As the low-fi and positively primordial strains of Funeral Chant leech forth from the speakers, you would be forgiven for thinking that you have been transported to the depths of the bleakest of Scandinavian forests. But no, blackened thrashers Funeral Chant hail from Oakland, California and this is what makes this, their debut and self titled EP, so very interesting. Originally released by the band as a tape in early 2017, the rabid underground following the band garnered has led to a label release in both CD and LP format.
Opening track “Spiral into Madness” sets the tone with a broodingly atmospheric and very Slayer-esque intro, accompanied by the most ominous of tolling bells which is a simple touch used throughout the record to great effect. The track’s key themes of frenetic guitar work and dissonant/disembodied vocals are punctuated by some excellent catchy thrash riffage and effective tempo changes from breakneck savagery to slow and mournful. Again, these prove to be a central and effective theme throughout the record.
“Cacophony of Death” and “Flood of Damnation” carry on from here and are both standouts with the former possessing a galloping riff that cannot fail to make you pound your fist in morbid glee. Track four, “Cosmic Burial”, continues with a lumbering Celtic Frost inspired riff which is one of many welcome old school touches and nods to a glorious past.
Track five comes in the form of a cover of Repugnant’s “Morbid Ways” and is the only slight detraction on the record for me. While enjoyable enough, the song pales somewhat compared to the band’s own top notch efforts and breaks up the flow as a result. It left me thinking that it would have served better as a bonus track at the end. Final, and title track “Funeral Chant” more than atones though, swaggering to a glorious crescendo before fading out with that mournful tolling bell again… a perfect end to a relatively short but quite epic journey.
You cannot listen to this EP without giving serious thought to the production which I think demands further comment. The low-fi quality and unadulterated rawness of the sound quality undoubtedly aids the overall atmosphere and feel of the record which I am sure is by design. However, for me – and I fear I may be in the minority in saying this – it loses power and clarity, which I think would enhance the prodigious musicianship and song-writing on display, not to mention elevate the excellent riffage. Some of this is lost and the tracks sound so busy as a result that it takes several listens to appreciate the best bits of which they are truly many. As I said though, this seems intentional and will no doubt add to the overall mystique of the band which in an age of manufactured blandness is perhaps no bad thing.
Give this EP several listens through and its inherent qualities shine through. The band deliver six truly primitive and raw tracks which collectively come very close to capturing a sound so unfettered and evil it reminds the listener of Slayer’s classic Hell Awaits album. Far from just a copy, though, which makes this record very intriguing indeed.
Funeral Chant is out 30 November on Caverna Abysmal Records.