It’s been a strange trip for Schammasch. Starting as a not-entirely-successful mash-up of Black Metal and Stoner Doom, they scored an underground break-out with 2014’s Contradiction. That rarest of rarities – a double album that’s interesting all the way through and isn’t Jeff Wayne’s War Of The Worlds – it swaggered out of the gates like a prog-infused Behemoth, all muscular Black/Death Metal riffing combined with effective atmospherics and some genuinely skilful songwriting, and had many professional opinion-givers cautiously predicting them as the Next But One Big Thing.
To follow it with Triangle – a willfully obtuse triple-album that saw them move at slug-pace through monolithic mid-paced Black Metal and even more monolithic Doom(ish) before ending with an hour of what you might expect Dark Ambient to sound like if you’ve never heard any was a brave choice, but didn’t seem to realise the hinted at potential. The announcement that Triangle’s successor would be a single album was taken by some as hinting that the band was returning to a simpler Black Metal approach. Those people were wrong.
It’s obvious to call The Maldoror Chants: Hermaphrodite (Prosthetic) an odd album, but it’s worth observing that it is odd in a strange way. Weird Metal is usually all colours and explosions, flinging its arms around and gurning wildly, but Schammasch have taken a more sober approach. It’s not until the last third of the album that they build enough pace to even resemble Black Metal, and that’s short-lived – for the rest of the run time they work through a combination of sparse slow Doom and ambient electronics that’s firmly focussed on atmosphere rather than payoff. A first, ungenerous, impression is that they recorded that quadruple-album after all, then threw away everything apart from the intros – but with repeated listens the structure beneath it starts to take shape, and the realisation dawns that Schammasch are doing something genuinely interesting with their reduced run-time.
Hermaphrodite works best when viewed as a single flowing track, one which builds its momentum up very slowly and deliberately before releasing it all in a sudden burst of violence. There are going to be many catchier and more obviously quirky Metal albums this year, but I doubt there’ll be many which go quite so far into the Other as Schammasch have done here, or quite so engagingly.