Canada has a weird metal empire within its pleasant borders. Over the years Gorguts has become death metal royalty, Thantifaxath and Auroch have broken out, Mitochondrion have gained immense steam, and Cryptopsy… well, their name is still printed at the top of every copy of None So Vile. The good news for all of us is that whatever Canada has been putting in the water is still there, and it shows on the debut album from “newcomers” Chthe’ilist.
I say “newcomers” because Chthe’ilist actually released their demo in 2012 and count among their ranks members of Serocs and Beyond Creation. All in all they’re fairly experienced for a new name to most of us and have had plenty of time to hone their craft. This is their first full length though, and to cut to the chase, it is one hell of a debut. The album opens with what sounds to be a whirling thunderstorm that steadily gives way to bells, raindrops, and eventually drums and the slow march of a tremolo riff that builds and builds before hanging a hard right into the muscular yet jangly opening riff of “Into the Vaults of Ingurgitating Oblivion”. One minor thing to note: these gentlemen know how to title songs. The song soon dips in pace before a hellish frogman howl overtakes everything and all hell is unleashed. Some of the riffs that follow are best described as Demilich-ian, but it would be unfair and wholly inaccurate to categorize the band as another simply wishing to be the Finnish legends. The Demilich influence is merely part of a much more interesting and strange whole.
As “Oblivion” ends you hear the sounds of some subterranean creatures croaking as they snap and feast on the bones and flesh of whatever poor fool wandered into their path. The album has little touches like this that go a long way towards creating an otherworldly atmosphere and general sense of discomfort. The next track, “Voidspawn,” opens with a slow crawl that I can best describe as if Autopsy stared into the void and it stared back before eventually giving way to a bouncy, pinch harmonic laden riff. The highlight of this track, and perhaps the album, are the leads. Death metal of this kind usually breeds gnarled and ugly solos reminiscent of Slayer. They enter and exit in a flash, a jumble of notes on the outskirts of coherence. This not the case with Chthe’ilist. The leads here are measured and buttery smooth, bringing to mind a slowed tech death without the furious masturbation. These are sweet and calculated strokes of notes meant for maximum ecstasy, not just mindless wankery. Bonus points for trading leads, an art I thought had been all but forgotten.
The bass is no slouch either. The intro to “Voices from Beneath the Well” pops with a slap bass line that would make Les Claypool proud. It can sometimes get buried in the rather thick production but mostly holds its own and adds a dimension that a lot of death metal is lacking.
While a lot of what I have described to you will sound very Lovecraftian in nature, you’ll be interested to know that that is actually not the case. As the band has pointed out on their Facebook page (and as should be obvious from the title of the final track) the tracks that aren’t original stories are based on The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask and Ocarina of Time. I’ve never been a big Zelda fan (I HAD A PLAYSTATION GROWING UP, I’M SORRY) so some of the finer points are probably lost on a plebeian like me.
Cool Zelda references and bass aside, the album isn’t without its flaws. The biggest is that some songs tend to run together a bit. This is perhaps from some similar sounding riffs or from some very similar song structures throughout the album. Most tend to follow the same pattern of when to speed up, slow down and break for leads which is a bit disappointing given how refreshing everything else is. Of course, that formula works VERY well for every song on the album, so it’s hard to be too down on it.
Good debut death metal albums seem to fall into two categories: Instant classics and solid foundations for much stranger explorations. Le Dernier Crépuscule falls somewhere in the middle. I fully expect it to hold its own against every other death metal album released this year and possibly find a home on some year end lists, but it has also shown a penchant for oddness while restraining itself. As they further refine their sound and explore weirder compositions Chthe’ilist could easily become king of the death metal mountain. This is a very good album from a very good band, but what comes next from them could easily be very great or a classic.