Summer is here and what better way to welcome the bright and warm days than with some filthy, dark, and cold metal?! Today me and fellow writer Xander will be diving into the debut record of British band Epiphanic Truth, Dark Triad: Bitter Psalms To A Sordid Species. In a similar fashion to Ghost and other bands, they have not revealed a single detail regarding their identity and have claimed so far that no live shows will be had. I guess that pretty much sums it up right?
Robert: Hey man, how’s it going?
Xander: All good mate, how’s it going for you this fine June day?
R: Pretty damn tired with all the cycling I’ve done this week, but otherwise good. Anyway, man, this album is so many kinds of wild, it’s not often that a band just basically appears out of nowhere with a legit masterpiece like this.
X: I was just checking out a playlist the group made of their collective influences, and, I have to say, this project feels almost tailor-made for an exact mash-up our music tastes. It’s got plenty of Toby Driver projects, Akercocke, The Dillinger Escape Plan, and, the cherry on top, The Painter’s Palette by Ephel Duath. Plus a few more surprises I have yet to mention
R: I try to refrain from that kind of type of analogy/deconstruction while reviewing stuff (for no particular reason), I usually save that for whenever I recommend something to a friend and am simply that lazy, so I can pop a succinct comparison/metaphor and magically – three pages worth of descriptions can be instantly conveyed. I also want to add that, even though the above comparison feels apt, it also feels a tad reductive due to the sheer scale and scope of the music.
Although, I do agree, there are a lot of stylistic ends being tied together on Dark Triad: Bitter Psalms To A Sordid Species and it’s done with an exquisite sense of composition and execution. I think that it’s worth noting that the concept is also very metal and quite appropriate for such a sonic representation.
X: Oh, I definitely agree. I don’t think a name drop really tells you much about the music, but if I know ahead of time that a band cites maudlin of the Well, Talk Talk, and Deathspell Omega as influences, my interest is heavily piqued.
I want to touch on what you said about the album’s composition. As a three-act record, each element feels quite calculated and placed with a strong deal of forethought as to how one element leads into another.
I mean, just take the first five minutes of opener “The Truth of the Beast”. If you chop the track into fifteen-second segments, each might sound quite different from one another, but taken as a whole the cut is tight and unified. It’s an absolutely audacious way to open an album, and the mixture of doomy riffage, about a half dozen different vocal styles, hard-hitting blackened passages, and yet even more still blows my mind however many listens later.
R: To start your record with a song like “The Truth of the Beast” is definitely a baller move. It basically dives straight into the action without any kind of warning – something I really dig big time. The stylistic shifts are wild indeed, starting out with a sludgy kind of blackened hardcore that dives into an Ulcerate type of death metal which is brimming with angular structures, all while being splattered with a savage screamo type vocal performance that’s cut with demonic and cavernous growls and shrieks – only to leap later into what’s basically atmospheric acoustic lounge music.
I’m not still entirely sure, but I’d definitely hold this as my favorite part of the record. It has basically everything I like in one neatly tied package. The second part of this unholy triptych does bring forth my absolute favorite riff from this record (and one of my all-time favorites as of now) among its Stygian trove of treasures. It also seems to deepen in its layering and shows a natural progression in the flow of the record, as well as further intensifying in its focus.
X: Stellar description – while I’d be careful about denoting any specific passage my favorite of Dark Triad: Bitter Psalms To A Sordid Species just yet, I do appreciate the dynamism on display in “The Truth of the Beast”. The track unspools slowly from extreme heaviness to the atmospheric lounge segment you describe, building a skintight, suffocating tension that culminates in “An Inescapable Verdict.”
I am happy to take a pit stop to discuss this riff and the big part it plays in the second track. Holy fuck that riff bangs – it first emerges from a seething cauldron of distortion, disappears during an uneasy ambient stretch populated by a ghoulish lower end, and later resurfaces like a horror movie villain terrorizing a younger generation. Not only does the riff appeal to my most primordial of primal instincts, it serves an integral part in the track’s composition, as you remarked.
It’s this well-balanced songwriting backed by superb instrumentation that keeps me coming back for more, even if the album’s quieter passages extend just up to the point where they’d try my patience.
R: Yeah, that riff is simply fucking savage and while it has some of that very characteristic dissonance like an Ulcerate riff, it has crunch and an evil undertone like it’s off of Opeth‘s Watershed or Ghost Reveries – I think you know exactly what I’m referring to. I think it slaps hardest during the part where it’s accompanied by the distressed and unhinged hardcore-esque vocal delivery – they pair like they always existed welded together.
This is the main reason I love this album so much; it just pulls off everything it wants. That ambient stretch you mention – I’d rather call it something atmospheric, as the tribal sounding percussion makes it anything but ambient as I see it. I also love the way the eerie high-pitched keyboard shares the space with that ghoulish low-end boom over said groove. It’s another perfect example of an unlikely pairing that simply works, because I guess that Epiphanic Truth is made up entirely of compositional brilliance.
The way this all smoothly transitions through the ensuing guitar solo and then the final recurrence of the riff is nothing short of amazing. I also love that this time around there are some subtle yet highly dramatic synths, thus creating a massive atmosphere overall for the ending of this part of the record.
