Israthoum’s Channeling Death and Devil is a love letter to black metal
Black metal, despite (or perhaps because of) its extreme aesthetic, reactionary nature, and often regressive compositional standards, maintains a surprising level of devotion across the globe. Although the second-wave black metal orthodoxy is typically hailed as the golden metric, the ophidian genre has birthed a wide range of sub-styles spanning the spectrum from deadly austere near-noise to quasi-power metal silliness. On their third full-length, obsidian devotees Israthoum survey that vast landscape of black metal, with its shimmering heights and misty valleys, and pen a hymn of devotion to it. And to you, the black metal faithful.
From the wonderfully silly quintessential black metal title (seriously, can you think of anything more ludicrously black metal than Channeling Death and Devil?) to the delightfully lo-fi production, everything about Israthoum’s third record is an earnest dedication to the genre that houses it. Listening to Channeling Death and Devil, then, is a journey through black metal’s history and legacy, decidedly regressive at times but also surprisingly ambitious in scope. As such, it will be impossible to discuss the album without name-dropping, but I don’t think Israthoum would really have it any other way.
The album starts out amid a thick fuzz of distortion and immediately leaps into an anthemic, fist-raising Hellenic-style black metal riff that wouldn’t sound at all amiss on a Nocternity record. Esoteric chants are uttered in praise of ancient evils, and a sick double-time riff urges you to raise your mailed fist in the air in righteous observance. It’s a splendid way to open a record, all pomp and circumstance, and though you’ve heard this type of track a hundred times before, you can’t help but feel your heart swelling with pride.
However, Israthoum’s true chimerical nature begins to rear its ugly hydra head on very next track. Although “Laceration of the Pliant” maintains an air of august triumph, the band is unafraid to indulge in a little Midnight worship, the riffs occasionally dipping into a little black’n’roll territory before a very Keep of Kalessin-style scaled run demonstrates yet again another facet of the band’s sound. By track three, “Between the Maze and the Turmoil,” the band’s mercurial nature should be obvious. Israthoum are bound by no restrictive subgenre conventions aside from black metal itself. Across these nine tracks you’ll hear more chanting that would make Batushka envious, ravenous aggression rivaled only by Khthoniik Cerviiks, and an absolutely bombastic, key-laden outro that pays due to some of black metal’s more commercial (and oft-maligned) banner-bearers.
For such a wide range of touchstones and influences, Israthoum’s consistency across the tracks is remarkable. The buzzsaw tone employed on the album never loses its edge, nor do the riffs that wield it. The vocals too, though varying from rough growl to gothic chant to pitched shriek, relay a continual black metal tale of darkness and evil. Moreover, beginning with third track “Between the Maze and the Turmoil,” the band interjects a Cult of Fire-style Phrygian melodic line into their blasphemous narrative, invoking both a more esoteric feel and a larger cultic meta-structure.
That consistency, like the razor-sharp riffs, however, cuts both ways. The album’s nine tracks seem to stretch on far longer than necessary, and it’s easy to find yourself lost in a few of the slower, more ponderous numbers. The percussion is routinely low in the mix, too, with the kick unfortunately inaudible a good deal of the time when the blasts should really be slamming you.
These are minor quibbles, though, considering the depth and breadth of the record’s scope. That scope, essentially all of this genre, is both a blessing and a curse. If you love black metal or are looking to dip your toes into the genre, fantastic! This album is a great match for you. If, however, you’re looking for something truly authentic and original, Channeling Death and Devil is going to come up short. It performs a more than admirable greatest hits of the genre, but there isn’t a single element here that you haven’t heard before. And at the end of the day, that’s not such a bad thing. This is the kind of record I can listen to again and again, always finding some little hook to keep interested if not fully engaged.
4 out ov 5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell
Channeling Death and Devil drops some time this month via Altare Productions. Keep an eye on the band’s Facebook for more details.