Sparagmos. The act of rending, tearing apart, or mangling a living sacrifice (human or otherwise) as Dionysian rite. An appeasement to a god of excess, chaos, and irrationality through brutality and consumption of flesh. Ritual via destruction. Worship through violence.
One might expect a decent amount of audio punishment from an album with such a grisly title. Given that it just so happens to be the sophomore full-length outing from Denver death-doom masters Spectral Voice, those assumptions would not be unfounded. With their skygazing debut behemoth Eroded Corridors of Unbeing, the band (comprised of the entire ax-wielding dept. of Blood Incantation along with drummer and vocalist Eli Wendler) cemented themselves as premium purveyors of cosmic death-doom on a truly grand scale. But living in the shadow of most of these musicians’ main project, Spectral Voice and their ethereal doom-laden tunes never felt like they got the full recognition they deserved. Fast forward to 2024 and the band’s follow-up effort finds them pulling their sound from the heavens and dragging it earth-bound. Less interested in the nothingness between the stars, Sparagmos lives among rock, wood, and bone. It slithers, writhes, bleeds, and bludgeons through a dark sonic thicket with a propulsive and nightmarish energy that is as beautifully and murderously realized as any death-doom record to be released in quite some time.
I’ll put it plainly and save you some time if you’d rather hit the tl;dr: Sparagmos might actually be a transcendent masterpiece of the death-doom genre and is without question the best metal album released so far in 2024.
Big and bold words coming from a Denver-living, BI Stanning, obviously biased scrub, I know. However, the statement is accurate so I don't feel an ounce of shame. Not since Mournful Congregation dropped their absolutely stunning The Incubus of Karma back in 2018 has a doom-adjacent record entranced me with this level of intensity. Every note, every atmospheric break, every punishing riff contained within the cavernous confines of Sparagmos fits so seamlessly into a tapestry of audio nastiness and majesty that one has to wonder why exactly Spectral Voice is considered the side project. Leaps and bounds better than its already excellent predecessor, Sparagmos is a logical and deeply impressive step forward for the band both conceptually and sonically.
From the woozy opening chords of “Be Cadaver”, it’s immediately clear that Spectral Voice haven’t lost their sense of atmospheric grandeur. The first few minutes of the album develop slowly and deliberately, swaying and cascading like an oppressive forest thunderstorm, maintaining a cyclical rhythm without ever becoming stale. Even when locked into a doomy riff pattern the band always keeps things interesting, as additional stacks of guitar leads slide across the track’s central motif, making for an unusually dense but very listenable stack of guitar work. But it’s Wendler’s drums that provide the most variety and color to the ritualistic revelry, bounding forward and retreating with expert patience. Wendler’s vocals are absolutely filthy here, setting the tone for a virtuoso performance that only gains steam and power as the album progresses. The music soon follows suit in filthiness, with the guitar tone switching from proggy effects to an animalistic roar that eventually erupts into a section of vicious death metal mayhem that fans of these musicians’ other projects will be all too familiar with. It’s a glorious release, leading to one of the principal strengths of Sparagmos as a whole.
Even more so than Eroded Corridors of Unbeing, Sparagmos feels like a down and dirty death metal record. Sure, doom abounds and is superbly executed throughout, but at its core Sparagmos acts within and finds its highest highs within its death metal core. Second track “Red Feasts Condensed Into One” delivers this reality full bore in its opening moments, paying off the meticulous building done at the end of the previous track by giving listeners an absolutely brutalizing sequence of blasts and peak riffs that could melt the face of the most seasoned death metal aficionado. It’s this balanced juxtaposition of more compositionally measured and dynamically chaotic musical sequences that make Sparagmos feel always interesting and unpredictable. But for all its untamed aggression, the quality of the songwriting across the board is simply absurd. The control on display is further evidence of this collective of musicians nearing the apex of their formidable abilities, and it's glorious to behold. Seven years have passed since the last Spectral Voice record, and the intervening time has been very kind to this group of artists. Each track, while quite long, never overstays its welcome. There is a real fluidity on display here that makes the album feel almost too short (which at nearly 50 minutes it most certainly isn’t). Each track balances tempo and overall sonic vibe with Olympic levels of precision, but it’s the variety in each track that really sets the album apart. This entire record feels cohesive and of a piece, but each track is a world unto itself. The writing sessions for this record must have been incredible, and that confidence and seeming joy in the process of conjuring premium grade filth is on full display throughout Sparagmos.
But for all its technical acumen and songwriting prowess, perhaps the most arresting part of this record is its rawness. There’s a wild, untamed beast lurking in the shadows of every monster riff, behind every smash of the kit. The production (while legible and effective as hell) leaves a good deal of murk for the listener to settle into, giving the record a sense of rust and sharp edges that allow these compositions to elevate themselves beyond simple technical excellence. There’s an unneutered and unfiltered sonic spirit that pervades Sparagmos, which the final two tracks on the record burrow into with aplomb. “Death’s Knell Rings in Eternity” contains some of the album’s most ecstatic moments, sending listeners spiraling down into a cavernous abyss as its last notes echo. It’s the perfect send-off to a borderline perfect record, balancing thoughtful writing and superb musicianship with unchained menace to an exceptional degree.
On the whole, Sparagmos feels like the album Spectral Voice was destined to make. Every individual part works together to edify the whole, culminating in a collection of tracks that flows seamlessly and purposefully to a fault. The songwriting is uniformly interesting and viciously delicious, the performances are exclusively brilliant, and the overall tone and sonic direction are nasty and masterful. I cannot stress enough how excellent Sparagmos is, and I am fully confident that it will not only make my 2024 year-end list, but may sit alone atop the heap when all is said and done. Spectral Voice are no longer the smaller, nastier younger brother of Blood Incantation. They’re now equals, standing toe to toe with their much ballyhooed sibling in every measurable metric. It’s been a minute since I labeled a record a bona fide masterpiece. This one certainly is.