It used to be easy, doing the devil’s good work. A pentagram here or there, maybe an inverted cross on the forehead, and audiences would cower at your brimstone-summoning bravura. But the competition for our evil-seeking dollar and download has grown to unspeakable proportions. Just ask Sam Astaroth, vocalist for Toronto-based death metal gurus Astaroth Incarnate about the demands of wickedness in 2019. A Mephisto-summoning moniker doesn’t go far enough, even housed in a thorny, nigh-unreadable font. Add a few bullet-belted warlocks crawling from the backwoods with pointy guitars, not to mention Sam’s own demon warpaint. Yet, these hellacious Canadians are still restless and wild.
Musically, the five-piece has done nothing but kick ass up until now. Their last EP was a brain-hammering specimen of quality Death Metal along the lines of Anata and Heartwork-era Carcass: epic song lengths, riffs crunching diabolically, drums storming at ludicrous speeds, Astaroth hissing and gurgling while twisted melodic leads crash through the front window. Lyrically it’s a manifesto of world-ending, eye-gouging, flesh-stripping, Satan-worshipping, once around the bend, straight to hell damnation. What’s not to like? Your brain will feel like it fell into a shark tank with pocketfuls of fresh sardines.
Yet, the band’s appetite for destruction remains unsatisfied. The new EP Ascendence plunges into new terrain, more Dickens than demonic, operatic flourishes and rolling pianos pushing AI closer to the realm of Dimmu and Dani than anything previously released. They’ve even added the keyboard and vocal talents of Ashley Williams to the fold. It’s a bold shift, and while some fans will likely be put off by the new vampire vibes, guitarists Pablo Sagastume and Ric Galvez are still riff-barking and neck-snapping like the good old days (of 2017) in the leadoff track ‘I Am Fire / I Am Death (Alpha)’. This combined with Sam’s commitment to guttural barks helps balance the effects of the heaving synths. The second phase of the EP, ‘I Am Fire / I Am Death (Omega)’ is a much steeper departure, exploring slower tempos, clean guitars, and more blatantly gothic piano vamps as the song weaves its dark spell to a dramatic conclusion. It’s all a bit much, and the band could have probably shaved off another minute of majestic guitar noodling without anyone complaining. The EP closes out with a pretty straight cover of Cradle of Filth’s ‘Her Ghost in the Fog’ in all its lilting, cackling glory.
If you’re confused, I don’t blame you. It puzzles me why a band would abandon such razor-sharp scalpels for taffeta gowns and tinkling keys. Obviously I was much more impressed with their earlier material which demonstrated an intensity in a few short years that some veteran outfits never master. Here’s hoping Astaroth Incarnate’s new direction proves equally fulfilling. In the meantime, as the dark lord says: Let there be rock (opera).
6 / 10