All reviewers know, in their secret hearts, that grading albums is an arbitrary process, and that the wider the scale the more subjective the judgement will be. Fans will argue and bicker over whether a given album is a 7.5 or an 8, somehow not realising that these are simply forced formalisations of a personal judgement, a qualitative emotional response squeezed into a quantitative shape. Every so often, however, an album comes along that by its sheer enormity, its absolute refusal to be pinned down so crudely, forces anyone hearing it to confront the essential meaninglessness of their numbers.
AEvangelist have only been around since 2011, and have already released three full-length albums, two EPs and a split, during which they have developed their sinister Death Metal into a genuinely unique style. The blending of Extreme Metal with Dark Ambient/Electronic Noise is nothing new – indeed, my role at Ghost Cult seems to be chasing the multiple products of this relationship and hitting them with a big stick – but bands have disagreed over how to approach it: Portal borrow the composition and layering approach of Noise artists to turn their Death Metal into a dense, chaotic swamp, whereas Grave Upheaval strip their Metal down to its barest skeleton, casting aside all ostentation until nothing is left but fetid Dark Ambient drones. AEvangelist’s approach – more maximalist, and initially quite overwhelming – is to simply PLAY EVERYTHING AT ONCE. At times it seems like there are two AEvangelists – the claustrophobic, shrieking Ambient Noise artist and the cavernous, meandering Death Metal band – and neither is prepared to give the other a moment to themselves, both bands playing their music on top of, alongside and writhing between the notes of the other.
Each subsequent album has taken this approach a little far, and Writhes In The Murk (Debemur Morti) reveals it in its most excessive, most intoxicating, most entirely singular form yet, and on the first few listens it can almost impossible to pick anything out at all. Riffs are buried in noise and static, atmospheric passages are interrupted by monotonous, rumbling-drainpipe vocals, the whole thing could easily be dismissed as an exercise in extremity for its own sake, an example of why musicians set themselves boundaries to work in – many people will doubtless stop listening with that impression in mind, and it’s hard to say that they’re wrong to do so. Persevere, though (and it IS perseverance – this album will make you work for everything it has to give) and a structure starts to emerge from the mire, an alien, shifting but nevertheless consistent logic that reveals Writhes In The Murk as a true album rather than a collection of disparate noises. The key to unlocking its shape lies in the pairing of ambient instrumental ‘Disquiet’ and the heaving, chaotic shambles that is ‘Aelixir’ – all saxophones and flailing, smoky tendrils of broken Jazz – at the centre, with a trio of more conventional (by this band’s standards) Death Metal songs at either side.
Grading music in numbers is, as explained already, a useful lie – painting the veneer of objectivity onto a subjective process that works right up until someone like AEvangelist comes along with an album so utterly, undeniably itself that only the very bottom or the very top of the marking scale could possibly make any sense at all. Writhes In The Murk is not the perfect album (imagining for a moment that such a thing could ever exist), and a lot of people are going to hate it for perfectly valid reasons. However, if you’re able to get past the initial disorientation and look inside, you’ll find an album that follows its own perverse ambition flawlessly, with not a shred of compromise, dilution or failure.