Review: The Chasm – The Scars of a Lost Reflective Shadow
The hateful raven makes its last stand
Over a lengthy period of 30 years and counting, Mexico (and now Chicago’s) The Chasm has been one of the few long-running constants of death metal reliability, consistency, and quality. Far fewer still can attest the same volume of output and ever-changing adventurousness even amongst numerous lineup changes, reducing them to the core duo of Daniel Corchado and Antonio Leon. The former’s varied, avant-progressive songwriting, congealing multiple eras and lineages of metal history into a cohesive whole, and the latter’s energetically tasteful drumkit acrobatics have steadily evolved in tandem. The highly experimental, off-kilter material defining much of their ’90s output has been long since left behind them however, and ever since 2002, the scope of their songcraft reached cosmic heights. 2000’s Procession to the Infraworld was one of the rare times we really saw a concise version of their iconic sound(s) as since then song lengths, thematic breadth, and dizzying intricacy consistently increased. The previously mentioned album is of particular importance as in many ways, The Scars of a Lost Reflective Shadow fulfills a similar function within their storied discography. With that in mind, it would be a grave error to listen thinking you are experiencing a retread of that album’s borderline unhinged savagery.
With regards to said function, The Chasm’s 8th album is a momentary detour from their current developments and best not thought of as what to expect from the 9th. If the last two decades have been them crafting increasingly arcane, complex sonic architecture this tears much of it down with little hesitation. It does not do away with the many signatures of the fundamental shift that occurred after Deathcult For Eternity: The Triumph in 1998. Here the towering, esoteric visions are condensed and streamlined, grounding the symphonies of sorcery and mystery in destructive tenacity aimed directly at the jugular. Thrash has been a prominent part of their appeal for decades now, yet here it manifests less so in the brainy Mekong Delta-esque fashion that had been the hallmark of the last two albums. Where prog-thrash refinement once reigned now stalks a primal savagery akin to old demons like Sepultura, Slayer, Destruction, Kreator, Sodom, etc. This results in a lot of charging skank beat-spearheaded tempos and crunchy, rapidly picked riffing storming forwards with some of the most straightforward of their career.
This savagery coordinates itself with the renewed emphasis on intricate polyphonies, evoking the original school of melodic death metal (Skydancer-era Dark Tranquility, A Mind Confused, Alf Svensson-era At The Gates, Eucharist, etc.) funneled through the former genre’s no-nonsense, fat-trimming militancy. It’s tempting to say this album is defined by its aggression but straightforwardness is more appropriate. There’s a lot of riffing arranged in atypical structures and much of it interacts in a deliberate, meticulous manner. Yet the complexity is delivered with no ambiguity or obfuscation; The Chasm pulls no punches but they do make each one a deathblow.
Having a truckload (or 10) of riffs also means having to figure out how to tie them all together in a way that makes them work. This has never been a problem for The Chasm with each passing album, becoming increasingly less repetitive. Here they continue the trend yet simultaneously demystify it in the progress, going from the esoteric to the exoteric. While I would not say they are exactly “accessible” with the absence of easy mosh-friendly hooks and verse-chorus structures and all, this is more immediate in how it plays out. Multiple sections of juxtaposing riffing links together to form long, ever-unfolding chains of theme and fury.
The straight-ahead tenacity inherited from thrash is the force that propels this forward, creating a whipping backdrop of furious riffing tied together by intensity. The nuanced harmonies that defined the last album flesh out the outline created in the wake, like a painter putting in the various little details onto a piece that creates a full, detailed image. Normally I might say these are easy to miss due to just how much is sent the listener’s way, but the streamlining of the structure actually delivers much of it in far more immediate detail than it had previously. A large part of this may be due to the fact that after being absent for one whole album and 70% of another, vocals have returned and in turn, song structure modifies itself to accommodate them.
