Did you ever hope that Tom Waits got together with Hubert Selby Jr. and write a death metal album? Because your wish has finally come true. Usurpress has a new album out, and it’s easily the greatest labor they have yet to produce.
Prior to Interregnum, Usurpress was a death metal band with flecks of progressive in them. The course of their discography shows a band slowly morphing and evolving. 2012’s In Permanent Twilight was a fairly straight death album. Crunching guitars, violent drums, all things stereotypical of a death metal album. Unlike other bands of the scene, Usurpress has a size to their sound. It comes through in the reverb that paints their recording, but it makes everything they do a bit more epic. By 2016’s The Regal Tribe, the band’s songwriting became far more progressive and infused doom and crust tendencies creating complex songs with dissonance and ominous environs that metal fans often crave.
Enter Interregnum. The band, made up of Stefan Pettersson (vocals), Påhl Sundström (guitars) and Daniel Ekeroth (bass), expanded to include jazz drummer Stefan Hildman and keyboardist Erik Sundström. Imagine throwing this disparate parts altogether. You’ve got death, doom, crust, prog elements, a jazz drummer, and a keyboardist who previously played ambient and trance music. Throw all those pieces into a meat grinder, and Interregnum is the sausage coming out of the other end. The band themselves describes the effort as equal parts Camel and Bolt Thrower. Their stated goal: “to challenge the establish dogmas and indeed our own predetermined ideas of what makes death metal sound like death metal.” That descriptor absolutely nails the album.
It’s genuinely incredible how they mesh those near opposite sounds. The band can easily weave from fusion jazz a la Return to Forever straight into a death-doom grind. Sparse drums keeping time and soaring, reverb-laden guitar solos aggressively turn into blast beats and tremolo picking riffs. Softly spoken lyrics become distorted growling vocals. The turns the songs take can sometimes be just as interesting as the tracks themselves.
What makes the album so interesting is the dark turns the jazzier sections take. “In Books Without Pages” has the distinct feel of noir jazz. It’s as if a death-doom group became the house band in a jazz club. The guitars have a distinct metal feel to them the whole time, but the bass and drums have a very uniquely jazz intertwining that makes the song feel like no other metal track out there. You can already see patrons of a smoky jazz club headbanging in zoot suits and cocktail dresses.
Don’t let the jazz intimidate you. Usurpress can throw down on some dense metal when the time requires it. “Late in the 11th Hour” is chock full of the metal kick all fans want. Pummeling beats with blasting guitar riffs combine with dark and depressing lyrical content. “We don’t speak of glory/of honor and of pride/There’s no sense of brotherhood/when we’re dying side by side.” What sounds like fairly standard stuff really can impress when you have it blasting in your headphones.
2018 has already been a banner year for metal. In the first six weeks of the year, we have seen so many intensely interesting records and unique takes on established genres. Death metal bands with horn sections, variations on death and doom, black metal projects introducing new instruments or song structures, and enough hardcore to blow a hole in your wall. That being said, nothing that comes out this year will be nearly as unique and intriguing as Interregnum. It’s simply inconceivable that anything could match the original take on metal and what seems to be a nearly effortless attempt to combine so many different genres and styles. And the craziest part of it is that it worked out so well. By not listening to this record, you’re doing yourself an extreme disservice.
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Interregnum is available 2/23 via Agonia Records.