Review: Capilla Ardiente – The Siege
Chile is, and has been since the ‘80s, a hotbed of metal that is most appreciated by the extreme diehards of the genre and by people that actually live in Chile. There are not many breakout bands that have enjoyed the same universal success as American, Canadian, or European groups; for whatever combination of reasons, Chilean bands do their thing and mostly never escape South America. This is a real travesty, as some of the genre’s best have been Chilean, and even those on bigger international labels just don’t get the attention of comparable bands from more marketable locales.
Capilla Ardiente has been doing their thing for more than a decade now, writing complicated and punishing epic doom at a pace that fits the genre perfectly—that is to say, it moves at a crawl. It took them nearly ten years to get their debut album, Bravery, Truth and the Endless Darkness, to eager ears, and it’s taken them another five for their followup. Bravery was, and is, fantastic, and was one of my favorites the year it came out—but they’ve upped themselves with The Siege on a level that’s almost unfathomable.
I am always wary of hyperbole when I write about new music, mindful of the lessons of the past where I wasn’t even listening to an album a year after writing ecstatically about it. However, I will indulge myself a bit here and say that The Siege is the best album that I have heard this year, and, frankly, probably the best album of last year and the year before as well. It is monumental; nearly every chord fills me with a sense of might that most nearly recalls Solitude Aeturnus’ early works, but Solitude Aeturnus even at their most indulgent wasn’t writing thirteen minute long epics, nor did they attempt the wide range of moods that Capilla Ardiente has jammed into The Siege.
Songs writhe through their long durations with a mixture of plodding and mournful riffs, bouncier ones that recall Procession’s fastest material (a worthy reference especially when bearing in mind the member overlap with Capilla Ardiente), absolute crushing hammers of doom, and sections of leadwork. Though the rhythm guitars don’t often stray far from each other, there’re sections of harmony that lift segments to new heights, and the guitarwork is tight enough to bring each riff’s maximum potential to the fore. The lead guitar playing is not particularly complicated, which is far from being a downside; I’d take something well written with catchy leads over aimless shred any day, and the playing matches the music—though there are a couple of very similar solos in the album, which is one of the few points against it.
The bass, performed by Claudio “Botarrex” Botarro Neira, deserves, and demands, far more notice than in almost any other metal album I have ever heard. It’s featured higher in the mix than I’ve ever run into in a doom metal album (much like how aggressive the bass is in the new Chevalier album), and it spends as much time doing its own thing as it does following the guitars. When it’s not harmonizing or following the root, the bass is making its own arcane paths, thundering through the music with the delight of a blood-hungry warrior. The drums are also very impressive, playing much more complicated and inventive patterns and fills than most doom metal drumming without ever coming across as overplaying or being disconnected. Francisco Aguirre has a wonderful ear for when he should calm down his playing and when he should go insane, and he truly compliments the music in such a way that I can’t imagine the album with another drummer.
As with his other bands, Felipe Plaza’s vocals are as much of a highlight as anything the instrumentation is doing; his vocal lines are incredibly charismatic, with his strong baritone moving through songs between a strong lead that closely follows the chord progressions, more inventive vocal lines, catchy choruses, and dramatic sections of storytelling that rise above the music to carry songs where the band have decided that riffs alone just won’t accomplish the mood they need told.
The production is fantastic, giving each instrument ample room to breath without ever losing any heft; if at any moment you stop and focus, you will hear exactly what every instrument is playing, and you’ll probably hear it anyways even if you’re only listening in passing. In the end, I really only have three complaints about The Siege. These are the fact that two solos are a bit too similar, as I mentioned earlier, an overly long interlude on the second track that simultaneously recalls too closely a similar one in the first track (while also ripping off Manilla Road’s “Sands of Time”), and the rather boring black and white cover art. These are also extraordinarily minor complaints given how good the album is; it has to be experienced, not described, and any readers should go out and buy it now without any further thought.
It’s a real shame that The Siege will not get the same attention in the metal scene that the new Crypt Sermon or Atlantean Kodex, which came out on the same day, have already gotten, because it is better than either of them. This is not a slight at the other bands, or at anyone else who has released killer music this year—Capilla Ardiente is just that good. I cannot see myself quitting this album in six months, a year, or in ten; much like with Procession’s godly To Reap Heavens Apart, this is an epic doom album for the ages.