The voyage across this ravaged spectral landscape is narrated by Daniel Corchado, utilizing a far lower and almost detached sounding approach if not for the hints of faded, ember-like anger quietly burning behind his almost spoken growls. Each song is its own story that blends the line between the otherworldly mythic and the deeply personal, as much meditations on anger, loss, and agony as they are of rebirth, transcendence, and iron will. While not absolutely necessary to follow, they’re implicitly reflective of the same equilibrium reflected in their musicianship, joining with what is grounded in the deeply personal and immediately impactful with the more complex, mystifying elements bleeding into the supernatural and mythic. It’s not afraid to dwell in absurdities outright apocalyptic in nature, yet it does so with a genuine anger and desire for ascendancy, sidestepping pure pulp and self-parodying shock for a snapshot of inner landscapes and ravenous, destructive aspirations.
Just as worthy of admiration is Antonio Leon, taking to this stylistic shift with gusto. The prior two albums saw him reach the peak of his creativity and flourish, dialing much of it back to suit the renewed no-nonsense barbarity but hardly diminishing his significance. He’s no less blunt than Daniel but his complex drum lines now are a little more reserved not so much to tone it down as much as to be a little more subtle and understated in execution. His cymbal accents and nimble rolls smooth over many of the riff transitions and hint at shifts to come, trading explosive power and vibrancy for fluidity and flow. The vicious pacing of the music might seem like it’s at odds with this, yet he’s as comfortable with often high-speed onslaughts here as he was back in 2000.
This album might be a stylistic detour before the return to what was promised on A Conscious Creation from the Isolated Domain – Phase I (try saying that three times really quickly), something its three instrumentals out of 8 tracks suggests. It might seem like a return to the good old days of The Chasm thanks in large part to the return of Daniel’s thundering voice, however changed it is, and their most visceral moments. To an extent I would not be surprised if Daniel wanted to rekindle the old fires, but The Chasm were always a band in flux. The shift between the first two albums was them finding their footing, Deathcult… set the stage for the transition into the unhinged bloodlust of Procession…, The Spell of Retribution experimented with absolutely dense riff-packed craftmanship, and even the recent albums have shown a careful ear towards furthering their more unusual, avant-prog-esque tonalities. These are very general overviews but the point is that The Chasm could never be meaningfully accused of resting on their laurels. The Scars of a Lost Reflective Shadow is no different, as even in “returning” to some of their old hallmarks it reinterprets them with the accumulated wisdom and experience of two of death metal’s most seasoned and unrelenting masters. It’s a no bullshit, no nonsense, no mercy album that wears its violent, unrepentant passions emblazoned on its armor of intransigence yet it refuses to be defined by them entirely.
“Surround your fevered restraint / and fly to the blackest abyss / So Rise, with passion and Rage / And feel the death of the Ancient Dreams / Truth has been long lost… / Death Remains in glorious ways” dictates Daniel in the aptly named closer, “Final Flight of the Hateful Raven”. These lines arguably sum up the spirit of the band. Once they may have been a full-fledged band battling for its corner of the Infraworld upon death metal’s eternal warzones in its golden era, but they’ve also seen those once-raging fires reduced to embers and buried by corpse-piles of mediocrity and self-contented irony. It’s a gloomy way to end the album, letting them know the vitriolic avian we first encountered on 1998’s Deathcult… “will not return, forevermore.” Simultaneously, it’s liberating in how it puts to rest the old spirits of past glories, in reverence of what came before and in remembrance for what shall be.
Even ignoring all of the history, it stands strong as an example of death metal at once brainy and barbaric, having very few similarities with the various trends of today beyond disparate cosmic oddities like VoidCeremony, Inanna, Aenigmatum, Vile Rites, and Atemporal. A few of them even take inspiration from The Chasm’s long history but it’s telling that those that do have all ended up in their own strange extrasolar domains. The takeaway from this is that The Chasm has always been defined by the sense of being on a constant journey, further or deeper into some distant domains, and even those that cite from them demonstrate this. Various core concepts have remained since that 1993 demo but with how much they have morphed over the decades it can be hard to tell. This is for the better and this album reminds us that the past isn’t merely various altars for defeatist odes in the name of nostalgia. It can just as much be a fiery reminder of the power of legacy and the promise of its continuation and evolution.