Album Review: ATRÆ BILIS - Divinihility
Artist: Atræ Bilis
Genre: Death Metal
Review by Brady Irwin
Atrae Bilis’ wonderfully chaotic opus, Divinihility, is another jewel in the sparkling, blood-specked crown of 2020 death metal. Proof that a true Renaissance of sorts is happening in extreme metal, where boundaries and expectations continue to be pounded into dust. This album skilfully leads you along paths of both familiar and frightening territory old and new. It is short, but complex and scary in the best ways possible.
Opening with a swelling, backgrounded lick that gives a sultry impression of djent, the brief but furious opener ‘Gnode’ immediately breaks into a blasting riff that feels like Meshuggah and Mithras sharing a stiff shot from the same sickly, poisoned chalice. Then, just like that it’s over.
Oh, okay, we-
‘Sulphur Curtain’ doesn’t give you a chance to open your big fat mouth, instead slamming it shut as it gallops forward in a full-fledged traditional death metal assault. With an absolutely delicious mix of Swedish buzzsaw and modern crisp flavours worked into the tone, David Stepanavicius’ deft guitar-work marches headlong atop the thick sucker-punch combo of Brendan Campbell’s thundering but pinpoint-accurate bass, and the frenzied but controlled chaos of Luka Govednik’s hyperactive drum-work. Vocalist Jordan Berglund implements an ever-shifting mixture of guttural, slam-ready bellows, harsh barks, shrieks, rasps and roars, in a performance that becomes clearly dynamic soon into the piece.
Back to the song itself – things take a very schizoid turn about a minute in. Fret jumps and time signatures become less reliable, grunts go deeper, and a section feels like it should have been a breakdown is manically punctuated with bursts of blasts and tremolo, with neither warning nor hesitation. An air of dangerous unpredictability sets in even as the slow, gnarly arpeggios flit in and out of tight chord punches in the second half. Its’ death metal, for sure. Its’ not overtly out-there and experimental, granted. But boy is it deliberately and cleverly ambiguous, giving a sense of unease that is both horrific and awesome.
Concluding in a final frenetic burst, the second track leads into an acrobatic circus show of fever-drenched riffs strung throughout ‘Phantom Veins Trumpet’. Dangling around the song’s first half is a spindly collection of disparate riffs which feel like trying to recompose a shredded document from a pile of thin strips into a cohesive whole. While the room is on fire and so is the paper. The thing forms a cohesive whole in a staccato blast around the one-minute mark, lurching backwards and forwards between high-intensity interval sprints and stomping jogs around a block of ever-shifting frets and time signatures. There are solid sections, there is consistency, granted. They’re just patched together in such a permeable and fluid manner that every riff brings a mixture of trepidation, unpredictability and anticipation. A nice allegory for the times we live in.
‘Ectopian’ settles us back into a more familiar groove, an armchair thick and warm with caustic but relatable mid-tempo grooving. Don’t mistake this for your cousin’s mates slickly produced local deathcore act, though – this thing is serrated, barbed and made of material which induced both comfort and mild distress. One cannot stress enough how nice the balance between organic fury and coldly calculated technicality on offer here, as the guttural bellows and sludge riffs fight with high shrieks and pointed riffs over a sea of fills and blast beats. Channelling an uglier, more beaten-up Revocation, this number throws an avalanche of arpeggios and chords for the listener to hazard making sense of, melting into a sinister denouement of echoed chanting and a much more straightforward riffing. A truly disgusting, nasty wormhole of a breakdown erupts at the song’s latter end, simultaneously vomiting on and swallowing up the unwary bystander.
‘Upon the Shoulders of Havayoth’ forgets it left the pressure cooker on and explodes out the backside of the prior track, mercilessly clawing and swinging with furious death metal expulsion. Much more concentrated and pummelling, this number becomes a life-threatening barrage of endlessly shifting chords, tremolo, fret-bouncing, blasts and vocal decimation. Breaking into a more familiar breakdown around the halfway mark, even this brief repose is pocketed with unpredictable tempo swings and off-balance chordal changes. Dissuaded, ecstatic and dismayed, we are given a brief swing towards common ground in the second half with a stomping, slow procession before abruptly gnashed out by a final schizophrenic outburst.
Its’ the aural equivalent of walking home through an extremely dangerous neighbourhood, which also happens to be one you grew up in. You’re confident you can make it, but you also know your guard must be up at all times.
‘A Ceremony of Sectioning’ knows this, and it is the final crescendo where a gang of unsavoury attackers finally emerge from hiding. A high-octane advance of twisting, gnarling and speedy riffs whips up a seemingly impenetrable vortex of sound, reminiscent of Strapping Young Lad’s City if only momentarily and much more brutal. A sickly, unpredictable wash of riffs and deep, venomous barks makes up a breakdown punctuated with pockets of tight blasts and shrieks. There really is nowhere to turn on this album, and it knows. The halfway mark signals a potential increase of danger to markedly lethal levels, backing off like the guard dog preparing for the run with a small tremolo break. A gruesome stitching of rapid-fire changes permeates the latter half, together with a strange mix of strings and a final chug or two and… it’s over?! Okay. It’s okay to come out now.
Wow. What a trip. Six songs, and I feel like I’ve listened to most of a lesser bands’ discography. Even on multiple listens, this is an album that will draw you back in with familiarity, surprise and unpredictability at each and every turn.
Divinihility is available August 14th worldwide via Transcending Obscurity Records.
For fans of - Gorguts, Atheist, Suffocation, Depravity, Morbid Angel, Dying Fetus, Death, Ulcerate.