Review: Sartegos – O Sangue Da Noite
Old mortuary spirits, new fog-covered pastures.
The late 2000’s and past the 2010’s hearkened the return of old ideas in new forms for all of the major older metal genres whether it was doom, traditional, thrash, and most famously death metal. While black metal had been associated with a sizeable avant-garde component for some time, now joining it were those who wanted to explore the genre’s lesser known hidden history from times before the Swedish and Norwegian giants could have tidied up and “tamed” its strange and feral past. The sound of the first wave and those who’d continued the cryptic early root of the genre in the 90’s emerged from its grave most notably in the forms of black/thrash and war metal, but a number of bands never fell into those categories. Negative Plane, Doombringer, Obsequiae, Cultes des Ghoules, Funereal Presence, Inconcessus Lux Lucis, Predatory Light, and Vassafor among others managed to create something akin to an alternate history version of black metal that ran contrary to the Scandinavian narrative. In whatever parallel reality they came from, black metal never had the need to completely eschew its early 80’s roots and much of the classic heavy, thrash, and doom metal that even death metal had eschewed. On that note, in many cases some of this style’s practitioners could be said to even be partially death metal. While the grim ambience that’s the hallmark of the genre still remained, it took on forms less frosty and more musty, lush, or grimy in a way that was less snow-peaked mountains and windswept Satanist-filled forests and closer to festering catacombs of cadaver-desecrating black magicks and labyrinthine swamps of rot and filth. Don’t think of Norway and Sweden but rather locations such as Greece, Italy, Brazil, New Zealand, Australia, Poland, and Czechia.
It might be a little premature to add Spain and in particular the region of Galicia to that list, but since 2008 Sartegos has been doing their best to make a good case for such an addition. Rou Sartegos, the band’s only consistent member, had been working with drummer Vindok for seven years to create a particular evocation of black metal’s oldest traditions. Death metal style rhythmic muscle, classic heavy/doom metal melodies and phrasings, and even second wave style ambient riffing all found their way into their sound becoming most prominent with their excellent 2013 EP As Fontes Do Negrume, and on the two splits in the following years they would only further improve in musicianship, scope, and ambition. Melodies grew more pronounced, tempos faster and wider in scope, and song length and content grew impressively with each year. While they never really garnered much attention, the groundwork for a masterpiece was being laid. Unfortunately in 2017 Vindok would take his leave and Sartegos would become a solo project however, this was far from the end. Now the door had been opened for an even more capable drummer to take his place as a session musician for a long awaited debut, able to easily match Rou’s grand visions of a darker future for the genre with his impressive command of the kit. Jordi Farré, with his background with bands such as Cruciamentum, Apologoethia, Sheidim, and Ered, ended up being the last piece needed to complete this great work and after so many years make it clear that Sartegos is far more than just an interesting oddity. Reaching into the roots as so many have before them and countless will continue to after, Sartegos seeks not to merely try and replicate the past but discover a way to continue in its footsteps and continue forging part of the black metal saga few see as anything more than an evolutionary dead end.
Sartegos plays a mixture of gnarled riffing with a dense rhythmic delivery and prominent arching melodies. It’s comprised of barbaric forcefulness and ritual intensity as you’d expect from a band in the vein of groups like Mortuary Drape, Varathron, Profanatica, Mayhem, and Mystifier but what differs them from mere worship into mastery is that ability to wave surprisingly soulful leads and insidious melodies through these primitive and occasionally brutish riffs. The latter is where most of their more eclectic 80’s metal influences enters, yet they’re perverted and inverted to create a more insidious sound bereft of the usual need for catchy hooks and easily digestible song structures, used to flesh out the tonal vocabulary of brutish riffing and to help dictate song progression. Whereas their idols were simple and workmanlike, sounding like evocations of some sort of ancient pre-Christian occult shamanism, Sartegos are more layered and intricate and exhume those same funereal practices with a measured cunning that is very much a product of the 2010’s rather than the late 80’s or early 90’s. Another just as important change they bring to this however is conceptually more grounded but no less impactful. Jordi is far from a slouch on the kit and even the atavism of Sartegos doesn’t stop him from displaying his talents. His cymbal work is fairly understated but underscores the hypnotic precision behind much of the guitar work with a good ear for playing on rising tension, and changes in tempo allow him to introduce a number of compact fills of the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it variety that play off of Rou’s rapid wrist motions. In this sense his work is less of what you’d typically call “technical” but he has a good eye for subtly playing to the suggestive, creeping side of the music and taking techniques that sound simple on paper and maximizing their capability to enhance the morbid atmosphere. It’s a good example of the focus on their sound; ideas that are simple at first but gradually are used to imply and enshroud deeper and more ominous mysteries in this night-dark full length.
