WARNING: This review contains the word “saxophone”.
A.M.S.G. (Ad Majorem Satanae Gloriam) would like to take you on a journey. It is not a journey you want to go on. Like the unwitting protagonist in any Lovecraft tale, you will see things you do not want to see, learn things you do not want to learn, and be left with no choice but to believe things you do not want to believe . . . about Satan.
How do you prefer your Satan? Brittle, distant, encased in frost? Pouring forth from whorls of flames and molten flesh? Gulping from a chalice of goat’s blood atop a throne of human spines? Over medium with cracked black pepper and Cholula? A.M.S.G. don’t trifle with some anthropomorphic Dark One meddling villainously in petty human affairs. No, their nebulous brand of Satanism is played out across the Cosmos, on a universal scale. On such a scale, Satan is interested in man’s undoing only insofar as it plays a small and inevitable part in the undoing of Creation Itself.
Remember the disclaimer on the back cover of Emperor’s Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk? “Emperor performs Sophisticated Black Metal Art exclusively!” At the time I bought the album I found this bragging to be silly; I was not well-versed enough in the wide world of black metal to understand why it was necessary for Emperor to tell us this before we could make up our own minds and ears. I’m still not sure it was. But at this point it is inarguable that, while they existed, Emperor pursued a sort of High Black Metal: as refined and elegant as it was blistering, striking an optimum balance between melody, grimness and aggression. On sophomore album Hostis Universi Generis, A.M.S.G. achieve something similar, although of course they walk their own twisted branch of the Left Hand Path. There is something regal about their sense of melody; something epic in their compositional scope. Album opener “The Exodus of All Life” is the strongest song on the album, and as such a shining example of everything A.M.S.G. do right. We begin with some eerie soundscapery and multifarious whispering; an ornate melodic motif is introduced by a clean guitar, supported by ritualistic percussion; the motif is transmuted to a new harmonic register in a blast of savagery, reinforced by distorted guitars, bass and unrestrained drumming. At just the perfect moment, the pace shifts and a second melodic motif appears, catchy, almost sweet to the ear. Long before it can wear out its welcome, it explodes into a plasma shower of tremolos and blastbeats, over which a gargled-acid voice orates prayers for some Great Cosmic Undoing. Before the disorder becomes suffocating, the drums drop to a patient beat underneath some beautiful atmospheric keyboards. Around the midpoint, the song burns down to mere embers, just in time for one of those movie samples the band adores so much (seriously, you can’t swing a dead cat around this album without hitting a movie sample). Tension builds anew with the reintroduction of one of the main melodic themes, the blasting returns, the oration is resumed, everything fusing together under pressure akin to that of neighbor galaxies smashing into one another; an abrupt climax is reached, after which nothing remains.
The first two-thirds of the album are packed tight with such deft compositional fanfare. It is during the final third where A.M.S.G. succumbs to fatigue and finally falters. “The Perpetual Dance of Existence and Demise” is structurally sound, yet contains no highly memorable hooks or compelling riffs. And closer “Astral Projections of Lucifer” is a pleasant, mostly measured comedown from the mayhem which precedes it–but, like a shitty boyfriend, it drags on way too long without ever bothering to take us anywhere interesting or show us anything new. A.M.S.G. could have cut the song in half without sacrificing any quality. I can only assume it stretches on so long because vocalist Angelfukk Witchhammer (zoiks!) has sooooooo much left to say about Satan, none of which could have been summarized in anything less than fourteen minutes.
For all Hostis Universi Generis’s attention to detail, flirtations with total chaos abound. Many of the riffs are in odd time signatures, such as the precarious 5/4 or the only-for-adepts 7/4. At such times drummer Bzath (bzwhatnow?) seems to discard the notion of marking the time in favor of blasting at whatever pace he finds comfortable. Meanwhile, Mr. Witchhammer likewise ignores whatever it is the rest of his band is doing in order to spew his toilet-EQ litanies with delirious abandon, i.e. with no discernible sense of cadence or phrasing. Here is an imaginary transcript of a conversation that took place in the A.M.S.G. rehearsal space during the writing of the album:
Bzath: Nah, man, I didn’t learn that time-signature at drum school so while you prog tools go off on your time wankery, I’ll be here blasting, and, uh . . . I guess we’ll meet up in the future somewhere?
Angelfukk: I never cared about any of you. I’m going to gurgle a bunch of Satanic shit into this microphone now.
Rest of band: *shrugs collectively, starts ripping*
Which brings us to the saxophone, I guess–because I promised there would be talk of saxophone. By the end of this album, many of you will be thinking Thank fuck there wasn’t all that much saxophone, while some others–those of you with brain-damage or perpetual boners for anything even vaguely avant-garde–will be thinking Aw shucks, I wish there was more saxophone. The instrument only appears a few times, in moments of quietude, squawking out solos while the rest of the band catch their breath, crack their knuckles and grab some beers in preparation for MAXIMUM SATAN. In a way, the pithy smattering of sax cameos, while enjoyable, only raises the question of why there is any sax at all. Wait–I know why. Because A.M.S.G. have heard the clarion call echoing across this disgusting planet, resounding in the hearts and minds of the most extreme individuals this abysmal species has ever produced:
MAKE BLACK METAL SEXY AGAIN
3.5/5 Toilets ov Hell