The quiet parts of the record didn’t seem to test my patience to be fair – and I’m quite pretentious with that kind of stuff. What got to me a little was a great deal of the latter part of the last part of the record.
X: Alright, let’s shift focus then to “Our Vile Roots Flourish Beyond Light”. I personally find the track a challenge, and not just because its nearly twenty-three minutes of punishment is literally more than half of the record’s total runtime. There is so much going on in this track, that I have to focus intensely on passages to make sense of them. For example, the first time I heard the guitars swirl at an increasingly faster and feverish pace around the eight-minute mark, I had to pause, catch my breath, and rewind a full minute and a half so that I could be better prepared to withstand the onslaught. Just a couple of minutes later, we are gifted with a blessed moment of ambient bliss before a punkier passage fronted by clean harmonized vocals erupts out of nowhere. It almost reminds me of Amia Venera Landscape’s The Long Procession in a way, where ambient stretches, clean vocals, and metallic riffs that draw a clean lineage to punk, boil together in one intoxicating cauldron.
But, yeah, there are times when listening to this album, and to its final portion specifically, that I feel as if I am trying desperately to maintain my grasp on top of a bucking bull, though I acknowledge that I might just need a half dozen more close listens to get on top of things (not that I have a problem with that). Would you care to expand on what was trying to you about the record?
R: I can get behind that Amia Venera Landscape parallel. I would also like to throw one myself, the whole way in which the song unfolds around the three and a half minute mark for a while feels like a nod to mid-’00s Arcturus in a kind of stripped down, less psychedelic but just as otherworldly fashion. Normally I would’ve started that sentence with the specification that maybe it’s just me, but I’m quite certain that even if it wasn’t a direct influence or a planned nod, it’s a striking similarity. Don’t get me wrong either, I absolutely love it and it’s executed beautifully.
The first half of the last song is really solid and it ties super well in with everything we go through up to here. Now, here is where the issue begins, it’s at around the fourteen minute mark where this climax-to-be goes on for like four full fucking minutes. Fuck! Like that literally took crescendocore and broke its neck like a twig. It was cumbersome enough to make it through that passage as many times as I did, for the sake of consuming the entire experience and letting it consume me in turn.
I’m not saying it’s too long, but I’m also saying it’s too long. If you take it out of context, it’s a no brainer – it’s superfluous at truly nauseating levels. However, within the confines of the record and especially the lyrical and conceptual backbone of it, it bares plenty of meaning. I’m certain it could’ve been made in a more concise manner with the same thespian punch for the coda of the album, however, it’s not something I’d tax as a flaw when I draw the line at the end of the journey.
The album is super far from easy listening. It’s filled to the brim with tons of details and intricate sonic works. It’s definitely difficult to access even for seasoned fans of extreme music. I love it for this – for its unremitting and punishing character. It does manage to keep a certain balance in spite of this too, it’s not the kind of record that seeks to be punishing just for the sake of assaulting listeners while having a hearty chuckle over it. It revels in the utter darkness of mankind which it aims to highlight for us in an attempt to immortalize said collective folly as few others can – or ever will.
X: Well said, as always. The balance between sparser sections and measured moments of extremity is best appreciated in a full sitting, even if “The Truth of the Beast” is a serviceable single – in the sense that it summarizes the album’s strengths successfully. To expand slightly on a concept I mentioned earlier, if you take in Dark Triad: Bitter Psalms To A Sordid Species in isolated segments, you risk finding its intimidating musical concepts derivative or redundant. If I hear the low-pitched harmonized cleans over double bass from “The Truth of the Beast” and think ‘Oh, that’s a simple reference to Slugdge or Akercocke’, I’m mistaking the forest for the trees.
However, Epiphanic Truth’s precise execution of disparate extreme metal tropes and the deliberate placement of them alongside desolate atmospheric landscapes, portrays dark tones and messaging in a full-bodied manner without resorting to gratuitous brutality. At the end of it all, having consumed unhealthy truckloads worth of heavy music, I am drawn to Dark Triad: Bitter Psalms To A Sordid Species for reasons similar to the ones you’ve listed. It’s challenging, dark as hell, ponderously heavy, and still manages to be worlds away from thirty minutes of palm muted buzzsaw guitar, Kermit-the-frog vocals, and rehashed breakdowns. While there are parallels to be made to the likes of Ulcerate and Gorguts, the record is not so mind-bendingly technical as to be abstruse; as long as you pay it due attention, Epiphanic Truth’s latest release will have you enthralled through waves of cataclysmic riffs, phenomenal rhythm work, and a fully stocked arsenal of heavy vocal styles.
R: I definitely agree with all of the above, we’re looking at a monumental piece of work that’s sure to pop up on year end lists and what not. My only hope is that this isn’t going to be another one of those bands that releases one amazing album and then disappears with no apparent reason. We’ve already had too many of those and it would be a damn shame to not get more refined and evolved versions of what we heard over the course of this record. I want to think that we’ll get to hear many more triptychs from Epiphanic Truth, even though we won’t be seeing the band on stage and because this one was too good and deliberate to just be a fluke.