Another notable aspect of their sound is that it is pretty drawn out, not to the absurd lengths of some funeral doom or post metal bands but it’s definitely enough that it can take a while for songs to grow on you. This is something that hasn’t really changed much since 2010 beyond the particular way they filled up these songs, and on O Sangue Da Noite they’ve fulfilled the evolutionary promise of prior works. Long passages of sustained riffing stretch out into grand textures almost like a second wave black metal band but gradually introduce variations of core melodies like a graveyard fog gradually morphing into semi-familiar living shapes. Tempo changes introduce new permutations of said themes, adding new facets with illuminating lead guitar playing like a very aggressive classic Greek band or changes in patterns (i.e. morphing rough tremolo riffing into thinner quickly picked leads or breaking up faster passages with slower, sparser ringing doomy chords) to vary up the sonic topography of each song. These in turn lead to moments where the more entrancing, repetitious elements break away to let moments of enthralling power and intensity take the lead sometimes with faster and more immediately ear-catching riffs and even some impressively climactic if carefully played guitar solos. Some spooky synths even appear on occasion along with chanted clean vocals, but the band’s smart enough to let the riffs do most of the speaking, using these for just a few short junctions. There are a few more moving parts here than before and the death metal influence gives them an even harder hitting delivery combined with a newfound expertise in rapidly changing tempos. In spite of this, the debut’s sound focuses down on just a few key elements presented and reshaped throughout the duration of each of its seven metal tracks. It’s subsequently not a very hard album to follow even if it’s a far cry from the minimalism typically associated with the genre, willing to have more explicit rather than implicit technique and using these more gripping moments to help convey the same powerful sense of primal atmosphere but with a newfound energy and sinister vision.
It’s always been a fear of mine that many promising bands still at their demo stage will stay there, but recently time has made it clear I was right to keep following more than a few of them. My tastes have changed considerably since 2013 when I first discovered Sartegos but their music also refused to remain static. As such, I find myself enjoying their music even more looking back and after a seven year wait I’m glad to say this was worth it. Rou has demonstrated his skill as both a composer and a riff-maker, possessing a vision that is undeniably old school in its aesthetic but too specifically contemporary in its design and execution to be a mere retread. While the new wave of primal black metal bands are primarily made up of forgettable grind-oriented semi-death metal acts and competent opening act-tier thrashy ones, Sartegos presents a vision of the genre’s possibilities that indulges in its decadent perversities yet proves itself smart enough to not become trapped by tradition. If there are any shortcomings it’s that the synth intro, interlude, and outro tracks feel unnecessary given how monstrously evocative the straight up metal tracks are. The fourth track, “Solpor dos Misterios,” while enjoyable does get a bit repetitive and feels a bit like an attempt to recapture the same magic as “O Dragom” off of the 2013 EP albeit not as well. These are overall fairly minor hiccups and for anyone who wants to explore black metal belonging to the realms of the ancient and primordial, O Sangue Da Noite is one of the year’s finest offerings in that field.
Cuatro de las cinco dependencias poseídas por espectros.