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Inferi – Of Sunless Realms Award winner

Inferi
Of Sunless Realms
by Andrew Graham at 30 October 2020, 9:41 AM

“Of Sunless Realms EP” is the latest release by long-time established Tennessee tech-death metallers INFERI. In five short tracks they dazzle and shine brighter than many bands manage to do across lengthy albums. Notwithstanding a short, ambient and atmospheric track (which thanks to some delightful organ work is a genuine pleasure to listen to in its own right) we have four completely masterful tracks that display the very best in technical proficiency one would expect from this genre. These lads know exactly what they’re doing, and it seems effortless. A triumph!

Those who have been reading my reviews for a while (all four of you perhaps!) will by now know that I am fond of making comparisons – frequently ad absurdum! This is difficult not to do as when dealing with the new we often rely heavily on looking for the familiar. I am, however, a self-confessed and unapologetic genre-nerd. I is what I is! So, when dealing with the technical death metal genre it’s difficult not to write and listen without the ever-present absence and looming shadow of Chuck Schuldiner. It would be surprising were this not the case: he is credited by many as having virtually invented technical death metal singlehandedly. This is a tragic over-simplification of course, and whilst I have not the time to dive into the complex and fascinating history of the genre, credit is due to other influential bands like ATHEIST, SUFFOCATION, and PESTILENCE to name but a few. With those disclaimers adequately dealt with allow me to introduce you, dear reader, to INFERI.

With six full-length albums under their belt since 2006, they are something like a permanent fixture – an institution even! I confess this current EP was my introduction to them but even upon hearing only this I can see clearly how they’ve managed to last, where other bands rise and fall. What we have here is, quite simply, outstanding! The sheer level of expertise and instrumental proficiency on display is staggering without being overwhelming. Frankly, some people try far too hard in this genre and the result can sometimes be difficult on the ears (as well as the mind trying to comprehend what exactly is going on – I shan’t name and shame here!) The techniques and complex melodies, diminished chords, arpeggios, and string skipping, among others, is done so well – and with more than a nodding reference to their origins and influences from the melodic death metal scene – that it is a sheer joy to listen to: a compulsive head-banger with more than a few outbursts of “Ooh!” and “Noice!” eliciting confused looks from my partner.

“The Abhorrent Art” eases us into the overall mood of the EP, with clean guitars and chorus synths set a dissonant scene, then enhanced with stomping drums and unsettling tremolo melodies – with almost a black metal feel about it – before we charge headlong into the main event. Mid-way through the track lies a deeply satisfying melodic section on solo guitar, which really displays the multitude of influences on display here. Even within the narrow technical death metal moniker, we have very clear passing nods to melodic death metal, black metal, with the orchestral and choral sections even skirting perilously close to symphonic metal in places!

“Eldritch Evolution” shatters the relative calm with which the previous track closes like someone kicking the door in. Immediately we can clearly hear a harpsichord mirroring the guitar riff – I have to confess I have never heard that before, and I love it! (The harpsichord is a divisive sound – like marmite it’s a love or hate affair!) More solo guitar melodies surfs majestically over the tempestuous sea of riffage below and it is glorious. Underlying this is the immense drum work of Spencer – how do I describe this. The man is a machine. One imagines him floating above his kit in the lotus position directing the sticks with the power of his mind, perhaps exploding the heads of watching bystanders during the more intense moments and breakdowns!

For me, the melodic death metal influences (and indeed those aspects of their earlier sound) are most evident on “Spellbound Unearthed Terror”. It almost plays as a respectful acknowledgement to those who made this genre great (AT THE GATES is particularly well evoked here). Then half-way through we have strings and chorus playing alongside the guitars in a symphonic merger that would impress the very finest musicians in the symphonic metal genre, followed by more inspiring solo guitar melodies. I would struggle to find highlight moments on a five-track EP where everything is good, but this track really is a gem.

“The Summoning” really plays up to the less-than-subtle Lovecraftian elements that underlie the lyrical material and, of course, the album art (I’m a total sucker for anything Lovecraftian or cosmic horror!). we have haunting chants, foreboding piano with mournful strings and chorus underlying it all. Then the organ kicks in again! This is actually a really masterfully arranged orchestral section. It would not surprise me to see Malcolm pursue a side-project in classical music, it’s really that good!

Furthermore, it nicely sets the mood and flows naturally into our final track, “Aeons Torn”. I imagine many bands wrestle endlessly with the precise ordering of tracks in albums, especially given peoples’ tendency to decide they have a better idea of how to do it (see TOOL’S “Lateralus” and its suggested alternative track order). Whether it’s the mood, the pacing, or whatever else, this track just feels like a natural conclusion. It fits in that slot perfectly. It’s a summary of many of the elements we’ve seen throughout the rest of the album. It’s all there: the masterfully constructed orchestral sections (this time around including solo piano complimenting solo guitar), the aforementioned soloing, nods to all the different spiritual influences that have been displayed, and a similarly haunting clean guitar melody to that which opened the album. In classical parlance we call this recapitulation: a revisiting of thematic material which appeared earlier in a piece (usually in symphony). I suspect heavily that Malcolm knows his stuff here, and it shows. Bravo, gents!

The production on this EP is very, very clean. In fact, it’s near enough perfect! Every note is audible, and nothing is missed by the attentive listener. Huge credit is due to guitarist Mike, responsible for the mixing. Every element here is given the space and attention it deserves, from the individual instruments down to the choral and orchestral elements. Even the vocals, in all their growly, guttural glory, are clean in the mix. We have all the trappings of an experienced and mature group of musicians. Indeed, that is precisely what we have. I am excited to see what comes from them in the future, and if anything comparable to this is to be expected then I sincerely hope INFERI get all the great things they deserve!

Songwriting: 9
Musicianship: 10
Memorability: 8
Production: 10

4 Star Rating

Tracklist:
  1. The Abhorrent Art
  2. Eldritch Evolution
  3. Spellbound Unearthed Terror
  4. The Summoning
  5. Aeons Torn
Lineup:
Malcolm Pugh – Guitars, Backing Vocals, Orchestration/Synths
Mike Low – Guitars
Spencer Moore – Drums
Andrew Kim – Bass
Steve Boiser – Vocals
Record Label: The Artisan Era
     


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