Way back in October 2014, our panel of crack experts and stone-cold judges determined that Torii is undoubtedly the single best unsigned band in the entire Razorback State of Arkansas. Not content to rest on their laurels, polishing their rightfully-earned crown, the duo behind the post/black/death (postened dack metal?) monster have unleashed a new Magna Carta, and let me tell you, Gates of Paradise is easily the best thing that has ever been produced in that state, ever.
In describing Torii’s previous full length, Elabrynth, Leif Bearikson noted that, “May unleashes a swampy, throaty warble that sounds like Swamp Thing had decided to front Emperor. The music itself ain’t exactly a slouch, either. Imagine Neurosis filtered through some 90’s black metal and then sautéed in a little bit of death and you’re on the right track. It lulls you in with somber acoustics and then slowly but surely pummels you like wave after wave in a sea of turmoil.”
Although my good friend Leif certainly hit the nail on the head, what strikes me most about the music Torii composes is the poetic melancholy of it all. Though post metal is typically morose in nature, there is an existential longing and almost beautiful ennui to the lyrics and delicate interplay between the acoustic passages and rare blastbeats that surface like volcanic eruptions form time to time. Elabrynth was a gorgeous album of desperation, so it’s no wonder our readers and writers took note.
If Elabrynth was a somber paean to the fallibility of man, Gates of Paradise is an utter declaration of defeat, one that beckons you like Virgil through the ever-increasing hopelessness of the inferno that awaits mortality. Everything excellent about the band’s last full-length has been perfected within the crucible of hellish judgment, yielding a crystallization of vision and purity that stands head and shoulders above its predecessor. Fans who wished for more variation, more direction, and more metal will not be displeased. Gates of Paradise is an utter refinement of what made us vote for this band in the first place.
Part of what makes this album so compelling in comparison to Elabrytnh is the dedication to songcraft. The post metal and sludge elements, though never running amok on the previous release, are refined into a sparse, sorrowful atmosphere, a gilded cage within which the more pronounced death and black metal elements may cry out for loss and despair. Sludge riffs and glistening acoustic passages are used as cascading shades of ruin between peals of thunder created by rampaging blast beats and double-bass runs (like those heard at around 2:20 in “No More Masters, No More Slaves”) and by forked infernal lightning created by mid-paced death metal riffs. In fact, the death metal elements are so prominent across this album that it sounds more like the glacial death/doom fusion of bands like Ageless Oblivion than the kind of star gazing hopefulness conjured by bands like North. The riffs are palpable, weighty, gravitational; in songs like the title track, when they finally come into play at about 3:10, they drag you down to a place of mourning where May’s moribund lamentations are your only comfort.
When the post elements are used though, the instruments layer in clever, intriguing ways to transfix the listener. Returning again to “No More Masters, No More Slaves,” the first two minutes feature a dreary sludge riff overlaid by a slithering lead line that creates an icy, blackened atmosphere that adorns the track with forlorn icicles. After the riff-heavy section accented by the faster percussion at around 2:20 ends, though, multi-instrumentalist Bill Masino routinely changes up his drum attack, sometimes leaning heavy on the cymbals to punctuate the churning doom riffs, sometimes opening into a full-blown assault. Every listen reveals a new element and hue; Masino’s full range of skill is displayed in his shimmering leads, acoustic passages, monstrous riffs, and serpentine drum work. Without Masino’s eye for crafting mesmerizing gloom, the wrenching emotion of May’s vocals would be wasted.
Speaking of May, his poetic lyrics continue to be a highlight of the album. Brutally honest and rife with grief, they tell relevant tales of wage slavery, wasted ambition, and abandonment of all hope. They are the perfect vocal accompaniment for the pounding riffs and elephantine drums, and it’s a brief ray of hope in a desolate place to hear this kind of soul-bearing in metal.
Hell doesn’t burn with fire,
It stings with the icy chill of love unfulfilled
In this land of the living dead,
I find myself comatose and unable to speak
Such a calamity inside my head
As the storm rages on with the pounding of the rain
What folly that such a tiny heart
Is forced to shoulder such a unbearable amount of pain
Torii continue to prove their dominance of all comers in Arkansas with earnest, heartfelt metal that remains perpetually heavy and builds upon everything we loved about them the first time around. Though the album is not without fault, particularly in terms of the muddy production, there is plenty here to attract listeners from a multitude of genres. The music is dynamic, powerful, and convincing.