa” ends on a mighty note of gunfire and artillery shells that will surely make jaded heshers from the 80s smile, but it’s in the ultra-right, black metal-influenced riffs interspersed between grandiose keyboard flourishes, mesmerizing layered vocals, and nuanced percussive syncopation in “Within the Labyrinth Mind” that the band really demonstrates their full capabilities. This track is expansive and utterly captivating throughout, deftly weaving from one blasted trench to the next as the keys and riffs soar and scour the wind. It’s beautiful, to put it frankly.


You’d be hard-pressed to find a better debut thrash album in 2016 than Songs and Dances of Death. That said, like any debut, the record is not without flaws. Although Garvey’s vocals are excellent throughout (especially considering the fact that he’s pulling double duty as the drummer) and maintain both a hard black metal edge while providing clear enunciation, the interesting pitch shifts used in “Within the Labyrinth Mind” demonstrate the band could easily push the envelope in this department. Additionally lacking is much a distinct bass. Although Zimmerman is credited for bass duty on the album, the bass is as thin or absent as on any black metal record. This is a shame, because classic thrash metal bands have shown time again how much heft and weight an audible bass can add to a production.

Still, aside from the slightly two weaker songs from the EP, Songs and Dances of Death is a tight, vicious, and adventurous album that stands out in a genre not known for much deviation. Bravo to Sarcoptes. I hope the duo continues this killer streak on later records.

If you like what you hear, you should pick the album up on Bandcamp and swing by Facebook to tell the guys, “Hail!”

(Photos VIA and VIA)

Written by:

Published on: July 13, 2016

Filled Under: New Stuff, Reviews

Views: 644

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  • Abradolf Lincler

    Whoa, I dig it. This fucking rips. That album cover too >>>>>

  • Eliza

    These guys are doing something special. I hope they’ll keep up the quality on future releases as well, which I’m looking forward to.

  • CyberneticOrganism

    This is fucking cool, I can hear it filling the Dragonlord-shaped void in my life.
    Great find.

  • Excellent find W! I think the mix/production should definitely be credited as well, the keys/synths sit at a really nice volume and mix

  • Hans Müller

    They certainly know what they’re doing with those keyboards. I find the drum sound strangely off-putting though. Will keep listening, maybe my bitching will stop with time.

  • Super Nintendo Chalmers

    Did they forget to mix in the drums?

  • BobLoblaw

    Great write up as usual and awesome band…..with the caveat that I completely disagree completely that the bass is thin or absent. Im hearing it clearly in the mix.

  • All I hear is the bass drum. Otherwise, these tunes are ripping. Maybe I need to adjust my EQ….


  • This can be a cool alternative to the spot that Satyriasis occupied last year in my techy thrash seat of my end-year list.

    Great finding, Dubs, the keyboards are incredibly tasty 🙂

  • InfinityOfThoughts

    This is a great post birthday present. Nice write up/find!

    • Is your birthday today, man? (sorry, I didn’t understand :P)

    • Abradolf Lincler

      happy birthday!

      lots of july birthdays in the terlet

    • tertius_decimus

      Happy Birthday!

    • Señor Jefe El Rosa

      Happy birthday duder!

  • JWEG

    Use of Bosch painting as album art is a guaranteed way to get my attention.

    Though he’s not even close to my favourite historical Dutch painter, Van Eyck and Van der Weyden didn’t (quite) do any suitably macabre or morbid subjects apart from typical depictions of Christian iconography that just wouldn’t fit (unless unblack metal maybe).

    • tertius_decimus

      Like Flemish painting alot as well.

  • tertius_decimus

    > Dave Mustaine once allegedly claimed that there was no room for keyboards in heavy metal.

  • Señor Jefe El Rosa

    Dances? Of death?

  • Stockhausen

    This rips my butt all asunder.

    • Lacertilian

      (Who even are you anymore?)

  • Waynecro

    Great review! I’m digging this. I don’t listen to much thrash, but when I do, it’s either hyper or black.

  • this is wonderful! thanks Dubs

  • This reminds me of what Cradle of Filth might sound like if they weren’t just pretending to be vampires.
    I like.

  • Kyle Reese

    I had a band that was for funzies, and we wanted to add a second guitarist. One craigslist ad later, I had a guy in my drummer’s house telling me that “drop-d is for faggots and that gibson sg is firewood.” Then I remembered some guitar world interview with Mustaine saying shit about drop-d, while Lamb of God is making it huge, and I thank him silently for that awkward moment I had to endure while saying “We’ll call you dude.”

    This music is pretty fucking rad too!