Album Review: Haunter - Sacramental Death Qualia
Artist: Haunter Album: Sacramental Death Qualia Genre: Experimental Black/Death Metal Review by Mothlord
In current times, OSDM (or old school death metal) has had an enormous revival. It is refreshing in an ironic sense to have a plethora of stench ridden, muck coated bands emerging from near infinite pools of filth. However many acts though possessing a nostalgic charm, do tread the path of being clearly derivative. There are many that are quite unique in their approach, and Haunter is one of them.
Haunter are a band that until recently I had either glossed over, or had eluded me entirely. The band first spawned in 2014 as a rather low-fi black metal band, that even had leanings to classic sounding screamo/emoviolence.
However around 2017 the band went through a change with the release of their split with Black Vice. They moved into a twisting, abyssal and archaic sounding fusion of angular and sometimes jazzy sounding black/death metal. There was still touches of angst fueled emotion from the bands earlier creeping through but over the next three splits they released they delved deeper into disturbing murky gloom.
We now find ourselves now in 2019 with the release of Sacramental Death Qualia. The band have refined themselves into a brave new beast. The figurative lament configuration is complete and we now begin to work at opening an unhallowed path into disturbing yet exciting realms.
The album opens immediately with “Dispossessed Phrenic Antiquity” in a jagged and pounding sequence of disjointed riffs and lumbering primal drum work. Initially comparisons could be drawn to early technical/progressive death metal acts who pushed into these sort of realms, bands such as Demilich or Gorguts. Or more recent acts such as Artificial Brain, or Convulsing. Whose mastermind, Brendan Sloan, was responsible for the mastering of this record. Whatever the comparisons, this beast possesses its own identity wholly. Nothing feels derivative and there is much more to offer than these lurid unfurling fret-board expressions.
From uneasy and lurching death metal the band seamlessly transitions into frigid and mystical floating black metal dimensions, and other comparisons might be made to say a band like Deathspell Omega, in reference to the arrangement of those jazz inspired blackened flourishes. These changes in mood and pace feel entirely organic in composition, and though they aren’t a new thing in this genre, it wouldn’t be fair to assume the band has thrown these moments in without consideration of their use in telling a musical narrative.
To even further their musical repertoire and relate to a musical narrative the band seems intent on telling, there are progressive or even folk reminiscent moments that wouldn’t out of place in earlier Opeth albums. Like manic harlequins dancing along the fret-board, or the use of more traditional and soulful stringed instrumentation in and descents into reverb tinged prismatic caverns of yore. There is a vast amount of musicality and emotive devices on play here that brings Haunter out of dark obscurity into a place of its own.
“Sacramental Death Qualia” is an album meant to take you on a journey beyond human realms. And while the journey may begin to become almost trance like in quality, there are plenty stark tempo changes that breaks the kaleidoscopic cosmic sanctity and returns the listener to those more jagged and dissonant death metal expressions as noted on the second track “Spoils Vultured Upon Sole Deletion”.
It is this clever use of composition that prevents this record from becoming too lofty, and retains your attention and eager interest in where you will be taken next. Every idea morphs into something exciting or satisfying, and I am never left questioning a creative decision.
“Abdication” opens with a mystical tapestry of clean guitar work and crooning bass. An obvious contrast to the abrasive album introduction. This piece is nearly eight minutes long and does not break character for the duration. The textural quality is nearly crystalline at moments, and even reminds me of certain parts from Porcupine Tree’s catalog. There are even subtle synthesizers that are utilized in a manner akin to dungeon synth. Overall the track is a pleasantly immersive reprieve from the chaos that immediately returns on the next track “Subversion of a Heathen Tongue”.
In an explosion of twisting and abyssal harmonics that would not be out of place on a Portal record, we descend into murky chaos again. The mood holds for an extended duration, becoming more manic as the tonality increases in dissonance and height. This soon changes with another transition into twirling and pummeling death metal with several tempo changes found throughout the rest of the song that breaks from the first half of the song being quite monotonous. This is well complimented with some of the more varied and engaging vocal work on the record. From deep muck coated gutturals, to panicked black metal barks. The gutturals for instance are one element that surprised and enchanted me. Reminiscent of burped sounding vocals used in slam death metal bands, similar to those used by Demilich or the already referenced Artificial Brain.
We make our way now to the final piece, the title track of the album.
This is a twelve minute long sojourn into archaic realms and we are first met with a melancholic oceanic atmosphere that captivates and demonstrates some of the post-metal influences I took note of on this record. There is no hurrying as each movement takes its time to be introduced, fleshed out and resolved before evolving and growing in size and intensity. It is only around the halfway mark, that we find ourselves caught in rumbling blackened death metal once again. It lurches along without disturbing the patiently constructed pace we have floated through for the last 6 minutes.
By this point in the album we have almost experienced everything Haunter have to offer on this record. That is until we are exposed to some crooned clean singing that wafts in and around, to be counterpointed with the most desperate and feral black metal shrieking on this record.
The rest of the album transitions and changes between many of the same tropes played out previously in masterful quality. But this is when the record begins to tire somewhat. Perhaps if the final track was broken into two six minute halves it would have retained a little more of my attention. This is not to deride how well the music is written or the intent behind the why. But as a point of reflection sometimes too much of a fantastic thing can erode its charm. Despite this, the final moments leaves us with frantic and manic riffage that ceases in an instant and does leave me very satisfied but still yearning for a touch more.
Finally it is entirely worth mentioning that the lyrics behind this record are as masterfully written as the music. The vocabulary of the person behind pen is clearly expansive and well utilized in painting vivid and engaging images without being needlessly verbose. They are also very adept at conveying deeper meaning with symbolism though at times the exact meaning eluded me until I sat with it for long enough, and perhaps this is exactly the purpose.
Themes at the base level seem to touch on some socio-political commentary and reaching further, spiritual and existential musings. These are removed from sounding too contemporary with the mystical and almost “occult sounding” use of language that does not betray the same qualities the musical half of the record possesses. I heartily recommend this band and album to any fans of the aforementioned bands as comparisons. As previously stated, this album is a wonderful journey into simultaneously colorful, as well as dismal planes.
This is a band who deserves worldwide recognition.
Sacramental Death Qualia is out now on I, Voidhanger Records.