Hearing Sacrocurse‘s Unholier Master is a conflicting experience. This album carries many of the trademarks that make the modern black/death/war camp a tired cliche, but it also contains some redeeming qualities that become evident after repeated listens. To put that into proper perspective, the following is the original opening to this review:
[It is obvious on hearing Unholier Master that Sacrocurse “want” to sound the way they do. This is their – and by all accounts, plenty of others’ – idea of extreme metal, fully impervious to attack from outside. To that end, like most black/death/war metal, Unholier Master achieves its goals: this is a primitive, grindcore-influenced blast of hyperactivity with no aspirations other than a momentary blitz on the senses. There’s no point running down albums like these, so the following are simply some observations to be made on the music found here, and on the sub-genre at large.]
The observations themselves are:
- Every component of a metal song has traditionally been an independent yet fully-endowed unit of musical information. Consider a song like Morbid Angel‘s ‘Maze Of Torment’; it starts off with a memorable riff that is a marvel of metal guitar phrasing, then lapses into a circular bridge-like riff supplemented with blasting drums. You could call this bridge-riff “filler” seeing how it is used throughout the song to connect perfectly individual, self-contained riffs, sort of like a skyway connecting two buildings.
- Every riff in a metal song does not have to be neatly resolved. Sometimes, leaving open-ended riffs, much like Morbid Angel did in the chorus to ‘Maze Of Torment’, adds an element of tension and curiosity to a song.
- Riffs can frequently be split into their sub-components, which then foster a sense of dialogue or a call-response relationship among themselves. Consider, again, the iconic riff on ‘Maze Of Torment’ or even its variant during the slow-section occurring midway through the song; is there not a palpable feeling of Q&A to their constituent parts? This dialogue is what makes songs breathe and become living organisms.
- Point (3) is also what engenders a feeling of motion in the music.
How does Sacrocurse fare in these respects?
- Sacrocurse, for half of their album, make entire songs out of the bridge-riffs mentioned above. In the absence of truly remarkable “buildings” or “islands in isolation” , however, they end up defeating the purpose of these bridge-riffs as envisioned by the likes of Morbid Angel. This is as much a result of the limited palette of phrases available to the band as it is to their somewhat torn allegiance to war metal do-and-don’ts. Rarely does the band leave the lowest octaves, content to churn out bar upon bar of riffs that vary little in note choices or the time spent sitting on each note. Breaks are of a populist, chugging nature, and seldom add value or flavor to songs.
- War metal as a genre consists of endless iterations of riffs that conspire to end as close as possible to the root note. Sacrocurse are not entirely guiltless of this tendency, but they do display a greater ambition than many bands of their ilk. The blasting drums, the small group of notes employed, and their incessant repeating often obscure these subtleties, but they are there all the same.
- This is perhaps Sacrocurse‘s one true talent; as the album wears on, it becomes clear that the band is good at stringing together riffs that “talk” to each other. The cyclical and noisy nature of this kind of extreme metal however means that the context of the conversation often gets lost in the overwhelming static.
- Nobody can accuse Sacrocurse of being slack, navel-gazers. This music fairly hurtles; not in an always-cogent manner, but the impetus is certainly there.