A personal highlight and something that I take to heart is when a band contacts you and asks for a review of their follow up recording as they value your opinion. I had the pleasure of being contacted by Epitaphe back in 2018 after releasing their first demo where I stated that “Epitaphe’s strength is that they know how to build atmosphere, making you want to sit in darkness, close your eyes, bow your head and just let the music possess and engulf you”. With their debut album, I, released through Aesthetic Death, Epitaphe have taken their songs from the demo and morphed them into an even bigger monster without ruining the original feel or message.
It takes balls to take your original songs, that fans have already embraced and loved, and to change them without alienating said fanbase. Rest assured, what Epitaphe have done is made everything so much better, from the atmosphere to the musicianship. The sound of the album, courtesy of UK-based James Leonard and recorded in the French Alps, is so much better than the demo recording and that is not taking anything away from the demo at all.
Epitaphe like to destroy your ear drums. Take for example twenty minute opener “Smouldering Darkness” with its power electronic sounds at the beginning, something that MZ.412 would produce at their most chaotic. These sounds are created by using bass pedals generating an unsettling tone before Disembowelment/Inverloch style riffs surround the ear drums and immediately draw you in. A major plus point for me in any band is having more than one vocalist as each adds to the diversity, power and strength of the song. Imagine having each of the four members of the band contributing to the atmosphere, ranging from black metal to light and deep death growls.
The opening six minutes to this song are just incredible, mastering the art of creating eerie atmospheres. This really needs to be heard. Continuing with “Smouldering Darkness” there is so much in it, black metal riffs mixed with deep death growls and vice versa, but it is not chaotic by any matter of means, instead beautifully crafted together. For a band that has still only released one demo before their debut, tightness is their key strength here.
“Embers” is much less atmospheric and much more of the straightforward blackened death metal variety. There are a few occasions where I hear Portal coming through as an influence. While not as breathtaking as the opening track, this is one for the fans who demand sheer brutality with special mention to the depth of the death growls towards the final couple of minutes of the track. “Reverie” saves us all with a nice acoustic interlude and imaginative drumming in the background. These guys don’t simply do things by the book, they like to experiment and I like how it works in this song in particular.
Well, the acoustic track was the calm before the storm… As you have just gathered and regained your senses, “Downward Spiral” comes crashing through your speakers with a stunning opening riff. This riff is then turned down a notch and matched with deep growls which is just music to the ears. A more fitting title for a song could not have been given as this track takes you on a journey and it ain’t going upwards, shall we say. It takes you on a musical journey from death metal through to black metal for the second half without losing its power, and again with the variety in vocal performances by the band being unique to Epitaphe.
Epitaphe have taken all of these songs from their 2018 demo and revisited them as if to say “we can do more”. With I, Epitaphe have given us a new song in “Monolithe” and it carries along the same vein as the first song on the album being twenty minutes in length. Most listeners would baulk at seeing that a song is so long but Epitaphe have the uncanny knack of making it work. Led in by an opening ambient sequence along the lines of what Neurosis and Inverloch would do, you just know that it’s going to explode in a cacophony of sound any second. After three minutes, black metal riffs with deep death growls is the order of the day and these are soon followed by death metal. Guitarist LBK appears to be having an internal standoff with himself, with one half of his creative brain being into black metal and the other being death metal. Riffs chop and change frequently but the song still travels fluently and even bring into mind latter day Satyricon in places.
As with their 2018, I thoroughly enjoyed this album and it will be one that I shall be playing on repeat frequently. It’s an album that you cannot fully appreciate with only a couple of listens. I feel that Epitaphe are at their strongest when they experiment, with tracks like “Smouldering Darkness” and “Downward Stream”. This is where their strength lies and the ability to bring and construct them in such a way that garners your attention and makes you embrace it is addictive. Every song has its own distinct message and feel that has to be heard. When they play live, there will be plenty for every fan of black, death and extreme metal to enjoy and on the back of this album, opportunities will come Epitaphe’s way I am sure. I hope that day comes my way soon.
I is out now