Black metal has always been one of heavy music’s most simultaneously expressive and self-limiting subgenres. It’s probably why a huge portion of former bands have either disbanded after only a few releases or simply abandoned the aesthetic completely. At this point in the genre’s history, it’s honestly pretty rare to find such a tunnel-visioned black metal band with a track record as impressive as Inquisition’s. Sure, some albums of theirs are more spacey and some are more cutthroat, but they’ve essentially been pumping out some of the best straight-ahead black metal in the past decade. It’s been three years since we were all gifted the band’s latest offering of aural cosmic warfare, but now Inquisition is back with the insanely-titled Bloodshed Across the Empyrean Altar Beyond the Celestial Zenith, and they’re as focused and streamlined as ever.
Bloodshed packs in a lot of the same old tricks that Dagon and Incubus have kicking out for years now, but most of the tracks on here are especially savage and sport a much more suitable mix. Tracks like “Wings of Anu” and “Mystical Blood” harken back to Battles in the North-era Immortal with the huge thrash influence and likeminded blastbeats that feel like they’re constantly on the verge of collapsing. Incubus’ drumming throughout the album serves as an incredibly brutal backbone to Dagon’s horrific lyrics and haunting vocals, seemingly always knowing when to lay back in the pocket and when to start assaulting the snare drum with an almost-frantic level of intensity. Black metal is obviously a “riffs first” style of music, but this album would not sound nearly as impactful or cohesive if it wasn’t for the foundation on which Bloodshed is built upon.
Those who might feel like they haven’t been properly bulldozed by a metric ton of frigid guitar riffs this year can end their search here. Bloodshed probably does spend the majority of its time keeping things at Mach-666, but the album’s middle section thankfully opens things up and completely delivers. Maybe it’s because Inquisition have been belting out their brand of warp-speed savagery for as long as they have, but the band feels their most inventive and inspired in tracks like “A Black Aeon Shall Cleanse,” the album’s title track and “Through the Divine Spirit of Satan a Glorious Universe Is Known.” Inquisition certainly don’t bore when they belt out a more traditional style of black metal, but this album clearly shows that this duo sounds their absolute best when they’re trying to take the listener outside of their comfort zone and into the cosmos. Dagon has always done a great job at creating an impenetrable wall of distortion with his combination of tremolo-picked brutality and his chicken-pickin’ style of creating atmospheres, and this album definitely keeps things at an all-time high. Now boasting a much more well-rounded bottom end in the mix, Bloodshed now feels like one of the most cinematic albums of the band’s discography.
Looking back on their entire catalog, Bloodshed is probably their most immediate and digestible album for a first-time listener. It incorporates sounds from the band’s entire history, should please fans of all things 90s and Norwegian, and has the least frog-like vocal performance Dagon has ever laid to tape. This album feels dangerous, larger than life, and more unapologetically reverent to black metal’s history than any other band from the Pacific Northwest right now. Plus, “Power from the Center of the Cosmic Black Spiral” is probably the best black metal song of 2016 and packs in more fist-pumping Mayhem and Darkthrone worship than you’ll be able to deal with at first. This is just another future staple in the band’s already-stellar list of material. It’s no genre-defining classic, but it’s certainly some of the best black metal you’re likely to find before winter consumes us yet again.