Review: Putrefactio – Sizigia

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In recent years, there has been a gradual resurgence of a particular kind of black metal, the sort we generally put under the umbrella term of the first wave. Its most well known and sometimes quite maligned forms are black/thrash and war metal, both of which are known for their reckless aggression and devil-may-care grinding intensity. However it has a tendency to come in a variety of other forms, all notable for how they conceived the genre from a perspective that hearkens back to the early roots of black metal in the mid to late 80’s up to around maybe 1992.

In some ways, bands like Negative Plane, Mortuary Drape, Predatory Light, and Obsequiae are akin to being from an alternate reality where the big names of the second wave like Mayhem, Dissection, Burzum, and Marduk never rose to power and in their place were the dwellers not of snow-covered mountainsides and forgotten woods but fetid swamps dense with miasma and decay and ancient catacombs of sorcerers’ bones and heretic cadavers.

Formed in 2012, Chile’s Putrefactio debuted in 2014 with the O single, six minutes of mystery and mysticism that while roughly executed, encapsulated the idea of first wave style black metal well and served as a promising start. Four years of refining their knowledge of forbidden arts and they have brought us a short two song EP. Improved musicianship and = implementation of classic techniques and practices morph into a kind of eclectic and ancient kind of ritualism that embodies everything the underground loves about “old school” extremity yet it uses that aesthetic solely as a template, summoning forth otherworldly powers of their own infernal perception.

While many first wave bands can often get classified as belonging moreso to heavy, death, thrash, or even doom metal it’s considerably less ambiguous in Putrefactio’s case. Most of the major genre hallmarks are there; ruthless tempos, primitive near-ambient riffing, and songs that work through layers of repetition of growth in drawn-our forms. Yet while they have the basic elements to be a black metal band, how they actually sound in execution makes them far more different from the disso-Cascadian-national-socialist-slavic-folk-whatever of today. Sizigia makes heavy usage of a lot of upper register guitar leads descended from classic heavy metal yet filtered through the whipping wrist action of black, frequently tremolo picking them for a stringent, angular approach. Much of the guitar work tends to be rather spacious with a lot of ghostly floaty chords interspersing the fretboard work, bringing to mind early Rotting Christ though they have very little of the lower register palm mutes or sturdier chords those Greeks used to add a sense of marching consistency.

Most of the lower end comes from the bass guitar, clearly separated in the mix, subtly harmonizing with the riffing. While this means the EP isn’t as heavy as the previously mentioned bands, they compensate by having a considerably lusher melodic sensibility than most, displaying a great deal of finesse in how they work in lots of higher range notation into blast-driven riffs or truly letting them shine with carefully articulated ringing chords when the tempos drop. Directing the infernal onslaught, a desiccated howl screaming from beneath the crypts hounds the listener behind every riff and sudden change in tempo, reminiscent of a deeper, hollowed-out Martin Van Drunen (Asphyx) with excellent usage bewitching higher register shrieks and even a few wild falsetto yells, adding a sense of untamed madness to the proceedings. Next to the creative guitar work, he’s the most impressive part of this EP, possessing a character that can be at once ominously detached yet wild and frenzied when the specific scenario calls for it.

Avoiding verse-chorus structure entirely, Sizigia instead uses measured repetition to help lead the way for additional riffs to emerge and attach themselves to carefully developing momentum. Their sharp ear for compelling vocal patterns and very particularly phrased riffs allows them to give each portion of a song a distinct voice but it’s how they gradually manipulate these melodies and twist their shape to suit their needs that makes this a keeper. In a way, both songs sound like a single riff simply mutated and heavily altered in its phrasing and style over the course of seven minutes, retaining a strong sense of identity that’s easy to follow in spite of how often they change things up. The band moves between harmonies spacious and airy to condensed and solid in small self-contained cycles that use expertly interwoven melodies to move from one segment of a song to another. Each of these cycles creates tension and resolution, amplifying this contrast by either upping the aggression or using more pronounced melodies between riffs.

Slower tempos to help draw out lengthier melodies with practically delicately phrasings that help give room to breathe on top of fleshing out the tonal vocabulary. Faster speeds create a sense of feverish intensity with guitar chasing the drums with lengthier tremolo runs, simplifying the melodic patterns to focus on sudden, bewildering flourishes of colour. Even better, they end songs as strong as they opened. “Ignición del Espíritu” goes out in a blaze of violent snare accents and flailing lead forays before settling on a slowly modulating mid-paced chanting riff. “Diamante Abisal” settles onto the kind of easily repeated hypnotic Greek style black metal riff a lesser band would wear thin by stretching out for four minutes (*cough cough * Cultes des Ghoules) but just before the vocals kick in again they play a more wistful variant of it with a simple single-note melody woven through, returning to the prior riff then contrasting it with a cleaner variant over ritualistic tom playing.

While this EP is fairly short at only two songs and 15 minutes, they are the finest work Putrefactio have put out to date. They demonstrate not only their finesse as musicians and as a single unit but also the various possibilities and artistry that the first wave style is still capable of. Much of the technique is on paper more dated than even the black metal category it belongs to yet when put through their carefully orchestrated compositions, become far more than what scene tourist tastemakers might have you believe. It’s a continuation of the past rather than mere worship and recreation of fit, bringing to light ideas that once were in the minority but now summoned from the murky pits of history. Predatory Light’s 2016 self-titled debut and Negative Plane’s Stained Glass Revelations are the closest to Sizigia that I can think of, utilizing a similar approach to heavy metal inspired riffing, but these Chileans differ sharply in how they work through contrasts in guitar work and the much more direct and faster pace at which their songs develop. Those searching for forbidden knowledge of funereal arts would do better to look beyond the ashes of burnt churches and the ominous halls of frozen castles; in the forgotten burial grounds of Chile one of 2018’s finest black metal offerings awaits.

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