Metal is often intrinsically tied to story and band narrative. Especially in its most extreme forms, bands are often imbued with an aura of mystique and toil through the auspices of the stories they choose to tell about themselves, whether through marketing, interviews, or their music. Lebanon’s blackened death metal maestros Kaoteon have an interesting backstory as well. But rather than the standard metaphors of their music being forged in the fires Mount Doom or birthed by a witch deep in the conifer forests of Norway, Kaoteon’s deals in actual horror. Originally formed as Chaotaeon (a mixture of the words “Chaotic” and Aeon”) in 1998 in Beirut, the band’s moniker was mistaken as a word for “Devil” by the Lebanese authorities which, due to the laws of that country, led to dire consequences for the band. In 2003, undercover police officers raided one of the band’s shows, taking them hostage by throwing them in the trunks of unmarked cars and interrogating them for days. While this incident and misunderstanding led to no criminal charges and to their eventual release, band leader Anthony Kaoteon changed the band’s name to his own and moved to Amsterdam. Needless to say, such literal persecution has led to some intense releases, primarily in the form of demos and the band’s debut full-length Veni Vidi Vomui. Their sophomore record, Damnatio Memoriae, sees the band attempting to build upon the reputation forged by that ferocious debut and the circumstances that inspired it.
The most immediately noticeable difference between this record and the band’s debut is the line-up. With original members Anthony Kaoteon and Walid Wolflust returning on guitars and vocals respectively, Damnatio Memoriae brings on a few additional musicians that help the band expand their sonic palate, namely Fredrik Widigs from Marduk on drums and Linus Klausenitzer of Obscura on bass. Recruiting Daniel Bergstrand for mixing wasn’t a poor choice either, as Damnatio is without question the band’s most full- and clear-sounding release to date. With such a robust line-up, one could not be blamed for assuming that the music contained within this record would be some fairly intense and impressive stuff. Such assumptions are here rewarded, as Damnatio Memoriae is an improvement over their previous releases in every way, and could prove a watershed moment for the band.
Opener “Damnatio Memoriae” is a blast of black metal aggression that kicks off the album with a righteous anger, as Walid’s vocals dance above ferocious instrumentation with throat-shredding savagery. It’s a kick-ass kick-off. “Barren Lands” continues this trajectory as another epic and aggressive soundscape of riffs and interesting drumming that gives the track a feeling of openness as opposed to suffocation, and feels akin to Dark Funeral in its sonic intensity. But within the chaos contained in these tracks, the band never loses its sense of melody. This allegiance to melodic songwriting is one of the aspects of Kaoteon’s sound that makes them stand out among their blackened death metal peers. “Raging Hellfire” and “Light of Compassion” each also display the band’s deft hand at melding black and death metal, blasting and raging through several passages that could be considered among the best the band have written. And while Damnatio Memoriae certainly rips through some intense blackened death metal carnage with skill and verve, the album in its entirety is a musically diverse affair. Closing track “A Breath” pulls directly from the Cobalt playbook with a dramatic and understated strummed riff that is built upon by a section of militant drumming. Think “Gin” and “Beast Whip” with just a tinge of eastern-influenced compositional prowess thrown in for good measure. This build-up eventually erupts into a full-on blackened death melodic assault that sends the track and album out in a blaze of glory, and ties the record’s musical themes together perfectly with militant drumming and mid-tempo strumming evolving into a varied barrage of blackened death that finds Walid screaming and raging with a passion as undeniable as can be found in the brand of music. It is a consistent, impassioned, and thoroughly ferocious sequence of tracks that is both easy to digest and rewarding of multiple listens.
If I had to knock this record for anything, it would be its relative songwriting consistency. While each track on the record is expertly performed and sounds fantastic, listening to the album in one go can lead to a feeling of sameness. Not every track sticks out as a truly unique entity within the context of the album, but overall this is an extremely minor gripe. Mainly because the music on this record is so good that it’s difficult to complain about awesome songs sounding a bit similar to other awesome songs. The production is fantastic, the instrumentation and performances solid throughout, and the obvious passion that this band has for the music they create bleeds through every note. It’s a solid addition to the band’s limited but already impressive discography. Fans of blackened death would do well to pay heed to Kaoteon. They’re as metal as they come.
Damnatio Memoriae will be released on February 23rd in digital format, and is available for pre-order on the band’s Bandcamp page.