It takes a bit for an album to captivate me immediately nowadays. To be honest, the sheer glut of excellent death metal in particular over the past several years has increased my threshold in regard to the level of quality I expect from a release, making it more difficult for bands to floor me. That’s both a blessing and a curse, as it increases the quality (in my mind) of albums I recommend here but makes for less thrilling personal listening experiences. But 2020 has produced a few immediately likable albums, with Canada’s Atræ Bilis presenting one of the most intense such experiences. From the moment I hit play on this record to its final harrowing minutes, I was met with gut punches and wild, vicious death metal haymakers to the point that I restarted the album the second it was over. Nearly a dozen listens deep and I can definitively and emphatically state that this incredible band’s debut LP Divinihility is one of the most enjoyable releases I’ve put my ears to this year. We’re pleased today to also bring you an incendiary track from the record, premiering exclusively here at Heavy Blog Is Heavy. So lace up your moon boots and strap in. This one’s gonna be wild.
Space themed death metal has been going absolutely hog wild over the past few years, with Blood Incantation, Tomb Mold, Cosmic Putrefaction, Ulthar, Outer Heaven, Nucleus, Wormhole, Sxuperion, and a veritable host of others bringing the cosmic pain in historic quantities. It’s safe to say Atræ Bilis’ galactic aspirations are entering a crowded field, but that doesn’t stop them from delivering one of the more memorable debuts in this space of the death metal world for some time. This can be attributed to a few factors, the first of which is some direct songwriting that never veers south of interesting and punishing. Even the album’s opening atmosphere setter “Gnode” presents more effective death metal prowess in its minute-and-a-half runtime than many death metal bands conjure across an entire record. The guitars crunch and rage with bestial aggression, while the drum work in particular punishes with a technical-yet-accessible precision. But it’s during “Sulphur Curtain”, which we are proud to bring you here, where the album legitimately takes off.
From its opening frame, it’s clear that “Sulphur Curtain” is intent principally to beat you into submission. Rather than focusing exclusively on the more atmospheric and instrumentally complex elements of their presentation (which are certainly present and uniformly impressive), Atræ Bilis are more interested here in dishing out prime audio punishment, tacking on a severe level of brutality to their mix of technical, riff-heavy songwriting. This track is a particular banger for its balance of the above elements with an impressive level of consistency, never veering too far into brainless chug fest or a skronk-laden riff salad territory. Atræ Bilis are a band very clearly and firmly in control of their sound, and there are few places where that is more clearly evident than on “Sulphur Curtain”.
Another decision that works in Atrae Bilis’ favor is their songwriting concision. This is an album that could easily eclipse the 45-minute mark on sheer riffs alone, but rather than overload listeners with an epic the band present their entire vision in just over 20 minutes. This is one of the few times I feel supremely confident that a record could have added another 10 to 15 minutes and still held our attention and crushed our feeble minds. But nevertheless, Divinihility uses its brief runtime to great effect, presenting track after track of premium grade, high octane death metal with nary a second spared for listeners to catch their collective breath. “Phantom Veins Trumpet” continues the crushing cavalcade of riffs and with as much energy and instrumental and songwriting excellence as the tracks that came before it, though this time relying just a bit more on the technical side of the band’s instrumental acumen, providing ample opportunity for the band to show off their chops with aplomb. Huge props must be given to each member of the band for absolutely incredible performances, with a particular tip o’ the proverbial cap to guitarist David Stepanavicius, whose dizzying display of prowess is an absolute highlight of the record. “Ectopian” in particular is just fucking bestial, offering one of the best riffs on the entire record, plodding in its opening momentsatop drummer Luka Govednik’s monstrous drums with all the violent intent it can muster before bursting through the stratosphere with an epic metamorphosis that is one of my favorites on the record. The final two tracks on the album are no less gripping, sending listeners into a final descent with “A Ceremony of Sectioning” that caps off the album with absolute authority.
There have been a significant amount of quality death metal records released this year, but not a single one of them has presented their riches in as concise and supremely effective a manner as Atræ Bilis’ Divinihility. It’s an absolute smorgasbord of incredibly constrained songwriting, allowing each riff to feel essential and to stand on its own as an integral piece of the record. The performances here are simply masterful, straddling the line between technicality and bald-faced brutality with an efficiency that is rarely seen in this brand of death metal. It’s incredibly easy to wholeheartedly endorse what Atræ Bilis are attempting to accomplish here, and I cannot wait to see what strange trip the band take us on next. This feels like the start of something very special, and their debut could not be a more definitively excellent opening salvo for what is hopefully a very long and prosperous career.
Divinihility drops August 14th via the inimitable Transcending Obscurity Records, and is available for pre-order on Bandcamp.