It’s staggering that a city supposedly renowned for everything that is good in life produces such harrowing music in abundance. Maestus’ sophomore album Deliquesce (code666), the full-length extension to their 2017 demo of the same name, is the latest slab of darkness to emerge from Portland, Oregon, and it paints a picture of bleak desolation.
With four tracks spanning fifty minutes of misery, it is a challenging listen, and begins with the title track which also formed that demo two years ago. A haunting blend of synth and piercing piano keys introduce a cold, funereal crush which is accompanied by a pained roar, so visceral it wounds the ears. Those keys serve as a heartbreaking undercurrent, lending an eerie air to the sinister second movement: powered by brutal yet singular bass and drums, briefly exploding into a savage mourning, a human form dissolving yet railing bitterly against its fate.
There’s an amalgam of sounds here: the Blackened-tinged Funereal air of Bell Witch and Amarok meeting the Scandinavian harsh melancholy of Katatonia and Hanging Garden. It offers beauty and fulminating anger in equal measure but as so often in such cases, there’s a very tricky balancing act to be perfected.
‘Black Oake’ has a slow yet crunching opening, the riff and vocal scour showing hostile intent while mid-paced blastbeats add an ominous edge. The middle segment again sees a pensive introspection take over, the canter replaced a mournful return amid swirling, sad atmospheres and devastating guitar work.
‘The Impotence Of Hope’ begins as cheerily as its title would suggest, a despairing lament of keys and strings contrasted by that hellish dual vocal; eerie, darkened organ-work; and intermittent blasts of agonised rage. Clean vocals get a brief workout here, and it’s at this point the nagging issue becomes apparent: for all its undoubted emotion and fire, its profundity, Deliquesce is sterilised by a production far too clean and sharp.
Closer ‘Knell Of Solemnity’ follows the same path, some killer leadwork and key flurries creating a deliciously disconsolate, stirring atmosphere, yet can’t prevent the album falling into a trap all too familiar with many products of its ilk: the sound, the format, has a clinical nature that kills the passion, the empathy. Maestus obviously have a bright future but need to discover that human element to be truly great.
6 / 10